By Michael James Liljenberg.
Creating Fantasy and Science Fiction Worlds
And God said, 'Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let the dry ground appear.' And it was so. God called the dry ground 'land', and the gathered waters he called 'seas'. And God saw that it was good.
Then God said, 'Let the land produce vegetation: seed bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.' And it was so.
Day 3: Let The Dry Land & Plants Appear: Geology & Botany
The third day dawns over the seas, but the climate is only the first stage of developing a complete environment for you world. Now we turn our attention to the land. The physical world you build for your story will affect the civilizations and characters in both subtle and dramatic ways. A desert is more than hot temperatures; it is a geographic feature that lacks water, with all the implications for life there. Mountains create rain forests on one side and rain shadows on the other. A jungle and the river system associated with it are features of the land that will affect the people, their cultures, and civilizations that live there. Cultures and religions will reflect the needs and blessings offered by the geography. Plants are an extension of the Geography. Lush oasis, vast grassy plains, fertile valleys, and towering forests are essentially geographical features.
In other words, you may have to go back to Day 2 and revise your climate systems as you build your landscape. That will be the case at every step of the process. The goal is to build a whole world where all the parts work together. That way nothing will seem contrived or out of place to your readers. Geography has a profound impact on the cultures and civilizations in your world.
For example, the fertility of the soil caused by the annual flooding of the Nile empowered Egypt to become one of the earliest world powers. An army has to eat. But in order to do their job the soldiers have to train instead spend all their time plowing fields. Tradesmen have to have time to work on weapons and chariots instead of plows and carts. But because the floods renewed the topsoil every year, Egypt was often able to bring in two whole crops per year. Egypt could feed its whole population and afford to feed a full-time army, a huge priest class, and still export food. The pyramids and temples were not built on the backs of slaves, but mostly by Egyptian farmers who where out of work for three months while their fields were underwater. The annual flooding cycle is also at the core of Egyptian religion.
Why did Japanese Samurai carry thin, sharp swords, while European Knights wielded thick broadswords? The answer is geology. The orient is iron poor, while in Europe iron is common and close to the surface. This means that Europeans had enough metal to make armor out of it. Their swords have to be strong enough to smash through that armor. In China and Japan, even though metallurgy was more advanced, iron is rare enough that you couldn't afford to waste it on armor. You need it for tools and weapon blades. Since the armor is made from leather and polished wood, the sword needs to be able to slice through it.
If you haven't done it already, this is the time to make a map.
The first rule of making maps of your fantasy world is very simple: until the map is published in your book don't consider it final. Always be open to changing your map, even scrapping it altogether and starting over. Be willing to experiment, move whole mountain ranges and rivers around. Tolkien's original maps of middle earth pictured it as a ship floating on the outer sea.
So be willing to keep your map fluid. Your story will both suggest the physical layout of the world, and the map you come up with may influence your story, suggesting geographic obstacles that your heroes must overcome, or nations that are allies or enemies based on their proximity to valuable resources or strategic points.
As you slowly map out your world ask questions.
- How much population can the land support?
This is a function of fertility of the land, the availability of water, the rain and weather or in the absence of these, the availability of food and water through trade.
- What kind of foods can be hunted or farmed?
- What kind of natural resources are available for trade and industry? Where are the mineral deposits, metals, mines, magical crystals, oil, trees for lumber and fuel?
- Where are areas of magical and/or religious significance? Are some kinds of magic stronger in some areas and weaker in others?
- Where are the trade routes to import needed goods and food that cannot be provided locally?
Towns will often spring up in the middle of very inhospitable terrain if there is a natural stopping place or crossing along major trade route, or if there is a valuable resource (like a silver mine). If those resources are used up or the trade routes move people will leave, even to the point of abandoning the town.
In pre-industrial societies towns usually form along waterways. Streams and rivers provide a ready source of water and sewage disposal, a source of food (fish), and transportation links with towns up and downstream. Depending on the tech level, rivers also can provide water-wheel power.
- What natural barriers separate peoples, nations, and empires? Mountains can be virtually impassible for an army. Wide rivers are hard to bridge even for relatively advanced civilizations. Ferry's are a lot easier to build, but it takes a long time to ferry an army over a river.
- What areas are prone to natural disasters: flood, hurricanes, blizzards, earthquakes, or volcanoes? How do those disasters figure in to the religious beliefs or superstitions of the people living there? How do they cope and protect themselves from these problems?
The point again is that geographical features will affect the world around them, often in very subtle ways. Those affects need to be felt in the world of your story and the world will come alive, and your readers will love to visit it. They will read it again and again, and anxiously await sequels.
Look back at what you've already developed on previous days. Is the technology of your civilization based on some sort of semi-mystical spice that can only be found on one desert planet? What effect does that have on the religions and interstellar politics of your universe? Keeping with the 'Dune' theme, is the world of your story a vast desert with only a few oasis? Water will be an overriding concern for the civilizations living in your world.
