Volume 2 Archives - The Art of World Building

Creating Places Conclusion

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Jan 202020

While this volume focuses on creating places, world building doesn’t need to start with the planet itself, or anywhere on it. We could start with inventing species, plants, animals, gods and other beings as described in Creating Life (The Art of World Building, #1). More often than not, we’ll crisscross between subjects as we refine our ideas. Everything is optional, but if you’re stuck on deciding what to do first, follow your heart. Start with what matters most to you so that you don’t burn out on creating things you care about less. It’s also vital to remember your goals; create what you need for your story or career but don’t invent anything you can’t or won’t use. The templates will help you stay organized and might even inspire more invention. And if you ever get frustrated or overwhelmed, take a break.

Remember, world building is fun!

How to Create Dungeon or Ship Maps

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Jan 062020

For dungeon maps, we can use lined graph paper to draw hallways, doors, and rooms, each with a width determined by the scale we’ve chosen, such as a square on the grid being five feet. We need to decide where the entrance is but may freely arrange areas such as those named in the previous section. A dungeon is typically below another structure like a castle, meaning foundation walls, pillars, and other supports will be incorporated into the design.

For space ships, we should determine a list of areas we need. This can be based partly on something like a cruise or cargo ship or actual military vessels on which people live. In addition to places like the bridge, engineering, and propulsion, living areas are needed, including dining, recreation, sleeping quarters, general stores, and more. An interstellar ship could keep travelers on it for a very long time and need to satisfy their needs. See the next section for software that can help create a spaceship map.

For wooden vessels, we’ll want to find a resource (possibly online) that shows us typical configurations, such as this one: http://www.artofworldbuilding.com/warship. We can model our design on this, removing decks in smaller vessels. This might take some drawing skill, but the point is that we don’t need to invent internal layouts so much as understand how these ships are already structured. We can print such an image and trace it, or hire an artist to do it, or suggest readers refer to a link included in an author’s note at the start of a tale.

For wooden ship layouts, most people don’t understand existing ones and aren’t bored with them, so we should research what’s commonplace on Earth and use something similar. Creating a layout might be beneficial for readers, in order to clarify little-understood nautical terms like port, starboard, orlop, bow, stern. We may point readers of an eBook to an online resource, but print books lack this capability. Including an existing image requires gaining the copyright, but we can hire an artist to create one similar or attempt to draw it ourselves, using a program like Cosmographer 3.

Should You Create a Dungeon or Ship Map?

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Dec 302019

If relative locations matter to your work, creating a map is a good idea, even if it’s just for your reference and never published. We seldom see a map of ships, lairs, or dungeons in stories, suggesting authors might avoid this without complaint from an audience. Gamers and game designers might benefit from such maps, as the audience’s characters will need to navigate through the locations. For readers, a map could be quite beneficial. My own experience in reading about someone’s journey through a dungeon, castle, or similar labyrinth is that I have little to no understanding of where they are. Maybe the characters don’t either, being lost, but these scenes often lack orientation.

Even if we don’t show a map to the audience, it’s crucial to accurately convey the layout we’ve envisioned. Otherwise we can describe a series of twists and turns that doesn’t make sense to readers with a strong sense of direction. This can be one reason to be slightly vague. Rather than writing that a hallway turned left twice and then right once, we can say it turned to one side twice and then the other, but to some people, that’s worse.

One reason for a map is to determine what rooms exist and what’s in them. This can be problematic; few of us understand how a dungeon is laid out, assuming there’s a standard way, and we might have trouble assigning a purpose to rooms. Some room examples are cells, guard stations, weapons rooms, torture chambers, latrines, pantries, mess halls, and visiting areas. Depending on the setting, some might have a library, laundry area, kitchen, a mini-hospital, anti-magic zones or cells for wizards, bullet-proof rooms, or areas where prisoners are forced to do hard labor (of various kinds). Think of modern prisons for ideas on room types and potential layouts, including security zones for different levels of dangerous prisoners. All of this matters because of the tradition of adventurers exploring such a place and finding monsters and valuables in various rooms, with some sketchy justification for these things existing where they do. Some thought can raise our dungeon above the competition, and having a map can give us ideas.

