December 26, 2016
It's that time again! World-building is upon us! (Also, Christmas cheer... which is why I'm scrambling to keep up with my social media this month!) So what are we talking about today? DUN DUN DUNNNN....
Landscape is one of the most artistic forms of world-building. Key 3 focuses on the depth and importance of this art, especially how it affects the characters and events of the story!
(See Key 2: Linguistics 1.0.)
This post focuses on Key 3: Landscape.
(Next I'll do Key 4: Diversity)
I love when a book’s landscape is yet another fully developed/explored aspect of the world. Fortunately for me, the fantasy genre is well-known for using landscape to further or hinder the plot.
Have a look at these maps below—these vast worlds are just asking for an adventure!
Now I want to mention something that makes me laugh--those fantasy maps that are full of "revealing names."
Naming places should reflection the culture of the world. This generally means that the names are screaming adventure. Now there is always going to be that place that developed a name for some trait or some event that basically screams “I AM AN ADVENTURE WAITING TO HAPPEN!” But we let those spare few pass—our world has those, too. What is most important is that the names of EVERYTHING reflect the culture and history of that region.
Death Valley, anyone?
For me, when I write, the Pass of the Dead probably jumps up as my red flag.
You can sure as hell bet that this place is chock full of history and danger!
But more important than the names of these soon-to-be-adventures is their ability to control the plot. As a reader and writer, I really like to know the map before I begin my journey. I like when stories present the landscape to me, with no screaming suggestions, and then allow me to be delighted to find how strong, consistent, and robust that landscape actually is! A good landscape should be mentioned in passing, referenced in history, engaged in plot, and so on and so forth.
Most importantly, that landscape should shift events and characters. Because the landscape has existed before the characters, surviving and moving inside the landscape is yet one more hurdle to an adventure. A good story does not find a way to bypass the landscape on instant (when the author doesn't feel like dealing with it) and then trapped in it the next when it serves a plot point.
I’m going to take a few examples from The Kings to describe little ways that the landscape determined events when I write:
So in Kings or Pawns, there was a marsh (the Sevilan Marshes, to be precise). The place is hot, humid, and crawling with mosquitoes. You drop several thousand people in a place like that for a few weeks and the probability of disease is very high. (And of course, being the evil writer that I am, they did get a disease. Thus, I wiped out a good number of the good guys and sent the general spiraling into depression which led to… Yeah, I’ll stop there, but point being: the landscape effected the later events of the story… xD)
Next is the Windari Channel, a crossing mentioned a fair bit even before two characters jump in a boat and decide to attempt to cross the treacherous waters. Unsurprisingly, the established landscape wins and the two characters find themselves crash-landed south of their destination. This sets forth an entire plot that wouldn’t have occurred had they just stayed on the first continent. Or had they managed to conquer the difficult landscape.
Good world-building has an interactive landscape but it generally only "shows up" when it is directly relevant.
Excellent world-building goes one step further to manifest that landscape into personalities, diversities, plot devices, and history that are interwoven with the characters even before they interact there.
Writers, what are some of the ways landscape effects your work?
Lord of the Rings has some of my favorite landscape/plot scenarios! Readers, what are some of yours?
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