If you Google “Geography in Fantasy”, you will find all sorts of articles and blogs on the subject. Since we are delving into how to create your own fantasy bible, it only seems fitting we add another blog article to that list.
So why do we, as authors, need to create entire maps of the world we drop our characters into?
So your world can end up on here, of course!
One can dream. But also, no. The more obvious answer to that question is so the characters (and you) know where they are going on their journeys. Some people think of Middle Earth as a character just as important as Frodo. Geography is a foe that Frodo and his group have to battle. Even Dorothy on her journey through Oz has to deal with the lay of the land on the way to Emerald City.
Geography plays a more important role than most people realize. Even if you don’t have your characters traveling across the lands on an epic journey with a rag-tag group of hobbits, dwarves, and elves, it is important that you know where your characters are coming from and who their allies might be. Let’s use the Fantasy World Map as an example. if you look at Fantasia, it is surrounded by mountains, which can serve as a natural defense border. The one weak point of attack might be the ocean, but they would be able to see the ships coming. However, if Fantasia’s closest ally is Avalon, this might serve as a problem. Look at the lengths soldiers from Avalon would have to travel in order to come to Fantasia’s aid.
Now let’s think about culture and how geography plays a part in that. Westeros is completely separated from the other lands. How closely linked do you think the cultures of the people of Westeros might be to that of the Dreamlands? Obviously, there is no direct influence since the people aren’t connected. But with Middle Earth, Narnia, and Oz, their cultures might be influenced by one another.
Trade is also heavily influenced by geography. In this way, the natural defense border of Fantasia might work against it, making it harder to trade with others. Fantasia isn’t an island like Westeros, but yet (depending on travel in your world), it might be just as isolated from the rest of the lands. Further, this isolation might make the people of these isolated regions harder. Survival might be more difficult in a land where trade is scarce and mountainous lands prevent much growing.
As you can see, geography is definitely something you want to take some time with. Start with the main land involved in your story, or where you characters’ journey starts. Then figure out who the allies of that land might be, and who their enemies are. You can probably already answer those questions, but the next step is figuring out where those allies or enemies are. Once you know that, begin mapping. For your thriving areas, make sure you keep in mind that the land has to be thriving as well. Lush forests, farmland, bodies of water…all these play important roles in the survival of a civilization in a geographic region. Do you have desolated, neglected regions? There needs to be a reason for their desolation, if it isn’t a man-made reason. This is where your geographic obstacles might come into play: Deserts, vast oceans, overgrown forests, dead land, mountains, etc. Now, start drawing! And don’t worry. You don’t have to be an impressive artist or cartographer (like Dan Meth up there with his Fantasy World Map) to make your own map. To make you feel better, I’m attaching the map of Estridia, from my fantasy MS Heirs of War, I (just) made (updated).
Next time, we’ll be talking about what to include concerning your governments and societal rules in your encyclobibliogrimoire. For now, hit the comments and tell us how your map is coming along, or sound off on what you can observe from my example with Estridia.