In SF, maps of a ship could be invaluable as a reader because explanations can be difficult to visualize, though it may not matter for your story. When I watch TV, I seldom understand where parts of a ship are in relation to each other, but characters typically solve this for me with explanations like, “We have to crawl through this tube and up two decks to reach engineering.” To write things like this, we’ll need to remember our layout, but that may not require a map. We could just jot down what deck everything is on and whether it’s fore, aft, port, or starboard. For example, engineering might be aft, port side, deck 5 of 20.

How to Create a Settlement Map

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Dec 232019

Decide what the settlement’s water supplies are (lake, river, wells?) and draw this on a map, whether with pencil and paper or a program like City Designer 3 from Pro Fantasy. Then choose an area as “old town,” which is where the settlement began before spreading out. There’s probably an original set of buildings, possibly surrounded by a small, dilapidated wall. Here lie crowded streets and possibly thieves and the poor. An original mayor’s hall could be here. Sometimes these old towns are preserved but other times they might be demolished due to the space being needed for something better. There’s likely to be some industry near the river, too, including anything that produces waste.

Upriver from here, if applicable, create the wealthy area, which can be one of several. We might have another location that qualifies, too, such as higher land or a castle or other fortification. There’s likely to be a port, and related commercial industry near the river but not fully occupying the territory. We don’t need to be specific about the latter, just that factories and the like are there.

Remember that while a small village might be on level ground, larger places seldom are due to expansion and variable surfaces. Higher areas are often used for the wealthy, fortifications, or important buildings like a shrine or mayor’s residence. Lower areas might flood, especially along the river, lake, or ocean. If this happens or the tide causes extreme fluctuations in water level, consider how this might affect structures along the shore (such as being built on stilts).

Village Map

Village Map

If you have multiple species living here, decide if they have their own sections of town and where those areas are. A water dwelling species is by the water source, most likely, unless they’re salt water creatures, and their ability to come upon land will impact their influence. Elves might be near a forested area, but if there isn’t one, then is there a town gate with a road that leads toward the nearest forest, and which provides a better view of it? The same holds true of other species like dwarves wanting a view of hills or mountains, but there’s no reason they can’t live all the way across town, too. The question is where is a concentrated group of them dwelling?

Now that we’ve chosen a few locations for “old town,” the wealthy, species quarters, and important buildings, we can begin filling in housing, commercial, and industrial locations. We can include spaces for parks, a stadium, cemeteries, and public gatherings. An array of other specifics could be included, such as the prison, but these are only worth noting if we intend to use them.

Before depicting any of them, decide which kind of neighborhood each is. The reason is that if we want a crime-ridden, poor area, we probably want more industry there, too, and fewer parks; parks may exist, but they will be poorly maintained (a detail we can ignore). What we’re after is the knowledge of what reputation each section of town has. We then want to create our neighborhoods with that in mind. Think about where you live; somewhere is considered nice while another is run down, while a third might be downright dangerous. Naming neighborhoods can be as simple as compass points: southeast is unsafe while northwest is wealthy. I’d probably say that northwest is therefore up on a big hill, has more parks, and a great shrine to a cherished god. Southeast might be near the river, industry, and a place of frequent muggings, unrest, and dissent, with close, crowded streets and smaller, old homes.

We’ll need to leave space for roads. Consider leaving a wide avenue in wealthier areas or from the castle to a major gate. We should also determine where a garrison is, if it exists, and what the likeliest point of attack is, as that’s where the castle goes (on a hill). We should also form an idea of where the main city wall is; does it surround the entire community or has further development taken place since its construction so that some buildings are now outside the wall?

This should be enough to get world builders started on map creation. Once you’re working, you’ll have ideas on how to proceed.

Should You Draw a Settlement Map?

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Dec 182019

For game designers who’ll have characters roaming within a settlement, the map is essential for knowing where everyone, and the dangers they’ll face, are located, but few if any books include maps of cities or towns, so one isn’t expected with stories. A map may even interfere with a reader’s ability to form their own mental picture as the story progresses. There comes a point where an audience doesn’t care where we said something is; what matters is their impression. Referring back to a map included at the beginning of the book is optional but might jar them. Placing the map toward the book’s rear is less advisable because they’ll have their own ideas by then. Including it within the text, when the layout is described, is the best option.

