World Building Part 1 – Geography

As a writer and a world builder I’m intensely interested in how the world I’m creating works, not just the politics, but the weather and the geography as well. Floods, droughts, and other natural disasters quickly become political issues and I want to know where they might happen. I want to know who builds moats to keep armies out and who builds them to keep flood waters out. I want to know which cultures eat a lot of fish because they have access to a lot of fish and which areas hunt more because they’re near a forest. This will all change how they view their deities and their politics.

For me, as a reader, I don’t really care. As long as your world sounds exciting and plausible I’m not going to double check that your mountain range interacts with your rainfall patterns in a scientifically sound way. I’m betting the majority of readers don’t care either.

Where physical landmarks are changes the climate, the weather, the resources people have access to, and the economics of a region. Most obviously your character can’t be a fisherman if he doesn’t live near a big enough body of water. Similarly, you don’t get hurricanes in the middle of the continent. You can, however, get flash floods in the desert.

So long as your weather is plausible and follows fairly consistent, moderate patterns, your reader will be satisfied.

If you want more details on climate and geography, try these:

1) Mountains are formed in chains or ranges. To have a single mountain alone in the middle of nowhere is rare. This is because mountains are generally formed by two tectonic plates colliding a pushing the ground up in a long ridge along the length of the plates.

A single mountain is formed by a volcano, generally. There are other ways. It could be a single tall volcano at the end of a mountain range and between it and the rest of the range is a region of low hills. Wind erosion can severely alter the appearance of the mountains. And of course, there’s always the chance that some magical event took place, or it’s a terraforming anomaly.

Just because it’s a scientific rarity in our world doesn’t mean you can’t do it. Just have a reason for its existence ready for when a know-it-all geography student reads your book and tells you why you’re wrong.

2) how many moons you have, the size of them, and their proximity to your planet, will alter your weather and climate patterns.

Our moon is responsible for our tides. The gravitational pull of the moon on the earth’s surface tugs on the oceans. For the most part this will only be useful as a plot device. Have you ever considered tying someone down on the beach? The clock is ticking. In a few hours the tide will rush in and the beach will be under six feet of water. How will they escape? Or how will the hero make it there to rescue them in time?

3) Water follows certain physical laws, such as gravity. Water gathers in low points, it flows from high to low, and it falls from the sky. Enchanted or magically generated water sources, or water sources that have been tampered with using advanced technology may be exempt from natural physical laws.

Lakes, ponds, and catch basins or flood plains are easy. These are low spots. Rain water and spring run off gathers here and sits. Large, low areas will turn into swamps which I’ll cover in the next section.

Rivers and streams are more complicated. First, they always flow downhill. Gravity. Rivers always flow into each other, they do not diverge without good reason. Flowing water follows the path of least resistance. If there’s a rock in the way it will go around, but generally just to one side or the other. A sudden rise in water levels that causes a river to overflow its bank at a key location causing enough erosion could cause a divergence, and human interference can cause divergence, but generally water follows one path.

Streams flow into rivers. Rivers flow into ponds or bays or oceans. Water doesn’t flow out of ponds or rivers or oceans. If it does then you don’t really have a lake, you have a wide, slow moving, stretch of river. That’s not to say that a mountain lake won’t overflow its banks and feed a river every time it rains. Often a water source, like an underground spring, creates a pool around itself through erosion, and that pool drains into the river which then follows the path of most gravitational pull and least resistance towards sea level or a drainage basin.

Like what you’re reading? Stay tuned for more world building fun. Or hop over to Amazon and order your copy of The Ultimate World Building Book for geography, settings, characters, cultures, and more.


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