Tag Archives: cartography

Worldbuilding part 2: Geography

Map of Eynier Valley for HTB copy copyOne of the problems I have in my fantasy world is knowing where I am, how I got there and where I am going next.  Somehow it’s less of a mystery to the reader if I have some idea of the what world I am writing about looks like.

Many authors use locales that either currently exist or once existed in the real world.  This is a good way to do it, because your world is already well defined for you, and most everyone knows that Portland, Oregon is about 170 miles south of Seattle, Washington.  You are safe using currently existing terrain.

When we write a fantasy story, we start out with a great plot, but we are making the physical world up as we go along, and it evolves as the story does. This can be dicey unless you are really good at remembering what you said 3 months ago.  Epic fantasy often involves sending the hero off on a quest – and this means he/she will journey far from home.

Knowing where the protagonists are going, and when they’ll be there is crucial because readers notice inconsistencies; at least I do when reading other authors’ works.

I begin by drawing a sketchy map when I first begin the story. It is just a scribble at first, but this way I have an idea of where the towns are in relation to each other. I do it in pencil so at this stage nothing is finite; they are only approximations–artistic guesses.

Map of Neveyah, color copyAs I write, my map evolves with the story, becoming more complex as the topography becomes more clear to me. In the World of Neveyah, I began with a pencil sketch, and that evolved into a relief map that gave me the opportunities for injecting tension into the tale that I needed. It also provided me with a detailed explanation of where the resources were, so that funding my country was not an issue.

If you are writing epic fantasy, it is unlikely the hero will have a GPS to guide them.  By scribbling a map while I am setting the original story down, I know I have originally declared Armat is the nearest town to the portal, in Neveyah.  This is important because when I am really pounding out the words, I don’t always remember exactly what I wrote 22 chapters ago. Going back to make corrections is a  tricky business, as it is hard to know for sure if you have caught all your small errors in regard to places and the distances between them.

  1. Map your world:
  • How big are the continents, and what is their shape?
  • Are there inland seas? If so, are they fresh water seas like the Great Lakes?
  • Where are the oceans? Where are your port cities located?
  • How large is your protagonist’s country?
  • If they travel, what type of terrain will they be crossing?
  • Does your protagonist’s country have near neighbors?
  • What about mountain ranges? Mountains, swamps, rivers and oceans are all important when you are adding local color to your background.

The physical environment affects the hero’s journey.  Mountains are difficult to travel in, as are swamps and deserts; and these environments will greatly color the story.

Wheel of time mapA map doesn’t have to be too detailed; it is only a bare-bones reference for you as the writer, and possibly for the reader later. Of all the books I have read, the books whose maps I have referred back to most while reading them are those in the Wheel of Time series, written by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson.  The map is not too detailed, but it does give you an idea of where Tear is in relation to Amadicia – both of which figure prominently in the travels of all the main characters, and it remains accurate through the entire series.

The thing is—maps, unless they are drawn by satellite GPS–are inherently wrong in regard to actual distances and such. All they can do is provide a general idea of where the cartographer thought things were.

But what about sci-fi—how do you build an entire planet that may or may not exist?

This is where I brainstorm the possibilities: I spend hours on the internet researching the physics and the possibilities of each and every technological thing that appears in my work. Morgan Freeman, Michio Kaku and Stephen Hawking are my invisible friends, but the best hard facts are found through scouring the internet.

  1. Locate your planet:
An example of a system based on stellar luminosity for predicting the location of the habitable zone around various types of stars. Planet sizes, star sizes, orbit lengths, and habitable zone sizes are not to scale.

An example of a system based on stellar luminosity for predicting the location of the habitable zone around various types of stars. Planet sizes, star sizes, orbit lengths, and habitable zone sizes are not to scale.

Situate your planet around its sun in what we arm-chair physicists refer to as “The Goldilocks Zone.” Life may exist in the most challenging places, but we humans can only exist in a narrow range of temperatures, in a world with a nitrogen/oxygen atmosphere, and where water exists in abundance. We need a magnetosphere to protect us from lethal radiation. We also need to be situated around a friendly-to-us kind of star, or a G-type main-sequence star. A K-type main-sequence  star may also support our kind of life, as may others, but we know the G-type will for sure. A good-sized moon is also optimal to stabilize the planetary wobble, but not having one opens the plot-possibilities of severe climate stresses due to an unstable orbit.

Alpharse is the setting for a future novel that grew out of a short scifi story. I’ve done a certain amount of prep for it: it’s a colony world, still in the terraforming process, and human habitation is still either underground or in the Asteroid Ships that originally brought the colonists to the system.

