How To Build A World From The Ground Up Week 5: Hot and Cold, Wet and Dry

So, a while ago I started the map-building series as a backlash against All Those Authors that get it Wrong, and as an attempt to prevent that happening in the future. I’ve talked about the very fundamental stuff – the underlying structure of the world, the fun you can have with hotspots and volcanos – and have developed a few rules to keep you on the right track:

– Lesson #0 in Map-Building: Always have a reason.
– Lesson #1 in Map Building: The mountains are where things crash together. So are the volancos and the earthquakes.
– Lesson #2 in Map Building: You need to have a reason for where you put things on your map. But you can pretty much invent a reason for anything.


Today, we’re going to move on to above-surface stuff, and look at the basics of climate. Two things form the fundamental basis of all climate: temperature, and precipitation. You can get hot dry climates (like deserts), hot wet climates (like rainforests), warm dry, warm wet, temperate regions that have four distinct seasons and varying rainfall in each, cold wet climates, cold dry climates, climates that are prone to snow and forms of precipitation other than plain rain.

Your plain average rain, however, isn’t really plain or average. It can be pure or acidic to various degrees, it can be cold rain or warm rain, come in torrential downpours or gently soaking drizzle. Acidic rain is found in areas of high pollution or places downwind from high-pollution areas; pure rain is often found in low population density areas, but not always, because these places can be receiving pollution from other areas. Torrential rain is most usually found in the tropics; hurricanes need the right mix of airflow and water; thunderstorms need a cold front meeting a bank of warm air; drizzle often accompanies lower temperatures; and so the list goes on.


You can get so caught up in the fascinating minutia of weather – well, at least, I could – that you forget your story is actually supposed to ever be anything more than an excuse to build a really spiffy, perfectly logical world. I don’t recommend this.
The amount of worldbuilding you DO want to do is up to you, but remember:
1) More worldbuilding makes your world seem more real.
2) Most of your worldbuilding won’t make it directly into your novel, so it can be a waste of time.
and most importantly,
3) ALL worldbuilding should serve one aim: to increase conflict in your story. If you can’t think of a way for it to increase conflict, you’re pretty much wasting your time.
I mean, sure, it’s important to know what kind of clothes your MC wears, and whether or not their society could actually legitimately make silk stockings – but this all matters a lot more to your reader if it’s in some way related to the conflict, like your MC needs to masquerade as an aristocrat from another country only can’t get her hands on the kind of stockings they wear, or something. Be creative. Make it matter.


And so to round off on climates: Do know your climate, because it will affect how your people live. More on that later. But don’t feel you need to obsess. Most climates exist in most regions of the world, with the exception being the poles and the equator. Mountain ranges or lack thereof, ocean currents and whether they are hot or cold, costalness or continentality, prevailing winds – these are the four key things that will determine your climate. But really, weather is so complicated that even now we can’t accurately predict it more than about four days out. So you know. As long as your climate is within the bounds of plausibility, most readers won’t try to kill you for them.
With one exception. Please, please, please, don’t try to make your poles hot and your equator cold for no reason better than ‘to be different’. This will result in you being hunted down and smacked over the head with some basic physics.
Why?
Because the poles are, by the very nature of a ROUND planet, further away from the sun. The equator is closest. Ergo, unless you have some sort of fancy magic field that reverses the effect of the sun, your poles will be colder and your equator hotter.
And, for the love of peace, please have a round planet unless you’re writing fantasy and have a deliberate reason for not making it so (and making it, say, a Disc carried by elephants on the back of a turtle). Gravity + spinning = round world.
Note also that it’s the TILT of the earth’s axis that gives us seasons; straight axis, no seasons. Bear that in mind when designing both round planets and especially non-round planets. If you’re not round and/or you have no tilt, will you have seasons, or will your climates be stable?

Lesson #3 in Map Building: In the middle, things are grey and you can do what you like. At the edges, things have a reason. Don’t mess with this, unless you have a very good reason.

Tune in next time for more on humanity’s favourite liquid: water!

