Writing: World Building – Geography

We’ve already established I start with my main character here.

So then what??

Simple – time to start building the world this  character can exist.

Ok, it probably doesn’t seem so simple, but keeping your character in mind, it really is. This is where you start asking some questions about where your character can exists, and how it works.  By now, you should have a decent feel of your character, right?  So walk through with me…

  • What kind of story is this?  Mundane (no magic, high tech, etc), fantasy, or sci-fi? Other?
    • Ex: Jo is fantasy – c’mon, she’s got super powers!
  • What time period?  High fantasy, Ancient, Medieval, Victorian, Modern, or Future? Other?
    • Ex: Jo is also obviously modern day

Yes, ‘other’ is a viable option for both of the above questions, but asking these will give you a good grounding of when and where you are starting. You have the overall, general world set, so now to narrow it down further.

  • Were does your character begin?
    • A hobbit hole? A lonely farm on a desolate planet? A spaceship?
    • Ex: Jo I knew was going to end in a major city, but based on her history, I decided to start at yet another boarding school to get her booted from. 
  • Rural, suburban or metropolitan (easily confused with Neapolitan, but we’ll talk ice cream later)
    • Countryside?  Small town? Big city? Pirate ship?  Think about your character and the type of place this character will come from
    • Ex: Jo is very much a city girl – I need to stick to that.  I’ll make her plenty uncomfortable later, but I wanted to give her a ‘safe place’ to call home – something she was relatively used to.
  • What kind of region are you looking at?
    • Do you want mountains? Oceans? Rivers? Plains as far as the eye can see?  Is it an extended metropolitan area?  Tell me a bit about the land itself.
    • Ex: I knew I wanted varied landscapes – mountains, ocean, rivers. Even some national parks up that way. I was mostly  looking at the history of the place, though – some place with a varied history I could build off of. Plains will come later.
  • What’s the surrounding area like? What kind of things do you want nearby?
    •  Is it rough? Are their ruins?  Temples? Other cities? A castle on the hill?  Condensed or sparse population? Forbidden forest? Cursed burial grounds? Other cities? A port? These are potential plot points!
    • Ex:  Being on the East Coast, everything being relatively close with so many cities there, it makes extended adventures easier long-term because I know there is so much within the region that’s all relatively easy to get too – other cities, historical sites, the ocean itself. 
  • What country/kingdom are you in?
    • You can start vague with the TYPE of country or kingdom, and build from there. Modern day, you have plenty to chose from, but for fantasy or sci-fi, you get to start getting a bit more creative. Is it fair and just?  Tyrannical? Are the rich super rich, and the poor super poor? Is everyone equal under Federation rule?
    • Ex: I cheated – I knew I wanted to keep Jo American so picking the good ol’ US of A was a given for this situation. Still an important question.
  • Are the surrounding countries/kingdoms similar?
    • This will build more ideas of the world itself. It’ll potentially give you larger, overarching plots to look at.  You don’t need to get too specific yet on it, but having a grasp of what the surrounding areas are like will help you determine where your character is going and what they will be doing. If everyone/thing is drastically different, you could be looking at a world conflict similar to what you see in Lord of the Rings.  No, they all get along a little too well? You may have a Federation rule similar to Star Trek where. The lawn is always greener type of thing is also a viable option.
    • Ex: Again, cheated here – sticking pretty much to modern day so that means the countries of the world are pretty much what you see now.

Remember, start small and start vague, and you can build it from there.  I eventually narrowed it to Boston. Why?  Because I hadn’t seen a lot of stuff done in Boston, and it was still central enough to a lot of places I wanted to use.  It’s some of the oldest places here in the US as far as settlements, and there’s a great deal of history all through the region. That, and ghosts. I love ghosts. History and ghosts tend to go hand in hand.

A lot of this stuff is already in place if you’re using Earth as your sandbox.  Time to dust off that Google-Fu to get an idea of the things around you.

Once you have these general questions answered, you’ll be able to start building more, but use these as a ‘next step,’ and get some of the world under your feet.  Next will come history of the place.

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