It’s located across the galactic arm from my protagonist’s home world of Lorann, and to travel the quickest route involves crossing an area of the galaxy inhabited by the Ernsaa, a race of methane-breathing beings who don’t want anyone coming near the worlds they claim. Thus, the closest route is now closed to them and it now takes twenty years real-time to get from Alpharse to Lorann even with the technology available to them. This means the colonists are on their own and can expect no help.

  1. Consider the Uninhabitable (by humans) Terrain:
  • What is the surface of the world like at this time?
  • What makes it dangerous?
  • Can humans breathe the air yet or must they wear protective suits?
  • Are there native organisms, or was it a young world when it was first colonized?

In regard to the maps you are drawing for your story: if you choose to incorporate your map into your book, that is an awesome addition—but for the love of J.R.R. Tolkien—don’t put maps in your books that have nothing to do with your story.

Candar Map. Recluce series, L.E. Mdesitt Jr.I have talked about this before: one of my favorite series of books, written by L.E. Modesitt Jr., has a huge failing–the maps suck!  In Fall of Angels, The Chaos Balance, Magii of Cyador, and Scion of Cyador, all of which take place before the world of Recluce is dramatically altered, the main characters are traveling all over the continent to places that don’t exist on the maps provided in the front of the books! The series span several thousand years, and the cities and geography changes radically, but the maps are stubbornly stuck in the timeframe of the first book in the series, Magic of Recluce, which actually details the last years of the story.

There is absolutely nothing on the map in the front of the book that pertains to the time frame of Scion of Cyador. Lorn, the main character, travels all over Cyador! I can only assume the crappy maps and the many typos and inconsistencies in several books of Modesitt’s Recluce series are the fault of his publisher, one the Big Boys of Publishing, TOR, who has done a great author a terrible disservice by not addressing these issues before publication. Despite the typos and stupid maps, I love Modesitt’s work and highly recommend it.

In conclusion, situating and building the physical world your characters will live in takes a day or two of your time, but once you have it all together, your work is so much easier. Taking notes and adding to your map and your style sheet as you go will keep your work consistent and make the setting of your story real to your readers. When you, as the author, have only a mushy idea of what sort of world in which your characters live, you will inadvertently write contradictions and inconsistencies into your work, so do your homework from the outset.

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Never been there

©connie j jasperson 2014

©connie j jasperson 2014

Maps are awesome additions to books.  I love drawing them, and I love books that have them.  When I was reading Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series I was constantly paging back and forth to the maps, wishing for smaller, more localized maps. They don’t have to be accurate–but they do have to give some idea of where the action is taking us.

When I formatted Huw the Bard, I included three maps. At the front I left the whole map of Waldeyn. Then I split the the map, north and south,  so curious readers could see how the two halves of Waldeyn differ from each other, and how that difference in terrain affected his journey. The  second map is inserted where the second stage of Huw’s journey begins.

the chaos balance l.e. modesitt jrI did it that way because I am a voracious reader, of anything by L.E. Modesitt Jr.  but I am angry with his publisher, TOR Fantasy, for not updating the maps in his Recluce books. The maps in the front of that series of books detail the world AFTER The Chaos Balance, and bear absolutely NO resemblance to the towns in fully half of the books that are set before that time!

Sigh. All that money spent for beautiful artwork for the cover was a good investment, oh, mighty publishing giant, TOR–but the interior could use NEW MAPS! Give me the coordinates and I’ll draw them for you! (oh dear, I’m hyperventilating again….)

375px-Baynes-Map_of_Middle-earthOne of the best maps of of a fantasy realm that I’ve ever seen was the map of Middle Earth as done by Pauline Baynes in 1970. It is beautiful, a complete work of art on its own, as all maps once were in the golden age of discovery.

I won’t lay claim to being an artist on this level, nor will my maps ever achieve this kind of style and creativity, but I am working on new maps for the world of Neveyah, and the Tower of Bones series. The ones I have right now are all in color, and they don’t translate to black and white for print.

So I am back to square one, but I will have the new maps for TOB complete by February 1st. The new cover is done, and the manuscript has been re-edited. Now we are down to the final stage of proof-reading, to ensure I have not made any strange new errors in the ms. I am not in a hurry for this, as rushing to publish is why that book has been pulled and re-edited. This is where being an indie is both dangerous and awesome–I bear the sole responsibility for the final product.

