When conducting world-building for your fantasy WIP, it is absolutely essential that you understand the world’s geography. It’s different from ours, after all! In today’s Playing God post, I explore the reasons for establishing geographical features, some important considerations, and give a sneak peak at the geography in my own fantasy world! →
👍 Introduction | 💡 Creation | 🌟 Cosmology | ☯ Religion | 🔮 Magic | 🌍 Geography | 🌦 Climate & Weather | ⏳ History | 🎭 Race & Culture | 💬 Language | 🎵 Music, Art & Writing | 🏠 Infrastructure | 🤴 Government | 📜 Laws | 💰 Economy
Geography is the field of science that deals with the study of the lands, features, environment, inhabitants and phenomena of the Earth or any other planet. Sometimes called “the world discipline” and “the bridge between the human and physical sciences”, it is broken down into the following branches and the relationships between them.
🌍 Physical geography
Physical geography is the branch of geography that deals with patterns and processes in the natural environment. It includes the study of the atmosphere (air), hydrosphere (water), biosphere (life), lithosphere (rocks) and pedosphere (soil), as well as climate and the myriad interactions between all of the above.
👥 Human geography
Human geography is the branch of geography that deals with the distribution and networks of people and their cultures around the world. It includes the study of communities, cultures, economies, political and religious activities, and interactions with the natural and built environment across space and time.
Feel free to disagree, but the way I see it, when it comes to writing fantasy novels set in a “secondary world” (i.e. not “our” world), establishing that world’s geography is kind of…not optional. Here’s why:
🚩 Sense of place
Developing a strong sense of place is a vital aspect of any story, and when that story is set in a brand new world, you can’t rely on Planet Earth’s geography for that sense of place. You can absolutely use it for inspiration, but you also need create your own geographical features in order to bring the story’s setting(s) alive. Life doesn’t take place in a vacuum, after all, and neither should your story!
👁🗨 Geographic perspective
The geographic perspective is a way of looking at the world and understanding the relationships between people and their environment through time and space. It’s important to understand how the people in your world interact with the geographical features around them, and to do that you first need to establish what those geographical features actually are!!
If you think about it, geography plays a significant role in shaping the history of a world. For example, a high mountain range or a wide sea can inhibit passage between two locations, preventing things like trade, migration, and even evolution over long periods! Establishing these geography-time relationships, and even understanding how geography itself has changed over time, is an excellent way to enrich your world-building!
And, of course, the plot of your story may be significantly influenced by the world’s geography, especially if your characters are moving around! Journeys may be lengthened or shortened due to certain geographical features, while others may be focal points such as destinations or even cursed or sacred places. The options are limitless!
Once you delve into the disciplines of physical and human geography and their various sub-branches, you will soon discover that there are SO MANY different geographical features you might want to create. Here are some of the key aspects you should consider when establishing your fantasy world’s geography:
🗻 Physical features
By “physical features”, I mean the characteristics and locations of each element of the natural world. Where are the oceans and seas, and where are the major land masses and islands? On land, where are the mountain ranges, the forests, the deserts, the swamps, how big are they and what do they look like? Are there rivers and lakes on land, and are there any ice sheets and glaciers anywhere?
🌐 National borders
If the people (whether they be human or something else entirely) in your world have multiple countries/kingdoms etc, you should also consider where their national borders lie. While not a necessity, it is common for national borders to lie along geographical boundaries such as rivers or mountain ranges. This is an excellent example of the interaction between human geography (people) and physical geography (their environment)!
🏙 Urban centres
A glimpse of Planet Earth’s population distribution will show that people tend to congregate in urban centres we call “cities”. These urban centres are most commonly found close to a source of water, be it along a coastline, river system, or beside a lake. When determining the location of your cities and towns, have a think about whether people would actually live there given the environment around it!
Naming geographical features, nations and cities can be a real challenge, but also a lot of fun! There are so many ways you can do this, such as basing names off those found in our world, but one thing you should focus on is ensuring that places near each other, or in the same nation, have names that sound or feel similar. But that’s not to say that people in different nations might call different features by different names!
Given the complexity of establishing geography in a brand new world, is it surprising that so many fantasy novels are accompanied by a map? I think not! Maps are an excellent way of presenting geographical information to a reader without having to endlessly describe it within the novel’s contents. Sketching out a map of your world’s geography will also help you picture it and keep things consistent when you’re writing!
Out of all the different world-building activities I’ve conducted for my WIP fantasy series Graceborn, I think I had the most fun establishing the world’s geography. It has been through a few iterations since I began planning several years ago, and there is a bit more I need to do before I get to the later books in the series, but for now the key geographical features in the world of Graceborn are as follows:
Land features: The main mountain range is known as the Draegonspine, which merges into the Mountains of Kheer at its northern edge. Also in the north is a large, ancient forest called Crainn Mor, with smaller, unnamed forests dotted around the land. In the south is the Kerala Desert, and there is a sickly marsh known as the Dead Marsh in the east. Then, there is the Tainted Land…
Water features: Located in the west is the main body of water, called the Damaric Ocean. And yes, there is a smaller sea in the south called, unoriginally, the South Sea. There are four key rivers spanning the lands: the Enfys, the Czern, the Kerala, and the Ursakh (called the Enya by the locals); as well as three large lakes.
Nations: There are currently eleven sovereign states in this world. In the far west is the island nation of Mykene. The Lomric nations, in the north-west, are called Rumen, Lomhara and Dalaith. In the south is Kannur and Narath, which evolved from the Kerala tribes. The eastern nations are Tarnow and Maribor, while in the central belt of land is Finnmark, Hebron, and, of course, Asphodel, where most of book 1 is set!
Urban centres: For now, I have given each nation a capital city and have named and located 1-2 smaller towns. I may have to add more later, but for now I only need a couple of these minor settlements. Where possible, I have located these on a coastline or near a river or lake, though some are just hanging out on the open plains!!
Maps: Below is the map I have created for the world of Graceborn. For those who haven’t seen it before, I hope you like it! I made it using a program called GIMP, and I wrote a post about how I put it together, which you can read here. Eventually, I will need to extend it to the north and east, but I’m so happy with for the moment! 😊