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Thoughts on World Building

A recent post by ineti made me think about how I construct the worlds that I’m building for my current works in progress. Without going into excruciating details, I’ll address one of them:

I knew going into Harbinger that it was going to take place in a city-state. It’s a pretty urban setting for a pseudo-medieval world, so I used two main sources to begin designing it. One was Francis Geis has written a series of highly useful books about Medieval Life, one of which is aptly titled, Life in a Medieval City. Obviously fantasy readers don’t want to get bogged down in minutiae, but it’s always a good idea to be as accurate as possible. I drew out a rough sketch of the town based on what I knew needed to be there for the story and filled in a few city street names and developed a few specific areas that I knew I’d be returning to in the story for consistency.

I also needed to know the area beyond the city-walls, so I turned to the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection, made available on-line by the University of Texas-Austin. A highly useful source of information. Using their historical map section, I found some pictures of medieval cities and noted how the lands were set up and then extrapolated what I needed onto a map of the area within 20 miles of the city-state. I added in the docks, the farmlands, a large forest to the east of the town where my gypsies lived and other basic information that townspeople would talk about.

Finally, I drew out the entire Empire that Sagras (the city-state) is located in. Once I started building the basic outlines by filling in the coastline, (Sagras is a trading city), and adding in the natural borders of the empire, it began taking on a life of its own. One idea led to another as I filed in the geographic and political features of the empire. It’s not one of those fancy maps like you’d find in a gaming supplement for Battletech or Grayhawk, but it does well enough. As I get time, I’ll probably go back and tweak it some and break out the colored pencils, just because I’m a map geek.

As I finished the map of the Empire, I saw places where my main characters could be from, where they could go if the story develops into a series, where their enemies (current and future) might be from and also possible political changes in the future (again, if this develops into a series).

So, like Ineti, I started with one small map, then drew an overlay and then another overlay and found there was more story there than I originally imagined when I started kicking this idea around two years ago. It’s amazing how a little research leads to a whole raft of story ideas simply by putting your ideas down on paper and looking at them.

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