If our settlement’s layout is distinctive enough to impact story events, then a map is more important, whether we share this with an audience or not. One reason to create it is that we may forget this layout in time if we need it again. However, these issues can be solved without a map, just by notating locations in a file.

The existence of a map does not free us from the responsibility to succinctly describe our location, in ways which are easy to visualize. It can be best to say that a church stands at one end of the town and a mayor’s hall is at the opposite, rather than that one is east and the other west unless the compass points matter in some way. For example, if the sun sets on the mayor’s house and we like foreshadowing his demise, we could try that. Including specific details which are irrelevant to the story implies those specifics matter when they don’t, overwhelming our readers. Unsure what to remember, they may remember nothing.

A settlement map can make us think about locations we haven’t considered, such as segregation of the wealthy and poor, or crime-ridden areas. The wealthy will likely live near rivers or a treasured location like a shrine or park, the latter being more important in very urban areas because so much of the land might be paved or occupied by buildings. In larger settlements, the poor will inhabit the areas that are heavily trafficked or polluted, and the wealthy will be upstream of this, if on a river, or in a separate area of a lake.

Urban planning is a subject few of us know about, but zones are often created to improve the quality of life. Factories are not typically near homes. Commercial locations can be almost anywhere. Homes are often grouped into neighborhoods. Infrastructure like roads, sewage, and power are carefully planned. It’s a massive subject deserving of its own book, and yet few of us will ever need to know where these locations are unless trying to draw a map, because our audience will assume these things are somewhere logical without us being specific. The depth of this subject is one reason not to draw a map, but that depends on how many details we intend to include. Sometimes being vague has advantages.

One way to avoid drawing is to use Google Maps and find a place of similar size to the one you imagine. For fantasy writers, we might want to choose an older location like those in Europe. Then we can zoom in on a town and make a screen capture or print out. From this, we can write names of places on it (and just use this for our personal files, not publishing it). Either that, or we can still draw it ourselves using this as inspiration.

Drawing the World

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Dec 162019

Creating a map of the entire world we’ve invented can be a challenge. As mentioned in the section above, the Fractal Terrains add-on to CC3 can create an entire planet with the click of a button. However, while it will have continents, oceans, bodies of water, mountains, and vegetation, that’s all it will have. If you happen to like the entire planet and need one, you can follow my process above to incorporate the result into CC3 and then re-draw each land mass with the missing features, like settlements. This can give us the best of both worlds: a globe that looks like a Google map photo without data, and smaller, more detailed areas.

Another option is to create continents, and then manually place an image of each continent on a blue background which simulates the ocean. This can give us a world map. If we have a program like Photoshop, we can paste high quality, full size images of our continents to make a giant, detailed map.

How I Create Continent Maps

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Dec 092019

I use Campaign Cartographer 3 (CC3) to draw my continent maps, which I also use for region maps by zooming in. There’s an add-on called Fractal Terrains, which can be used to generate continent shapes with the click of a button. It actually creates entire planets but I’ve typically looked for a continent that I like the look of. Mountains, hills, vegetation, and even lakes or bays, etc., are also depicted. If I don’t like what I see, another click and I get another planet. There are changeable parameters to generate more or fewer land masses, for example.

I take a screen shot of one I like, crop it to size in an image program like Windows Paint, and save it. In some cases, I take two different continents and overlay them atop each other to create a composite shape that I like. I then import the image into CC3 using their instructions for doing so. Then I use CC3’s tools to trace the continent outline. I sometimes change little features I don’t want to include, or add them.

I’ll have already decided the continent’s latitude, hemisphere, and which direction it lies from any existing continents I have. For the latter, the reason is that on Earth, tectonic activity sometimes separates one large continent into two smaller ones that appear to fit together like a jigsaw puzzle; see the western edge of Africa and the eastern edge of South America for an example. I might want to imply such a relationship between two continents.

In CC3, I use the hill and mountain tools to drop these icons over the Fractal Terrains image, though I’m free to ignore or add features that weren’t present. For a mountain range, it’s best to drop the foothill icons first because these will be farther out from the range’s center. Then I drop the mountain icons on top of the foothills, starting at the top of the range and going down. The reasons for this would be apparent if you did it in reverse yourself. Basically anything you add will cover what’s already on there, so the southernmost mountain should be fully visible but partly covering the mountain icon to its north. To achieve this, just start at the top and move down. Top to bottom is generally the way to work.