How To Build A World From The Ground Up Week 4: And Then It Exploded

I mentioned volcanos very briefly in the last post in this series in talking about where mountains are usually formed. Often, the volcanos appear where one plate is sliding under another, forcing the upper plate even up-er, and providing a weak spot for all that yummy magma and lava to come spewing out. Yay, fire and destruction!

But there is a second way for volcanos to appear, and since it isn’t on a plate boundary, it’s kind of a neat writerly world building trick that’s almost as good as a deus ex machina for getting a volcano and/or string of islands wherever and whenever you want them.

Raise your hand if you’ve heard of Hawaii. Good. Now keep your hand up if you think you could point to it on a map. Keep your hand up if you think you could point to it on THIS map (you can find it if you click on the image to make it bigger).

Found it yet? Okay. Question. Is it on a plate boundary?

Hopefully, we agree on the location of Hawaii, and you’ve said no. Excellent. So, Hawaii is a chain of islands with both active(ish) and extinct volcanos – and it’s in the middle of nowhere, not actually near a plate boundary. How does this happen?

One word: Hot spots.

Randomly, some places of the plate will be thinner than others, allowing the magma to break through to the surface even though there’s no plate boundary in sight. This is called a hot spot. If the hot spot is under land (less likely, since the land plate is thicker than oceanic plate), you’ll get a regular volcano; if it’s underwater, you’ll either get an underwater volcano, or if its strong enough, a volcanic island.

But here’s the thing: the plates are moving, right? And some times, the hot spot isn’t caused just by the thinner crust; it’s also mysteriously caused by a literal ‘hot spot’ in the magma underneath. So when the plate moves on, rolling its way from one boundary to another, the hot spot stays behind – and a new volcano appears.

Rinse and repeat, and you get a lovely chain of volcanos/islands, each of which will become extinct as it moves away from the hot spot and a new volcano erupts behind it. So,

Lesson #2 in Map Building: You need to have a reason for where you put things on your map. But you can pretty much invent a reason for anything.

Doncha just love how rules in writing are made to be broken? πŸ˜€

How To Build A World From The Ground Up Week 3: Tall Pointy Things

To really understand how and why things work, it’s usually a pretty good idea to strip things back to their most basic level and build your way up from there. Maps are no different, if you want to get really serious. The world works in layers, and really good maps that Work will be designed around the same principles. If you want to go the full hog and draw all your layers (and drawing skills aren’t necessary, I promise), tracing paper is the medium of choice, because it allows you to stack all your layers on top of each other and see the whole depth of the map at once.

So, if you’re going to start at the very beginning (which we all know is a very good place to start O:)), where exactly is that? Not, alack, with a-b-c, or even do-re-me; rather, with transform, convergent and divergent.

Which are what? Plates, of course! Not the dinner kind, but the continental kind.

Modern science posits that the entire crust (outer surface) of the Earth is not one solid shell, but actually a whole bunch of bits of shell (plates) all forming a patchworky kind of crust. And because the centre of the Earth is full of molten rock, and molten rock is hot, and hot stuff tends to want to rise, creating convection currents as it reaches the highest point it can go and then bounces along at the top for a while getting cooler before it sinks again*, these plates move. In fact, if you were to record the Earth from outer space for a significant while and then hit fast forward, the plates fairly zoom around the surface of the world.

So where do transform, convergent and divergent come in? Well, as map builders we care about plates mostly because the edges where they touch each other have the potential to do Interesting Things. To save you the science infodump, here’s a pretty picture that explains what they are (click to embiggen):

And here’s another pretty picture that shows you where Earth’s plates are and what type of boundaries they have (click through for bigger):