I leave you with another great map, David Eddings’s original map for the epic fantasy series, The Belgariad:

BelgariadMap

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The Wayward Plot

Eternal_clockIf you happen to be a character in a fantasy tale maps are awesome indicators of what direction you should probably point your horse, whenever you are off on a nice vacation in Hell.  However, the wise hero also carries a calendar,  and perhaps a pocket watch, since even the most absurd quests have a finite date of completion.

I’m not sure what would have happened if Frodo and Sam hadn’t arrived at the volcano in time to scorch Sauron’s plans, so to speak–and what if Gollum had not gotten the memo? Who would have leapt into the lava?

images“…After you, Samwise, old buddy, old friend….”

“…Ah….no Mr. Frodo…. Please, you go first….”

SO, even though maps and calendars as created by frail, elderly  authors are  NOT finite, and nothing is exact or engraved in stone, the wise author uses both when constructing the tale.  Sure in the end you don’t use exact dates, nor do you use exact miles–if you do, you won’t get it right and your editor will pick it to bits.

Remember, in fantasy, time  and distance are mushy, but it really helps to have some idea of when all the important bits are supposed to come together.

Prague-Astronomical_clock-Clock-Old_Town_Prague-Prague_Astronomical_Clock-originalEven in this modern world of the GPS and Atomic Clocks, each individual traveler arrives at their destination at a different time and by a different route. Take my family: My husband and I will have the family dinner scheduled for 1:00 on the given holiday, but family members will arrive at varying times up to 3:00, all from the same general area of the north, and all of them funneled down I-5.

So when you are constructing your story, the calendar helps keep you on track, so that an event that takes 2 months for the main character also takes that length of time for the supporting characters.

Calendar Capricas 3262 NeveyahFor my books set in Neveyah, I invented a 13 month lunar calendar, and labeled the months with names drawn from astrology. I named the days of the week using norse gods (don’t ask me why–it was years ago, and I was writing the basic outline of TOWER OF BONES  as the walk-though for an old-school RPG that never got built.) Since the book was not originally graphed out as a book, there are flaws inherent in this that I am dealing with to this day!

map of Neveyah relief 3-4-2013 001But those flaws are creating some awesome plot opportunities in Valley of Sorrows, the final book in the TOWER OF BONES series.  I just have to make sure I use the calendar to mesh events in the first half of the book with the events in FORBIDDEN ROAD, because John Farmer and Garran Andressson absolutely must be in Braden when Edwin, Friedr, and Zan arrive.

The second half of the book is pretty much structured, but the first half is giving me fits.  As Alison DeLuca, author of the steampunk Crown Phoenix Series frequently says, it’s like birthing a cement hippo.  Still, it is beginning to come together.

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Spanking L. E. Modesitt Jr.

magii of cyadorI’m just going to say at the outset, I love L. E. Modesitt Jr. and his work.  But my very FAVORITE series of books has a huge failing–the MAPS SUCK!  In Fall of Angels,  The Chaos Balance, Magii of Cyador and Scion of Cyador, and all of which take place BEFORE the world of Recluce is dramatically altered, the main characters are traveling all over the continent to places that DON’T EXIST on the maps provided in the front of the books! (I’d add another exclamation point or two, but it would look like I’m hyperventilating.) (Gasp.)

798px-Diego-homem-black-sea-ancient-map-1559However, I do understand how such a thing happens.  Being an indie, I am responsible for providing some sort of mappy-thing in the front of my own books and that is where it actually gets a bit dicey.

The thing is–maps, unless they are drawn by satellite GPS, are inherently WRONG in regard to actual distances and such. All they can do is provide a general idea of where the cartographer thought things were.

map of Waldeyn 2014As a tool, I draw my own maps, when I am writing the tale so I will have some idea of where the heck they are going, but I am not a cartographer. All maps drawn by me are only a picture of where one town might lay in relationship to another, a general idea of things.

Being an avid map checker, it frustrates me when there is no way to see what the author is talking about when he takes his characters from one place to another. I’m not asking for accuracy here, just a general scribble on the back of a napkin would be awesome–some indication of the direction and the lay of the land, such as mountains, forests and harbors.

BUT FOR THE LOVE OF TOLSTOY DON’T PUT MAPS IN THE FRONT OF THE BOOK THAT HAVE NO RELATIONSHIP TO THE TALE.

Cyador's HeirsL.E. Modesitt Jr. has a new Cyador book coming out in May, Cyador’s Heirs,  and I have already preordered it. I can hardly wait–it’s almost like waiting for Harry Potter!  Oh, mighty publishing giant who prints these wondrous creations PLEASE — make the bloody maps pertain to the actual book! Don’t make me stop this car!

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