Once I have outlined the continent and mountains/hills that were depicted on the Fractal Terrains image, I no longer need the latter and can hide it in CC3. I add some major rivers and lakes. There are tools to draw rain forests, shrub land, deciduous and coniferous trees, and more. I start at the top of my continent and work my way down, adding items as I deem appropriate, with an eye for the information in this volume and with what little artistic sense I have. I add cities and towns at fresh water locations and by the ocean. I tend to use the rivers as country boundaries.

For each settlement, I give it some farmland, maybe a bridge over the rivers, and roads/trails to the neighboring settlements. Then I start filling in clear areas predominantly with trees, unless I have reason to believe rainfall is limited, in which case I give it grasslands or shrub lands. On the windward side of mountains, I put thick forest due to the rainfall. Desert goes on the leeward side, then maybe grasslands farther from the mountains as moisture is picked up in the atmosphere again. I just repeat this process as I work my way around the map, dropping icons for whatever I need.

CC3 comes with different color icons for settlements, with some blue, gold, red, etc. To help readers (and myself) understand the country boundaries, I tend to stick with one style of icon for a given country, such as the gold ones for one country and the blue ones for a neighbor. If you’re zoomed in enough, you can tell just by looking at the map what areas are in a territory. The results are good and publishable with my manuscripts, and yet I can’t draw to save my life. You can see the resulting maps at http://www.llurien.com/Antaria and http://www.llurien.com/Llorus.

How To Create Continent Maps

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Dec 022019

We should decide on our initial goal: are we intending to draw a continent or the region around where our story takes places?

Continent First

For a continent, we can base the overall size on an existing Earth one or just a region, like a country (or several). A smaller area, like a U.S. state or province like those in Canada can also be used but might be designated an island. In all cases, we’ll just surround it with water instead of other land masses. This analogue can help our sense of scale, distance, and travel times.

With this decided, we can begin drawing a shape for our coastline. Nature doesn’t create straight lines, typically, so the inability to draw one is not a disadvantage. We can once again base part of this on Earth analogues. Just don’t use an entire coastline for even one side of a continent. We can take the west edge of Spain, the south edge of Britain, the region between North Carolina and Florida for the east, and the northern coastline of South America. We can also draw all of these on the “wrong” coastline. Stealing continent edges this way takes the difficulty out of this, and if you miss draw it, so much the better. We could also trace these.

We should have a general sense of what climates we want. This will determine how far from the equator the continent is.  A broad, inclusive climate range means a land mass that runs thousands of miles north to south, if the planet is at all Earth-like in size. Make this decision early because it determines which direction the prevailing winds are. And as we learned in Chapter 2, “Creating a Planet,” this predicts where rain shadows from mountain ranges develop. This affects the amount of vegetation, causing everything from dense forest to arid deserts.

But first, we’ll want to decide where those mountain ranges are, using what we learned from Chapter 3, “Creating a Continent.” Nature often places one range along the edge of a continent, with deep water (and possibly sea monsters) just offshore. Find a place you’d like this, the best culprits being on the eastern or western shores; a northern or southern range means a single climate (cold or hot) takes place in that mountain range, which provides less variety.

For a second range that’s somewhat parallel, choose a different length and starting point rather than starting at the same latitude or longitude and traversing the same distance. With a range that’s more perpendicular to existing ones, try not to form right angles like an upper case “L.” Placing empty space between two such ranges helps prevent this. Remember that there are different kinds of mountain ranges and that we can place solitary peaks, or a few in a row, virtually anywhere. We don’t have to create every mountain range at once, being able to work on one region of our map at a time, but it can be helpful to do so if we have ideas.

With this decided, and with our knowing which way prevailing winds blow at the latitude where this mountain range stands, we can determine where rain shadows and therefore deserts exist. If there’s a significant gap between two ranges that are north and south of each other, for example, moisture may get through there and cause a forest near that gap. Also, remember that smaller mountain ranges cause less of a rain shadow. Knowing these things allows us some flexibility to justify having a forest where a desert might actually lie if the peaks were taller. Using Google maps, we can look at satellite images of continents and figure out what typically happens; these show ranges, vegetation, and deserts.