One thing should hopefully stand out to you: if you think about where all the major mountain ranges of the world are, they’re often along plate boundaries. The Himalayas are where the Indian plate is bashing into the Eurasian plate. The Andes are where the Nazca plate is sliding under the South American Plate. The Alps? Middle Eastern plate smashing up into the Eurasian one. Lots of crashing = lots of mountains.
Of course, plate tectonics at the global level isn’t the only reason mountain occur; Australia boasts the Great Diving Range right down its east coast, and you can see in the images that Australia is smack bang in the middle of a plate, not anywhere near a boundary. But in general, plate boundaries are where you have the fun stuff: mountains, volcanoes, earthquakes. That sort of fun >:)
How do you employ all this with map building? Very easily. You scribble in some plates, scribble over some continents kind-of roughly based on the plate outlines (but really, you can do anything – look at Australia!), and then have fun deciding where to cause all the chaos >:) Impassable mountain ranges, volcanoes, undersea geysers, rifts and trenches both terrestrially and undersea… Bwa ha. So much potential conflict for your poor little characters.

Lesson #1 in Map Building: The mountains are where things crash together. So are the volancoes and the earthquakes.

Until next time, have fun causing chaos. Chaos #ftw! πŸ˜€

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How To Build A World From The Ground Up Week 2: Groundwork

I realise from the outset that a lot of people will decide that this post isn’t relevant to them. And maybe, to some extent, that’s true: not every writer needs to know where mountain ranges are likely to pop up, especially if you’re writing in the ‘real world’. Still, mapping has its place for everyone. For example, the kitchen of a house doesn’t usually migrate from front to back to top floor to basement; the writer obviously knows where in the house it is, and I guarantee you there was a map involved, even if said map is only in the writer’s head.

Cartography: it’s for everyone!
O:)
But I want to go a little further than that to discuss something I’ve seen a lot of lately: a blatant disregard for the actual, physical constraints of the world when creating a map. Published authors are just as guilty of this as non-published, and both are equally shudder-worthy. Sure, okay, writers don’t have to be cartographers as well – but just a little bit of thought and effort will make sure that people who know about this kind of thing don’t feel tempted to throw your book against the wall.
The example I’ll never forget is good old Robert Jordan. Regardless of what you think of his writing, his control over his plotting, and his development of female characters, you can’t escape the fact that his work is popular as anything. And in the front of all the books, all prettily drawn up, is the map of the world, which makes me want to beat my head against the wall every time I see it. Why?
Have a look at it. Note especially the coastline, and where all the rivers exit to the sea. Can you see anything wrong? Every. Single. River. exits to the sea at the very end of the land point. Every single time!
I see heads shaking in confusion. What’s wrong with that? you ask.
It’s wrong because it’s not the way things work. Water always takes the path of least resistance; a spur heading out to sea will be higher than the surrounding ground; water also causes erosion of the surrounding ground; ERGO a river will, nine times out of ten, exit to the sea in a BAY, not off the tip of a point. And if it didn’t exit into a bay initially, give it a few years to erode and it will.
Yes, if you’re writing fantasy you can in theory get away with anything – but only if you have a good reason for it. Hint: “Because it looked pretty” is not a good reason. Neither is, “Because I felt like it”, “Because that’s how it came out”, or just, “Because”. Aside from the use of magic, the physics of Robert Jordan’s world isn’t demonstrably different from our world. We are given no reason to think that physical substances shouldn’t behave there exactly as they do here; and yet, for some strange and untold reason, rivers do.
Lesson #0 in Map-Building: Always have a reason.
If you don’t have a good reason for changing the way something works, don’t. It’s as simple as that.

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Let’s Celebrate! Have You Entered My EPIC FGU Giveaway Yet?

If you’re one of the ones playing along on social media, you’ve probably heard of my epic giveaway: to celebrate the impending release of From The Ground Up: How To Build A World That Really Works, aka my non-fiction handbook for writers that looks at the ways geography influences culture. It comes out in about two months (YAY!!), so I’m running a pre-release giveaway, because why not? πŸ™‚

Click through on the graphic to enter for your share in nearly $200 worth of super awesome prizes – and don’t forget that to look for the link at the bottom for ways to earn extra entries πŸ˜‰

**OPEN INTERNATIONALLY!!! Entries close midnight August 20 Australian EST πŸ™‚ **

FGU prizes graphic

All The Exciting Newsy Things!