Also don't forget that places change over time. Rome and Carthage fought the Punic Wars primarily over Spain. Both cities were competing over trading routes over the Mediterranean Sea. That meant they needed ships. Ships built out of wood. Wood is fairly scarce in north Africa and Italy didn't have many forests either. Spain did. Spain is not known for it's forests anymore, over the centuries all those forests were cut down, mostly to build ships and as the population grew, for cooking fuel. England realized this to a certain degree, and though they eventually built more ships than Spain ever did, they planted whole forests of oak to supply their shipbuilding industry.
Medieval Demographics Made Easy: Numbers for Fantasy Worlds is an article where you can find answers to many of these questions based on demographic information from the middle ages. For instance:
The average population density for a fully-developed medieval country is from 30 per square mile (for countries with lots of rocks, lots of rain, and lots of ice—or a slave-driving Mad King) to a limit of about 120 per square mile, for a land with rich soil, favorable seasons and maybe a touch of magical help.
It's full of information even I didn't know (like the difference between a 'hamlet' and a 'village': hamlet refers to a village surrounded by fruit orchards rather than grain fields).
One of the first issues to consider is scale. Many fantasy stories (Lord of the Rings included) take place in a relatively small part of the world. The map of Middle Earth in most LOT books is about 900 miles square, with Bag End about 800 miles from the Lonely Mountain and about 1000 miles from Mt. Doom. In contrast, the Mediterranean Sea is over 2100 miles from the shores of Palestine to the Pillars of Hercules. New York is about 2500 miles from Los Angeles.
As you relate your map to your story, to consider how long it takes to travel. In our age where we can drive a car 70 miles per hour (120kph) and travel two or three hundred miles in an afternoon, or commute 30 miles to work every day, we forget how long it takes to travel when you only have muscle driven technology.
A walking man can cover up to 30 miles per day pushing hard and provided good food (villages and inns) and smooth terrain. But it's hard to keep up that pace for more than a few days. Rugged terrain reduces that distance. Needing to spend time hunting and gathering food reduces that range even more. A trained runner or messenger on a road can do 30 miles in about 9 hours on paved roads, but that's about the natural limit of human endurance. 10 to 12 miles is about the maximum extent of 'a good day's walk', two or three miles is the extent of a daily commute (you don't want to tire yourself out before you get to the fields). This is why in most middle-age countrysides will have villages only a couple of miles apart. A horse can greatly speed travel and range, especially in more rugged terrain. But the biggest advantage of a horse is the increase in cargo capacity. A 'day's ride' would be about 30 miles though you can push it up to 50. Again, endurance is a big factor. A horse can only keep up that kind of pace for a few days, less if you're pushing it. If you have regular stations to change steeds you can dramatically increase the speed of horse travel (a consistent 10 to 15 miles per hour, sometimes even 20). Wagons can increase your range (because you can bring your own supplies and don't have to waste travel time foraging), but they actually tend to slow things down. The wagon trains (men, women, and children, with ox drawn wagons) that crossed the Western US from Missouri to Oregon considered 12 miles per day excellent progress across the plains. Trade caravans make similar pace. But that pace is greatly reduced in adverse conditions (excessive heat, lack of water, mountains, storms, snow, etc.) Armies on the march can do as much as 30 miles per day on a road, including time to break and make camp. They can usually maintain that pace for several days (especially if they train for it) but ox-drawn supply wagons will get left behind.
Travel by boat can actually be rather quick depending on currents, tides, wind speeds, and the type and rig of the sails (which depends on the technology level of the civilizations in your world). Sea routes for trade are very important. Boats can haul tons of cargo with only a few hands to run the ship around the clock. A similar cargo in a caravan would fill several wagons or burden dozens of pack animals or hundreds of porters (all of which will need regular food and water and must stop every day to rest). When Rome conquered Egypt, it destroyed the Italian small family farmer. It was cheaper to ship grain by boat across a thousand miles of the Mediterranean Sea than to cart it 20 miles in from the countryside. The small farms were bought out by large landowners to grow cash crops like wine or olives. Up to that time the small family farmer supplied most of the Roman Army's soldiers. Rome had to start relying more and more on German mercenaries as the Roman economy collapsed. By the time the Goth's sacked Rome in the 5th century, the Roman army was just as German as the invading 'barbarians'. (These are the sorts of subtle complexities that can add to the realism of your fantasy/sci-fi world.)
Technology and/or magic can greatly speed things up, and many fantasy writers often resort to these to speed travel up across large worlds like the Waygates and portals Robert Jordan uses in the Wheel of Time books or the steam punk airship that always pops up in Final Fantasy games. Transportation technology greatly impacts a society. Punctuality, that much esteemed Victorian virtue didn't become a virtue in English society until the invention of the railroad allowed for predictable transportation schedules. Most pre-industrial societies are don't view punctuality as a virtue, to them scheduling anything in times more precise than 'morning' or 'afternoon' are an unreasonable imposition.
