But today’s post is about the very start of making a world for me: Mapping it.
I know there is something to be said for building a world as you go, in terms of the entire planet, and maybe only detailing your immediate vicinity or relevant places for your story is best… that it can be very liberating and useful later on in a series if you have left room to expand based on where your writing has taken you.
However, I would contest that there is also definitely something to be said for working out the entire world from the first inception, for over-arching elements that might play into your story and potential plot ideas that can come from knowing where everything is at the very beginning.
For Hevna, this was always going to be the case because of the magic system I knew I was going to employ, and how I wanted it to work. I won’t detail that right now, as it will come in the ‘Other’ post in due time, but the basics we need to know to illustrate the point here is that magic (aether) travels in world-spanning storms for my setting.
The result of this is that I need to know what storms are where, when, not only to know when each country is being influenced but also when the storms would make it back to the country my story is actually based in. I also realized very early on that aether was going to be a tradable resource or at least one pursued by those that can use it, so knowing what countries would be bartering with each other during non-storm years also gave me an incentive to create the entire world from the get-go.
I’m a pretty visual person, so defining the world for me was always going to be a cross between written descriptions, and actual ‘art’ of what I was imagining in my head. Between the two, I have a pretty solid idea of what is going on, where and when, and that certainly helps my work.
But where do you begin with such a thing?
Detailing the World Map
Building a world doesn’t have to be hard (in my experience) and so I started with a world map.
One oval world shape, a pen and some colored pencils and away we went. Hevna was always going to be Earth-like, so the first job? Whack in some polar land masses.
I also knew I wanted to have my major landmass be similar to the USA and South America, including the narrow land bridge between the two. Why? Good question and it has everything to do with species migration, and this is where things get a bit more complicated than maybe how others do it.
I am a lover of documentaries. Always have been, always will be, they’re my favorite manner of research. I have so much generalized science stuffed into my head, it’s a wonder my own name doesn’t fall out. This is not to say I am an expert in any of these fields, far from it, but I have a very solid and extensive basic grasp of most of the sciences. Of them all, my favorites are the natural world and volcanology, and one cannot understand volcanology without a bit of seismology, and you can’t know about both of those without knowing about plate tectonics…
And that’s why I wanted a land bridge.
I decided early on that aether would be affecting the world of Hevna in all sorts of complicated ways, and one of those would be to vastly slow tectonic movement compared to Earth, while also causing swifter erosion on above-sea-level land edges. To allow me to have the animal diversity (and lack thereof) I wanted, it made the most sense for me to have a land bridge between north and south Imyra, so I put one in.
And there, we are touching on the core of world-building, for me. Everything is interconnected. One element affects so many others, and there are facets beyond the simplest of things you might be doing that end up being considered. At this stage, I had the two poles, and a large landmass (spanning two continental plates at least) sitting squarely in the middle of the map.
I knew aether had played a part in the location and shape of this landmass, so it would do likewise to other parcels of land, which I decided would total somewhat less than Earth’s total volume of land in the long run. I began to pencil in other large sections of land.
The next one I put in was ‘Esian’, a large landmass I decided would be the place where civilized humanity originated, and spread out from. Close to Imyra, it would not have been hard for people to emigrate to the new land, nor to the northern island chain of Okan, which I decided would be one of two island chains created by volcanic activity.
On the other side of Imyra, in went Adane and Nostalia, the latter designed to be my northern landmass of hardy peoples. Four major landmasses, two poles, two volcanic islands chains, and then finally one small cluster of islands and my map looked as I wished it to. Awesome!
Now I just needed to detail the countries. Oh no.
Earth has an absolutely rich history and quantity of countries. Even since our earliest days, we have banded together in groups like the lovely primates we are, ending in those groups growing large enough to claim large swathes of land. Indeed, at one point the country I originated from got so big and ‘owned’ so many places it had to have an Empire made up of smaller countries scattered all over the place to handle the scale. This is before we even think about the politics and morality of that not-insignificant period of history… and I’m certainly not going to go into that here.
Hevna would have developed differently, though. Aether again reared its head to remind me that the dangers of conquering untamed lands would be higher, at least in Storm years, and that with the advent of Weavers in the sentient species of the planet (mages), the ability to wage larger scale, higher damage wars of aggression was a possibility.
How would this affect my world? What change did I want it to have, that real Earth may not? Were the politics between nations as tense in places as real life?
My decision ended up being that there would be fewer countries than on Earth, and some may have areas of land naturally charged with aether that affected land borders. I also decided to take into account the nature of some of the land – deserts, after all, are less contested than the more fertile areas, so what did I need to put where to explain the borders of my countries?
