Monday, March 7, 2011

World-Building Questions #2: Geography

You know how fantasy artists often have maps in the front of their books showing what their amazing world looks like? This is kind of like that, except that you don’t actually have to draw anything and/or hire an artist to draw anything. This is also general information that’s good to know even if you’re using a real-life location as your setting. In fact, that makes it all the easier, since all you have to do is google the info.


What sort of climate does your location have? Arid, tropical, subarctic, or something all new?

How does the climate change while traveling over the area your story covers?

What’s the average weather like?

How much rain do they get every year? How much snow?

What are the average high and low temperatures?

What are the all-times?

When is it the warmest? When is it coldest?

How long does the day last during the summer? During the winter?

What is the elevation above sea level? (Hey, it’s important to know if they have to use the special preparation times to bake cakes!)

What geographic features (lakes, mountains, deserts, forests, etc.) are there?

What effect, if any, do they have on the story, setting, or characters?

What is the ecosystem like?

What sort of plant life can be found? What sort of animals?

Possibly the most important of all: Why did people choose to settle there in the first place? Why did they stay? How does the geography affect their lives?

Again, you may not ever use this information in your story, but it’s still important to know. Otherwise you get a “never been to Forks, and shows” situation that harms your credibility.

Real-World Example:
My home town of Odessa, TX, is located in a flat, semi-arid basin. On a clear day, the land is so flat that you can see for roughly 100 miles in all directions. There are no visible mountains or hills, the dirt is primarily composed of red clay, and there’s arsenic in the ground water.

The average temperature is between 77 and 50 ˚F. It’s the hottest in June, when the record high is 116 ˚F. It’s coldest in February, when the record low is -11 ˚F. It receives less than 15 inches of precipitation, on average per year; burn bans are regularly in effect and snow is almost unheard of.

Common plant life includes mesquite bushes, cacti, and the occasional yucca; locals know that the mesquite bush will never bloom early, so once it flowers, it’s finally spring. Animal life includes jack rabbits, coyotes, various poisonous snakes, buzzards, and a whole lot of the nastiest bugs you’ll meet outside of Australia.

People originally settled in the region because the land was dirt-cheap and they were either too dumb or too desperate to realize why. Community sprung up because nearby Midland was a good mid-way point for the railroads. Civilization finally came to exist due to oil; and that’s still the primary reason people stick around.

Fictional Example:
Kurôzu-cho, the site of Junji Ito’s horror manga Uzumaki, is a small village isolated on one of Japan’s many small islands. The island in question is mountainous, and the mountains are covered in a lush conifer forest, indicating the sort of humid continental climate indicative of Japan’s northern and north-western regions. The islands’ mountains serve as an extra level of isolation from the mainland – perfect for a horror story.

Besides the coniferous trees, the most common and significant plant life shown are grasses that grow into spirals. Animal life shown includes an infestation of snails and snakes that twist their bodies around each other to make love. The normal weather is temperate, but soon dissolves into chaos as endless supernatural hurricanes and tornadoes seal the village off altogether.

The primary geographic feature, besides the mountains and the coastlines that define its isolation, is Dragonfly Lake in the very heart of the city.

People don’t choose to live in Kurôzu-cho. They are drawn there by an unknown force embodied by the eternal spiral, which awakens every hundred, thousand, or ten thousand years to build a new Kurôzu-cho upon the ruins of the old and destroy it all over again.

Part 3: Family, Daily Life, and Childhood

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