We’ll want to draw some rivers that flow toward the sea, possibly stopping at a large lake first. And this fresh water is where our settlements will be, as humans cannot consume salt water without becoming sick (but we can invent a species that can). When creating a continent map, we don’t need to draw every lake; in fact, doing so would be impractical, just as every river would be. This is one justification for putting a settlement somewhere that water doesn’t appear on the map, but do this on purpose, not by accident.

Vegetation will grow around rivers and lakes, but it will also grow on the opposite side of a mountain range from the desert that a rain shadow causes. Generally, we’ll want a forest on one side, a desert on the other. However, if the prevailing winds are east to west (or vice versa), and the mountains are also running that way, then the winds aren’t being blocked by the peaks; the winds are parallel. This makes forest on each side likely, but desert on either side unlikely.

Local Region First

If we’re creating a map for a specific story, we might only need a regional drawing that focuses on the area where our story occurs. This requires knowing our story’s requirements regarding land features that impact storytelling and whether weather plays a role. First make a decision about what you need for each. Weather determines latitude, as does the need for a rain forest or frozen tundra. If only one is needed, we could move our continent north or south (depending on which hemisphere it’s in). If both cold and hot are needed, a more temperate zone or longer continent (north to south) might be needed. With this decision made, we can choose latitude, basing this on an Earth continent or country if needed for better understanding.

With latitude and hemisphere decided, we can understand which direction the prevailing winds blow. We might not be drawing the whole continent, but if we decide to place mountains along a north-south trajectory, then wind direction will determine rain shadows and vegetation locations. For example, if the winds blow east and we place a north-south range on the eastern edge, then a forest will be between the ocean and range, and a desert will be to the range’s west. If we don’t want a desert, then put the mountain range somewhere else, such as on the western edge or more east-to-west.

With such information, we can decide what land features surrounded the settlement or region where the story takes place. While our focus might be on that area, approaching development from the continental mindset helps us be realistic. We don’t need to ever draw the rest of the land mass. It does help to have some idea how much land is in either direction, however. A region at the coast has an ocean or sea available to it, and therefore shipping and trade options unavailable to a landlocked area. The number of potential allies and enemies in every direction also matters to overall mindset, but these are less mapping issues than world building ones.

Continental Maps – Get Started

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Nov 252019

Whether it’s a continent map or just a region of one, we should consider the merits of creating a map and how to do so. We can create one ourselves or hire artists for a few hundred dollars, which is comparable to the cost of book covers but which can be used repeatedly.

Should You Draw One?

For a world that an author will only use for a short story or one book, a map may not be needed or worth the time, but worlds we’ll use often (across a series or not) will benefit from maps. The more the characters travel through the wilderness, the more likely this need is. Even stories that take place primarily in cities might need a regional map if the audience must follow two or more storylines that are concurrently happening in different locations that the audience struggles to understand; Games of Thrones comes to mind. A city-centric tale has little use for continent maps unless referencing nearby locations, whereupon a regional map is helpful. Game designers may need one for the same reasons, even outside of digital gaming, where it is often mandatory.

If we want to calculate travel times, a map can help us measure with accuracy, even if we decide our map isn’t drawn to scale. We can discover problems with intended time frames in our story and find adjustments that might be creative. If a journey will happen too fast, we can cause calamity to slow our travelers. We might use magic, steeds, or technology to increase travel rates. Or we can change our story. If we’d like to cite specific distances, like “it is one hundred kilometers to Illiandor by horse and it will take two days riding hard,” we can make such statements with greater confidence.

Drawing maps can be fun and may provide ideas for both stories and setting. Chapter 1 on “Case Studies” provides examples. But if we don’t want to draw one, there’s a good way around this: base locations on Earth ones. We might use England, France, and Spain as our respective countries, calling them something else. In our notes, we can just write that “Illiandor is England,” for example, and even use its geography. Readers will never know unless we provide a map with a familiar shape. We can do this on a smaller scale as well, such as using the provinces of Canada as different countries, even while changing the latitude to something balmier near the equator.