Fantastic Settings Series
One of the best parts of reading and writing fantasy, and for that matter, any spec fiction, is the diversity of setting. A literally limitless array of
location, in both time and space, is available. But, as with many awesome things, there are far more ways to fall flat on your face than to succeed.
If there is one thing at the core of what makes a setting that works, it’d have to be balance. While many out there have enough imagination to come up with all sorts of outlandish, exotic, and unique lands and cultures, if we stray too far afield too frequently, the reader is lost, and if the reader is lost, then we have a problem.
There are two basic tenets to holding fast to when building a landscape, whether it be an entire fleshed out world or only a small portion of one.
1) Use Earth:
There are a great many beautiful and fantastic locales on this planet, in every climate. While it is prudent to stay closer to the possible biomes and geographies that can exist on earth, the diversity in each one isenough for a hundred worlds.
Study the incredible world we already have at our fingertips. Anchoring your world to ours, then extrapolating possibility can provide the best and most believable world.
Let’s look to deserts. In fantasy, unsurprisingly, the great sandy deserts, like the Sahara or the Arabian, dominate the landscape of arid lands. They are two of the largest, at least among those humans frequent, but they are by no means the only ones.
There are the clay flats of South West North America, which teem with life, adapted for the desert. There are the cold deserts, like the Gobi and the Taklamakan. On top of that, there are sandy deserts so dry that they look extraterrestrial, like the Atacama. Earth has a plethora of incredible landscapes to choose from, but that’s only the first step.
2) Change Something:
Don’t change a whole slew of things. Just focus on a single, large scale, aspect of our world that could be different. You could make the seasons last for years, a la George RR Martin. You could do something as simple as changing the median temperature. You could be as complex and world changing as eliminating or otherwise messing with plate tectonics. You could even do something as simple as mashing up a few landscapes that are uncommonly found together.
It is important to keep your change as basal as possible, because once you change something, many more changes in the land follow all on their own.
Let’s look at one simple change.
What is that going to do?
Off the top of my head, dryness. There would be vast tracks of mostly lifeless desert, unlike the deserts of our world, in the center of any landmass. Clouds just wouldn’t form in the same way. Mountain chains would likely be more common, and more barren, as plates would colliding on land barriers instead of sea one.
Wetness. There could easily be massive, shallow oceans, filled with reefs as far as the eye could see. Shallow oceans are very different for sea travel than deeper ones are, and they create a whole slew of different weather patterns.
So you change the amount of water, and that changes the depth or breadth of the seas, which in turn will change the societies, or if you want, the races of people who will inhabit that land.
I’m going to continue working on these posts on more general world building strategies, as well as more geography-specific posts about different types of worldly and otherworldly landscapes.