But consider other implications of distance. Let's say there's a gold mine in the mountains 100 miles away from your King's castle. In industrial or modern tech level terms that's only a three hour train ride. In a pre-industrial society, that's a three-day carriage ride through territory teeming with bandits. Ox drawn supply wains up to the mine take over a week to get there. That means the king needs to build not just a road, but a series of forts, or even castles, along that road to protect the gold convoys (no small investment for a small kingdom).
So, as the third day ends, you should now know quite a bit about your world: its geography, its climate, its natural resources, and its strategic locations. Now, before we begin to populate your world, we're first going to locate your world in your universe as a whole. Once again, let me throw out the reminder, the key to creating a real world is to build a whole world. Be ready to change things as you develop more of your world so that all the parts work together.
Day 0: Theology
Day 1: Physics
Day 2: Weather
Day 3: Geography
Day 4: Astronomy & Planetology
PDF: Solar System Worksheet
Day 5: Animals
PDF: Ecoshpere Worksheet
Day 6: Man (& other races)
Part 1: Culture
Part 2: Economics & Government
PDF: Civilization Worksheet
Day 7: The Rest - of the Story
Medieval Demographics Made Easy: Numbers for Fantasy Worlds Don't just bookmark it, print it out and keep it in your reference files.
http://hiddenway.tripod.com/world/ an index of site for creating fantasy and science fiction worlds, from mapping software to academic papers on population growth.
How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card
One of the most popular books for aspiring Sci-Fi/Fantasy writers. Card suggests creating your story's word as a great starting point to developing your story.
The Writers Complete Fantasy Reference: An Indispensable Compendium of Myth and Magic
The title is a fairly accurate description of the book's content. Everything from medieval economics to magical creatures.
FARP Article Guestbook
|13 Sep 2006|| Emily Moss|
Wow this is great! you obviously put a lot of time into this. These must help lots of people. For instance this map one really helped me. I never really thought about things like trade routes and why towns were there I just put them there! My map is already beginning to look better! thanks so much!!!
Oh and I like the verses at the top of each one! It is a very nice touch!!!!! To bad we can't all make worlds as great as God's on our first try!
|19 Oct 2006|| Evan|
Thank you for this. It was well written and clear. It is going to help me solve many of my problems, especially in the Geology section.
|20 Jan 2008|| Hailey|
Thank you so much for the section on travel! I can not tell you how many times I have searched online and in bookstores to find out how many miles medieval person could travel in a day! A very helpful article! THANK YOU!
|22 Jan 2009|| GooBop|
thankyou so very much for this, especially the bit about travel and miles etc.
|28 Jul 2009|| Michelle|
Oh, THANK YOU! I have been looking for a good article on making worlds for ages!
|5 Aug 2010|| Anon.|
i never know whayworlds should hold. YAY! now i no!
|10 Oct 2010|| Elijah Thomas Berryman|
Even though I made some really good maps and all that, I don’t know everything about geography, but I’d like to up load some maps.
|9 Nov 2011|| Bernardio|
this is amazing. who are you? what have you written? I would love to read it. Michael James Liljenberg
replies: "I’m just a dad who wishes I could crank out a publishable novel once (let alone once a year like pro novelists do). Wish I could say I’ve written a lot, but I’m not even going to finish my NaNoWriMo project this November."
|18 May 2012|| On war|
I’d take the travel times with a grain of salt. According to Clausewitz, the single soldier would need 5h for 3 miles.
In a single march, an army (with baggage) can manage about 5 miles, no more than 6. If they intend to march for several days, that drops to 4 miles. An army of 8,000 will need 16h for those 5 miles.
30 miles in a day, as stated here, seems highly unlikely, unless your army is insignificantly small and unusually nimble. Michael James Liljenberg
replies: "I’ve been recommended to read Clauswitz, though I’ve never taken the opportunity. I know Ceasar was able to force march his army a couple of times pushing them to distances around 25-30 miles per day. But that precluded a lot of the typical camp making the Roman army was so famous for. Again, the cargo (baggage train) usually pulled by ox drawn cart could not keep up with a pace like that, so tactically any general doing such a pace seriously risked losing his supply lines pulling of a sudden fast move like this, but the surprise of having an army a week away suddenly on your doorstep could be very valuable."
|16 Sep 2012|| Brian|
|Page:  2 |
Back to the FARP main page.
The collection of art and writing tutorials in the Elfwood Fantasy Art Resource (F.A.R.P.) is a part of Elfwood.
The FARP logo was created by Miguel Krippahl (The muscular guy in the FARP-logo) and Thomas F Abrahamsson (The text and general graphic design). Those sections written by volunteers are copyrighted to Thomas Abrahamsson and the respective writer. Elfwood is a project once founded by Thomas Abrahamsson.
All rights reserved. Unauthorized Reproduction of the graphics, writings, and materials on these pages is absolutely prohibited! You may consider all material on these pages protected and copyrighted, unless otherwise noted. You may NOT use the images found at the FARP or Elfwood pages on your home pages! All of these images are copyright protected! Everything you see here represent the collaborative effort of the Elfwood community and Thomas Abrahamsson. Please read the Legal Disclaimer for more info on warranties/etc for these pages!