  1. From The Ground Up has a release date! Mark September 25 on your calendars, ladies and gents, because this is one book for writers you are not going to want to miss! πŸ˜‰ If you want to keep up to date with FGU, have access to early cover release, possibly ARCs, and definitely the chance to win free copies, you’ll want to sign up to the FGU notification list. Go here, sign up – you won’t be added to any other lists (including my main newsletter), you’ll ONLY receive pre-release and release info about FGU, and the list will be defunct after this year πŸ˜‰
  2. Any chance you’ll be near Edmonton, Canada on the aforementioned September 25? If so, block out 1pm to 3pm on your Sunday afternoon because I WILL BE IN TOWN!!! That’s right! I, the Australian author who is perpetually on the wrong side of the world for nearly EVERYTHING, am going to CANADA FOR THE FGU LAUNCH!!!!!! *\o/* SO. MUCH. EXCITEMENT. The release/signing will be at Variant Edition Comics πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚
  3. Also releasing this year (this is the year of releases, YAY!) is the Darkness & Good anthology πŸ™‚ Some of you have followed my and Liana’s little short story blog since its inception in January 2014; although it’s been on hiatus for a few months (mostly because Baby), we have plans to refresh it again in 2016, and an anthology of all your favourite stories — plus some brand new content — will be hitting the shelves in July. Again, subscribe to my mailing list to make sure you don’t miss out on the details.

 

So, that’s my exciting news for now. So many releases! An overseas trip! ALL THE GLEEFUL YAY!!!!

Also, mailing list. You should sign up. I love you!!! <3 πŸ˜€

(Also-also, FGU notification list. Just in case. O:))

From The Ground Up Notification List

Sign up to receive notifications relating to my upcoming world building book, From The Ground Up! You’ll receive cover reveals, excerpts, earlybird bonuses and of course, a notification when the book is published!Β (Your email won’t be used for anything else, or added to any other lists, including my general mailing list.)


You Can’t Just Cut And Paste!

Urgh. Doing the last little bit of research for #FGU (more properly known as From The Ground Up: Building A World That Works) and I’ve been doing a bit of comparative work with some of the other worldbuilding books that are out there – and trust me, there are surprisingly few, which is why I decided to write this book in the first place. And not only are worldbuilding books actually far less common than you’d believe, every single one I’ve found so far suffers from one of two flaws.

Either it’s too technical and dense and only helpful if you’re the kind of worldbuilder who wants to know EXACTLY HOW LONG IT WILL TAKE to walk to those mountains over there on the horizon and what formula you can use to calculate it,

ORΒ it assumes that worldbuilding is entirely a matter of chance. Pick one from column A, one from column B, two from column C, throw them together and you have a world.

Um, NO. Please. For the love of logic and sanity, NO.

See, what most people don’t realise is that worldbuilding, culture-building, is an inherently logical process. There are REASONS why tropical cuisines involve spices, why no society is born with a democracy, why populations with high tech usually have low birth rates, why population centres get spaced out the way they do – heck, even why elephant-sized mice are impossible. REASONS. Worldbuilding is LOGICAL.

And if you try to sell a book that claims otherwise, that claims you can just pick a climate and pick a style of government and pick a type of art and pick a type of economy and throw them all together and it’ll work fine Β  – and worse, if you try to claim that food, architecture, weapons, clothing and tools are just decorations – look, worse case scenario I’ll sit here weeping and gnashing my teeth at you, really, but PLEASE. JUST DON’T.

You guys, this is not the way populations work. It’s not the way worlds work. There’s a very specific chain of logic that leads literally from the plate tectonics of your world all the way up to what kind of food different populations will eat, how many children they will have, what their attitudes towards old people will be, how long they will be expected to work for, and so forth. Seriously.

And if you don’t believe me, just wait until From The Ground Up comes out. I defy you to read it and NOT recognise the truth: Worldbuilding is inherently logical. You can’t just throw it together piecemeal and expect it to make sense >.<

/rant. O:)