The Bearded Scribe Press

Discovering Tomorrow's Top Speculative Fiction Authors Today

The Bearded Scribe Press

Discovering Tomorrow's Top Speculative Fiction Authors Today

***Originally posted on The Bearded Scribe on July 9, 2012.

World Building Series: Settings—Part I (Introduction)

AFTERNOON, Beardies!

When I started my blog back in February, I knew right away that I wanted to include a World Building Series to help other writers. The series is designed as a reference point, to seek help if you have questions, and sort of a guide of “tips” and “techniques” in various areas of the World Building process.

(Of course, I am always open to direct questions from my followers; if you have a question you can always ask it through our CONTACT FORM.)

I’ve been putting this area of World Building off for obvious reasons. It’s massive, and it is going to take several posts to cover such an extensive topic. Other than on my languages, I’ve spent the most amount of time on this area when the original story idea for The Chronicles of Aesiranyn kept—for the lack of a better word—haunting me.

Lets start with the starting point you should start with as a writer… Maps.

An Aerial View of Elizabeth's Dream Circulatory Desk 🙂

EVEN if you are writing an urban fantasy story set in a major city on Earth, your world should have a map. Of course, if that is the case, your map is already available, and you merely have to pull up Google Maps. By saving those maps (screen shots) as a quick reference guide, you will save yourself many headaches of wondering what is located on the cross-streets of say… 42nd and 5th in New York City, wherein lies a bibliophile’s own fantasy.

For the purposes of this introduction, however, let’s assume you are building your own world.


HAVING a map is crucial to World Building because it helps you, the writer, view your world so that you may keep facts and settings consistent. It also provides you with a somewhat haphazard but helpful scale of your world so that you may know the distance between two places (how long does it take to travel from Point A to Point B). However, if you decide to include a map in your final product, having a realistic and thought-out map—with a humble regard to how geology forms things such as coastlines, mountains, rivers, et cetera—will greatly benefit you. There have been a few occasions in which I have opened a book and found a map that didn’t seem realistic or thoroughly researched, and so, without even a look at the text, I closed the book and placed it back on the shelf. On that note, however, there have been a couple of books in which I have ONLY glanced at the included map and decided to buy it.

Let’s touch on a few of those geological formations for this blog post.


COASTLINES are irregular. If your coastline looks like a circular or rectangular blob, your doing it wrong. Coastlines are created by the shifting of tectonic plates–plates pulling away from one another resulting in oceanic trenches, which are never clean lines. Nothing in nature is ever a clean line. Coastlines are then continually changed by the constant erosion of landmass by the waves, which is completely dependent upon the geological make-up along the coast. (Softer materials erode quicker, leaving the harder, more resolute material behind). On the other hand, if your fantasy world is made up of man-made landmasses, then by all means, draw in straight, clean lines.

An excellent place to look at how coastlines appear is an atlas. Or, in this day’s technology, Google Maps. You can take any island, any coastline of any continent (or, for that matter, just a section of it), or any ocean (or sea, gulf, or bay) as inspiration. Or, if that doesn’t inspire you, maybe its inverse will be appealing to your creative spirit.

Another great place of inspiration for the coastlines of your world can be found in nature–or even those elementally frustrating situations around the house. Have a water stain on a wall or ceiling? Trace its outline as a start and then embellish.


LIKE coastlines, mountains are also caused by the shifting of tectonic plates–but their convergence and deformation. Orogenesis–or the creation of mountains–happens along the lines of tectonic plates, which is the reason for extensive mountain ranges as opposed to singular peaks. Sometimes the subduction of one plate under the other occurs, but more often the convergence of the tectonic plates pushes both plates upward, causing crumpling on either side.

There are always exceptions to the rule, but taller, rigidly-peaked mountains are usually the youngest, while smooth, rolling peaks signify an older range. Take the Appalachian Mountains, for example; they are the oldest on Earth–and are one of the most visually appealing mountains because of their gently rolling peaks and valleys.

Take heed when drawing your own mountains. Get to know your land. What did it look like in its most primitive stages? Or is it still in said stage? Have its plates shifted and moved away from one another creating a drastically different landscape? Mountains should occur along where the plates collide.


RIVERS flow down from higher elevations toward lower elevations. So, in simple terms, from mountains toward coastlines. They take the most direct route, so long as there is nothing impeding that route. In other words, rivers will not often change directions, unless there is, say, another mountain range blocking its route to the coast. I am in no way saying they travel in a clean, straight line (remember that nothing in nature is ever a clean line), just that they their routes are downhill.

Rivers converge; smaller tributaries flow into larger rivers. Rivers do not split, unless there are sound geological reasons for its divergence, and in this instance, the divergence happens for short distances, eventually re-converging.

If a river flows into another body of water, such as a lake, it will continue. A lake will empty at the lowest side of the lake, wherever that may be, so pay attention to the altitude in the different areas of your world.


I am sure you all have heard the saying “If you want to be a great writer, then read, read, read,” but the same is true for world building. If you want to create great maps for your world, pick up an atlas. Look at the intricacies of the coastlines of several different bodies of land. Study the layouts, paying close attention to the three areas mentioned above.

Another great place to visit for help and questions related to World Building, specifically map creation is The Cartographers’ Guild, a forum on which you read and even participate in related threads.