Creating worlds for your novel

Some writers create elaborate worlds before they start writing their fantasy or science fiction novel. These writers create maps. They know of every creek and hilltop, the world history back to ten generations, particularly the lineage of their protagonist.

Other writers let the world evolve as they write the book.

We fall into the second category. We start with a character and a situation, and discover the world along with the story. We do this even with stories like Rainbow, where the world is so integral to the story it is almost a character in itself.

It has some problems.

Shared Memories started out as fantasy and morphed into science fiction. That took some world changes we were still fixing into the third draft. It also made it very soft science fiction (as distinct from hard science fiction, which has heavier doses of technology).

Given that we don’t plan out the world in advance, we then have to do it as part of the draft process. It’s usually part of draft two, closer to the start of the rewrite than the end.

Once we have a story we go through it and plot the locations on a map.

With Barrain, we would only map Barrain, not Earth.

We start the map with two points. Elna’s village, and Demon City. Elna’s village is in the mountains. Mark in some mountains. Demon City used to be known as the City Between Sea and Mountain —that makes us think it’s close to the coast, but also close to a mountain. Place it near the coast, but not on it, near more mountains with a narrow hinterland.

It takes weeks to get to the city. Do they walk the whole way? If so, how far can we walk in a day? These people are fitter than us, and younger, so they will walk maybe twice as far. (Right now we are horribly unfit.)

Multiply the kilometres walked per day by the number of days on the road and we get an idea of the scale.

We fill in other bits of the map from details of the journey as per the novel. Once we’re done we might fill in blank bits of the map if we feel like it, but mostly we don’t.

And that’s pretty much it. Our world map. We stick it in front of the draft and that’s the master, and only copy.

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