I know I’ve been pushing at this battle thing and trying to engage all the people, not just those who want to write actual battles, but I thought today I’d take a short step away from that to focus on something else. I decided to do a world blip, since it’d been a while since I did one, and because as I write this I’m also preparing to leave for a long weekend because my college has this weird thing called “reading days” where we get a Friday off to “catch up” on homework, but everyone basically just sleeps.
When you think of worldbuilding, what’s the first thing you think of? Just general, first thought impressions of the idea of worldbuilding.
For me, I think of maps, and I know many people think of them as well. Now I’ve already talked about maps, so I won’t do that again. Instead, I want to talk about the behind the scenes of maps: the geography.
The Importance of Geography
When you first think about geography, your natural inclination is to cringe. No one wants to go back to their geography days, unless you’re among the few of us who actually enjoyed geography. Myself, I’ve always found geography fascinating, especially when it comes to natural geography.
I’m not so interested in countries and cities but in terrain.
After all, the terrain can make the story.
When it comes to setting, one of the easiest ways to really delve into worldbuilding is to simply consider what the where is like. Is it a forest? Open plains? Mountains, desert, tundra?
Why does this matter? Because where your story is set will affect the way your characters lead their lives in the culture that develops in that place. Geography can morph your civilizations simply by existing. Mountains will make your people groups behave and live differently than islands or a desert will. They’ll be more focused on surviving in cold and climbing rock faces with expertise than they will with building boats or finding shelter from the sun.
In short, terrain motivates people to survive. If we lived in a place where we never needed anything, and our surroundings provided no challenge to survival, we’d have no need to survive. Instead, the variety of challenges given us motivates us to move beyond merely existing to thriving.
That’s the power of geography. It gets your characters on their feet and moving.
Creating Realistic Geography
Have you ever read a book where the character travels from one sort of “biosphere” to another with a sudden transition? One second, they’re in a desert, the next their surrounded by trees and grass.
Here’s the deal: too many authors ignore reality when it comes to their placement of geographical areas. They neglect science and stick different types of terrain wherever they want.
Don’t do that.
Instead, do your research. Take enough time to explore how the world actually transitions from one type of landscape to another in a natural way. Believe it or not, there are no stark lines where you can say “the desert ends and the plains begin”. Nope.
Now, you don’t need to quit writing and take up geology and study how the movements of tectonic plates will create or destroy deserts and mountains and rainforest, nor do I think you have to actually create a map of the tectonic plates of your planet. That’s a waste of time, unless it’s important for your story. However, knowing the basics of geography and environment creation will help your world stand out.
When your settings are realistic and transition smoothly, your reader won’t notice. I know that might not be what you wanted to hear, exactly, but it’s true. They won’t notice. And that’s okay. In fact, that’s fantastic. It means they’re not stopping and going “that’s not how the world works”. It better for them to get lost in the world and not even realize its working the way it should than to be forced out of it every time something jarring makes them stop and ponder it.
It can be scary, picking the geography for your world. There’s a tendency to go with the safe environments: forests, plains, a few mountains, far-off deserts the characters talk about but never go to, and the ice fields far in the north.
Why not be different?
Why not explore the idea of a frozen tundra, or badlands, or delve into the idea of political intrigue within an archipelago?
Different geographies intrigue people. For instance, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn Trilogy and his Stormlight Archives are both set in really odd and different and new settings. They’re fantastic reads, and the rarity of their settings only provides more fuel for his story and characters.
As you plan the geography of your world, consider realism. But also consider the weird, the different, the original. Let your world feel real, even as you make it different.