#NaNoPrep, Terrain and Geography

We are continuing the build of our storyboard for NaNoWriMo2021. My planned NaNoWriMo project takes place in the world of Neveyah, a world where five other books have been set. Neveyah is an alien environment, yet it’s extremely familiar to me.

WritingCraft_NaNoPrep_101I know that world because I based the plants and topography on the Pacific Northwest, where I live. Other than the Escarpment, which is the visible scar left behind by the Sundering of the Worlds, the plants and geography are directly pulled from the forested hills and farmlands of Southern Puget Sound and Western Washington State.

In 2008, when I first began writing in this world, I went to science to see how long it takes for an environment to recover from cataclysmic events. I took my information from the Channeled Scablands of Washington State, a two-hour drive from my home. This vast desert area is comprised of the scars of a series of natural disasters that occurred around 13,000 years ago.

From Wikipedia: The Cordilleran Ice Sheet dammed up Glacial Lake Missoula at the Purcell Trench Lobe. A series of floods occurring over the period of 18,000 to 13,000 years ago swept over the landscape when the ice dam broke. The eroded channels also show an anastomosing, or braided, appearance.

The story I’m prepping for takes place only a century after a world-shattering disaster, so the way the world was before the Sundering is still fresh in their lore. The elders remember the culture and technology and know firsthand what was lost in the cataclysm. I am plotting book 2 of a duology, so I’ve already established that my protagonist is a shaman and devoted to caring for the fragile ecology.

But perhaps you are writing a historical novel. A certain amount of worldbuilding will be required, no matter when or where your book is set.

Let’s say you are writing an account of a soldier’s experiences in the Battle of the Bulge, also known as the Ardennes Counteroffensive. This battle was a pivotal point in World War II. American forces endured most of the attack, suffering their highest casualties of any operation during the war.

512px-Western_Front_Ardennes_1944

US Army Center for Military History, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Researching and building the world this novel takes place in will be time-consuming but easy because a great deal of information about this battle exists. You can access documents and accounts from both sides of the war. The Ardennes region covers the province of Wallonia in eastern Belgium, northeast France, and Luxembourg, and many maps showing the area as it was in 1945 are still available in libraries and on the internet.

In regard to the events and battles of World War II, generals of both sides left many documents detailing how the terrain they were forced to fight on affected their decisions.

But even though your book may explore a real soldier’s experiences through newsreels, the pages of his diary, and the interview you had with him just before his death at the age of 94, you are still writing a fantasy.

This is because, in reality, the world of this book exists only in three places:

  1. it flows from the author’s mind
  2. to the pages of the book
  3. into the reader’s mind through the written word

We can only view history through the stained-glass of time. History, even recent events, assumes a mythical quality when we attempt to record it. Even a documentary movie that shows events filmed by the news camera may not be portrayed exactly as it was truly experienced. The facts are filtered through the photographer’s eye and the historian’s pen.

Modern Romance, historical, and contemporary novels are genres set in real-world locations. Their authors are fortunate, as information is usually available for the researcher to dig up. For an author recounting any historical era, information will be accessible since archaeologists and historians are constantly expanding our knowledge of history.

Any story set in prehistorical times is a fantasy.

  • Historical eras are those where we have written records.
  • Any story taking place in a society that left no written records must be considered a fantasy as little scientific facts are available, although mythology, conjecture, and theorizing abound.

If you are setting your novel in a real-world city as it currently exists, make good use of Google Earth. Bookmark it now, even if you live in that town, as the maps you will generate will help you stay on track while you are winging it during NaNoWriMo.

If you are writing a tale set in a fantasy or sci-fi setting, you are creating that world.

Neveyahmap jpeg of original scanned doc

Original Map of Neveyah from 2008 © Connie J. Jasperson

The first map of my world of Neveyah series was scribbled with a pencil on graph paper. Over time it evolved into a full-color relief map of the world as it exists in my mind.

I love maps. My own maps start out in a rudimentary form, just a way to keep my story straight. I use pencil and graph paper at this stage because:

  • As the rough draft evolves, sometimes towns must be renamed.
  • They may have to be moved to more logical places.
  • Whole mountain ranges may have to be moved or reshaped so that forests and savannas will appear where they are supposed to be in the story.
Map of Neveyah, color copy compressed

Neveyah © 2015 – 2021 Connie J. Jasperson

What should go on a map? At this point, not a whole lot.

  • The name of the town or area where the story begins.

Yep, that’s it, unless you are in the mood to draw maps. All you need for now is the jumping off point.

In November, you will add all the details as they occur to you, and believe me, they will come. In the meantime, your map page will be ready and waiting for you to note the particulars. When you are spewing words, the details will emerge, and you will have a place ready for them.

Why should you be worried about this now? It will be one thing you don’t have to worry about when you are pantsing it. The page will be there, and the map will be waiting for you to add to it.

When your characters are traveling great distances, they may pass through villages on their way. Perhaps the environment will impede your characters.

If environmental or geographical obstacles are pertinent to the story, it will be easy for you to take a moment to note their location on your map. This way, you won’t interrupt the momentum of your writing, and won’t contradict yourself if your party must return the way they came.

Billy's Revenge Floor plan ground floorIf your work is sci-fi, consider making a map of the place where the action happens. It could be a pencil-drawn floor-plan of a space station/ship or the line drawing of part of an alien world. I drew the floorplan of Billy’s Revenge for my reference, as most of the novel, Billy Ninefingers, takes place there.

Your storyboard is your lifeline in November, offering you dots to connect and help you stay organized when you are writing stream-of-consciousness. During the lead-up to November, make notes about your environment whenever you have an idea that you’d like to incorporate into your novel.


The #NaNoPrep series to date:

#NaNoPrep: part 1: What’s the Story?

#NaNoPrep, Setting: Creating the Big Picture

#NaNoPrep, Building Characters

#NaNoPrep, More Character Building

#NaNoPrep, Creating Societies

#NaNoPrep, Designing Science, Magic, and the Paranormal

Today’s post: #NaNoPrep, Terrain and Geography


Credits and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “Channeled Scablands,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Channeled_Scablands&oldid=1031181669 (accessed September 21, 2021).

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Western Front Ardennes 1944.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Western_Front_Ardennes_1944.jpg&oldid=470134455 (accessed September 21, 2021).

9 Comments

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9 responses to “#NaNoPrep, Terrain and Geography

  1. One of my uncles was at the Battle of the Bulge. He was 19 at the time. His best friend in the unit was killed, so my uncle took the friend’s wool sweater, knowing that his friend would not want anyone to freeze. My uncle credits the sweater with saving his life as the cold was as dangerous as bullets. I never knew a sweater to have such a story, but that one did. Thank you for your piece.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My uncle, Private Donald Hutchins, was there also. He was injured, and came home with a metal plate in his head. He had no conscious memory of the day he was shot, and like my father, he never discussed the war except in broad terms.

      Like

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