• T.P. O'Dúnín

World Building - Building Up

In the last blog, I described how I set up the foundation of the world, the physical map. In this blog I continue the process; we’re now on the ground floor, 1st floor for you of the American persuasion! The map is on the computer and tidied up, mountains are placed, and rivers are drawn. Country borders are next. As you may have noticed on the hand drawn map, I had pencilled in where I felt the borders should be. The second image in the blog you saw was the tidied up digital form of the map. That map is the template, clear of cities and borders. This means that I can use it to create new maps of the world as the land evolves and grows.

To work on the borders, cities, and towns I return to another version of the map, cleaned up but with my border and city markers intact, (Figure 1).

Fig 1. I've started naming towns and cities

It’s also important at this point to define the latitude of the continent or island. Where it’s placed on the planet determines the type of the weather patterns, the type of terrain, the indigenous plants and animals and the building design and construction techniques, essentially everything. This serves as a reference point for me; it’s not something mentioned overtly in an actual storyline. The descriptions alone should inform the reader, but it gives me something to build on and ensures a certain basic level of consistency.

From here I begin to place each country’s capital city. There’s no system for this, I just look at the markers that are within each country and try to pick one that is not too close to a border. Towns quickly follow the cities and then the villages. I usually add forests next, normally placed around the mountains but not always, and add other features such as deserts, swamps, lakes and so on. That concludes the initial portion of the map making. From here I focus on each country individually, which means working on the history of each country, tracking its moving borders and the rise and fall of the various leaders, cities and towns.

It’s hard to work up a realistic sounding history for a fictitious country. I’m sure that other writers have their methods, but mine involves moving borders. I start with the map I’ve drawn out, specific to the country and begin working my way backwards, usually over several hundred years, altering the borders as I go, sometimes in small ways, sometimes in drastically large ways. Eventually I’ll get to a point and I’ll call it good. The reason I use this way of generating a country’s history is that shifts and changes to borders are typically major events. Major events then become place holders and between which smaller events can be inserted.

Fig 2. Note the Changed border in the North West

If you’ve kept up with me this far then you’ll have spotted a short cut in the above process. As I said moving borders imply events in a country’s history, but for there to be a border, there must usually be a country on the other side and so that means a boarder change event in one country is paralleled in the other, where one expands the other retracts, and so on. This means that as I continue, it gets easier to some extent to outline major events in neighbouring countries. It gives me a jump start when moving on to the next country, which is for the most part useful but can lead to some unusual events if you’re not careful, such as a country expanding in one direction while simultaneously contracting on a different border. I try to manage these events and avoid problems by allowing countries to be absorbed by others, or having a country split in to two or more parts. Eventually I end up with a series of maps charting the rise and fall of countries, with shifting boarders, towns and villages dying out or springing up, changing country names and so on. Real history isn’t static and so I try to simulate this as best I can.


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