One Aspect of World Building

World building is a vitally important part of writing fantasy and science fiction when those novels or short stories are set in a world other than our own. It’s important when the story is set in our world, too, but that’s a different matter involving research and often visiting the site of the novel to make certain you get the details correct. But when you are writing about another world, a world of your imagination, the needs are different. Research is still important, but you have the leeway to set the parameters of your world.

In this blog I want to discuss only one aspect of world building, but it’s an important one, at least for me. When I’m writing a novel set in another world, one of the first things I do is make a map. The map guides me in determining other things about the world. Are there rivers, lakes, and seas that provide an abundance of water? Are there mountain ranges that determine where there will be heavy rainfall and where there may be deserts? Is a country landlocked or does it have ample seacoast? Is it isolated by seas or mountains or thick forests, so that it has little contact with neighboring countries, or is it situated among bordering nations with which it must establish peaceful relations or perhaps go to war. Its geography will have a lot to do with its wealth or poverty, its interactions with other countries in its world, and even its technological development.

I’m not at all artistic, so my maps don’t look particularly professional. They don’t have to. I’m only making them for my own use. In the case of the Arucadi books (A School for Sorcery, A Perilous Power, and When the Beast Ravens) I did send a map along with my manuscript. Of course, my map was redone by the art department to look professional, and that professionally done map was printed in A Perilous Power, in which the two main characters journey from the central part of Arucadi to the large city of Port-of-Lords on its west coast. The other books really don’t need maps to orient the readers, but my map served me as a guide in every Arucadi novel. I had to know just where my characters were and how they got there and what drew them there. Here is my map of Arucadi. It isn’t as neat as the professional one, but it is one I keep adding to as I write more Arucadi stories, so it’s more complete than the one that was published.

Map of Arucadi

It looks somewhat like the United States plus Canada, but that was only semi-intentional. I did want Arucadi to be a country similar to ours in size and, in A Perilous Power, at the stage of technological development that the U.S. had reached in around 1860. The Arucadi of A School for Sorcery, When the Beast Ravens, and Bryte’s Ascent are set in a later time, comparable to our 1920s. But in preparing the map, I did not consciously copy a map of the U.S. Rather, not being at all artistic, I used tracing paper to trace the outline of part of Australia, added to that a part of Russia, and, finally, the northern portion of Canada. That’s where I got the name of Arucadi–A for Australia, Ru for Russia, Ca for Canada, and the di added just for reasons of sound.

I needed a different type of map for the novel Seduction of the Scepter. This map would be strictly for my own use; I did not intend that it should be published in the book. The novel takes place in a fictitious country set in our world, specifically in eastern Europe in the mid-1700s. So I got out an atlas and scanned in a map of Europe in that time period. Then I decided where my fictitious country of Varonobsk and its equally fictitious neighboring country of Ladja should be located. Leaving the physical features–mountains, rivers, a lake–mostly in place, I superimposed my two countries over actual countries on the scanned map, using Paint Shop Pro. The result again is far from professional, but it was only for my personal use. Here is the map of Europe with my countries drawn in and a close-up map showing only eastern Europe with Varonobsk and Ladja placed in it. (Apologies to those countries I replaced.)

Varonobsk in situ


Map-making of this kind can be fun, but it serves an important purpose in building the world in which the novel takes place. Artistic skill is not required. The map is for the author’s benefit. If a map is also needed to orient a reader (as in a quest novel), the publisher’s art department will prepare a professional map. But usually the map is strictly for the author’s benefit. It is a useful tool that any writer who sets a novel in another world should make use of.

And now I must close and go make a map for the new fantasy novel I’ve just begun writing.


About E. Rose Sabin

Fantasy and science fiction author.
This entry was posted in Books, Writing and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to One Aspect of World Building

  1. J. Anne Levesque says:

    As always, fascinating and helpful!

  2. Stephen Ross says:

    Keen insight into the complexities of being a novelist.

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