Imyra was detailed first. The two northern spurs I had given my land became two separate countries (Wessenland and Duntilik) and their border lays on a series of plateaus, gouged out by ancient ice sheets that descended from the northern pole in ages past. I also decided Duntilik with its more northern cant, would be a sparse and tundra riddled area, making its people both few in number, resilient in the body, and aggressive about their borders out of necessity.
I also sketched in Arlatene and Rasaal as the final countries of the northern section of Imyra, one temperate and one jungle respectively. A natural aetheric barrier in the form of forests bordered Arlatene on both north and south to explain why this militaristic and powerful nation had not conquered its neighbors. Additional considerations then went into the natural resources of each locale.
For Duntilik, that came as ‘not many’ due to the nature of the forbidding land the Dunts occupy, however, I decided they would make up for it in other ways, starting with their fauna and ending with their complete mastery of what things they do have, including personal airships.
For Wessenland, I decided to give the gifts of technology and metallurgy, derived from a wealth of ore veins in their lands. Arlatene acquired stone, marble, and lumber, Rasaal all the plants and poisons of the jungle… and sugar (though admittedly, that last one came later when I started writing).
As an additional note, I knew I wanted to put in for Rasaal, I named it an ‘Empire’, knowing full well I would come to address that in a book I had in mind. Where once the sun never set on the British Empire, Rasaal would instead have an Empire of locales under its heel… it’s just that the nations it nominally controlled were not going to be human.
The above is essentially the process I used on every landmass, sketching in borders, country names, resources and the mentality of the peoples. Some areas were denuded of such extravagance, due to their harsh extremes. Deserts may have nomads, snow-flats may have outposts, but these are the exception, not the rule. Okan was granted the richest source of obsidian thanks to its volcanic structure, Adane was ‘split’ down its middle by a series of aetheric ravines, smaller island chains popped up around land edges, a few important reefs were penciled in and two massive vortexes placed in the largest seas.
Soon enough I had a map that looked like something that could exist, and a good understanding of the makeup of peoples and places on my nice little world, all ready for me to write all over and explore. An act of creation and imagination I found entirely enjoyable, useful, and inspirational as I felt the first threads of ‘plot’ growing from some of the boundaries and locales.
Now I had my countries and basic ideas, my next task was to begin writing the places up for reference. I use Scrivener for creating my novels and short stories, which has a wonderful function to let you import written files and display them next to your current plot points to let you check dates, inconsistencies, whatever referencing you feel you may need to do.
I’m not going to go into too much detail here, as it was literally just me taking each country, one at a time, and filling in a checklist of things I needed to think about for my world. The point is mostly to consider some of the more practical aspects of a country for use in my novels. How does the country handle disasters? Who runs the place? Where is the capital? What kind of police force does it have?
When tackling this stage, I freely admit I hardly sat down and detailed every single country… for now. I fleshed out all the major players, especially Northern Imyra where I knew my first few books would take place and thus this part of World Building has become a relaxation activity for me, anytime I’m trying to break a period of writer’s block. With time, the world grows… which brings me to…
Map-making with Photoshop
Written descriptions are all well and good, but I’m also a fairly visual person and like to see how things measure up to each other.
Since first sketching my ideas down, I have slowly been using Photoshop to create more detailed maps of my world, which will hopefully result in one day in the entirety of the planet being detailed on this site, with every major landmark listed even if every small village isn’t.
I handle each country separately, and I cannot be more thankful for free photoshop brushes that help with this process, as it would be beyond laborious if it weren’t for these resources. Check out my maps page to see them in action.
My goal when making these maps is to both help myself visualize and stick to my ideas, and to also see the world as some of my characters might – drawn out, but not necessarily as accurate as the real world maps of our modern day.
It’s also very fulfilling to design the heraldry of each country and give myself a grasp on what is important to each nation to display to others. If I had the capacity in my tuneless body to do so, I’m sure I’d try making anthems for them too, but thankfully I am completely musically inept!
I find great joy even in these final steps of creation, and the aggravation of thinking up names for every town and city and the different languages used in each place. For all it can be tedious, laborious and time-consuming, I’m always super pleased with the final result, and have received some most pleasant compliments on them since.
I eagerly look forward to the day I have finished every country off and added them to my world map, so it can take pride of place on the site.
And there you have it. An in-depth description of how Hevna came to be, at least physically. Check in on Friday for a similarly long-winded diatribe on religions, and I hope this was of some interest!