I’m beginning a new project this summer, a story that’s been bouncing around in my head for some months now. Of course, with any science fiction or fantasy, there’s some prep work that I have to do before ever setting pen to paper (actually, come to think of it, I never set pen to paper; I type).
One bit of that prep work actually involves drawing (in which case, I actually do set pen to paper). When I think about world-building, geography takes a prominent role and so I often draw various maps and diagrams to help me in my writing. Here, for example, is a map of the city in which much of my novel will take place:
Some of my drawing is specifically planned: I know that they story will contain x, y, and z so those plot points are reflected in the map. For example, I know I want a scene in which a character is able to stand above the city and see the walls and distant plains all spread out before them. Well, that won’t work from just any old tower; it will need to be a tower higher than all the rest and maybe even set on a hilltop within the city walls. Hence, the Eagle’s Nest from the above drawing.
A lot of the drawing, however, is “random.” When I start a book, I haven’t really sketched out all the plot points and scenes. I have a few things that I know I want to happen, but the rest flows (hopefully) organically from the characters and what they would naturally do. Consequently, a lot of the map is not predetermined and can be whatever strikes me at the moment of drawing. Here’s the continent that forms the backdrop for the book; some of this was set in my head before I sat down to draw it and some of it just sort of “happened.”
What I like about this randomness in drawing my geography is that it further helps to shape my story. If a character is running away from an enemy, for example, the map can tell me what that chase will be like. Is there a river? Woods? A rocky pass? Just like in real life, geography doesn’t change to fit an unfolding narrative; the narrative shifts to fit the geography.
The geography will also help me think through things like weather, climate, plants, and animals. It may be a fantasy world, but things like rain and snow, the characteristics of trees growing in a swamp, how an ocean effects storms, and where good farming or mining might take place are all still governed by natural laws. For my story to make sense, all this has to make sense as well.
I enjoy this part of the process. I’ve always loved the little maps at the front of books I’m reading. Hopefully, my readers will too.