How to Build a Fantasy World Part 3: Land

I may earn commission on any links in this post.
See Disclaimers for more details.

Hi there! How are you this week? Keep in mind that just because Suicide Prevention Month is technically over, that doesn’t mean those dark thoughts just disappear. You can ask for help any month of the year. Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone you love, to me, or to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline if you need to talk to someone 800-273-8255. ❤

You’re not finished yet.

You have stories to tell.

Speaking of stories…

Wow, excellent segue. Very smooth.

If you’ve been following along with this series, you should have a pretty firm grasp of how your world operates by now.

If you haven’t yet, check out Part 1 and Part 2 of this series to make sure you’re getting all that World-Building awesomeness at your disposal!

So if you’re reading this, I’m assuming you know how your societies operate, your magic system is in place, your deities are properly situated, and all your laws are tied up with a neat little bow.

What’s left, you ask?

Excellent question!

Geography, Climate, and Flora & Fauna.

Let’s do this, people.

Geography:

What does this land look like?

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is pexels-photo-2755160.jpeg
Photo by Matt Hardy on Pexels.com

This can be a bit daunting for a lot of writers, but can I be honest? It’s my absolute favorite!

It’s so fun. Let me show you how:

Quick note: You should create your land with your story in mind. You don’t need to know the shape of every continent if your story never leaves the area. You should know where your character needs to go, and important locations/landmarks, so you can include them in your map.

I used this site to build my maps. It’s totally free and so easy to use!

You can ask it to create something for you, or you can just start building!

I usually start with an idea in mind, then kinda randomly go from there.

Does your MC travel through a forest? Add it!

Is there a mountain range that surrounds there hometown? Cool, put it in!

Do you like lakes? Add one! Add three!

Just keep in mind as you are beginning to imagine and build your map, you do need to follow the basic rules of geography (unless there’s a magical reason why you don’t).

If you really need a particular landmark, but it’s not within the realm of the “possible”, make it magical!

A wizard grew that mountain from the roots of an ancient river.

There is a forest in the middle of the desert because a fairy with a pension for chaos decided to put it there.

So, in short, make it possible, or make it magical. But, whatever you do, you have to make it believable. You never want to pull your reader’s head out of the story.

So lets talk about some simple rules really quickly before you start drafting your map.

-Mountains form because of tectonic plates. They will form in natural lines, not just at random (unless there’s a really good reason).
-Rivers flow towards the sea. Branches of the river may flow into each other to form one large river, but they will not split apart before they reach the sea.
-Land is warmest near the equator and gets colder the further you go in EITHER direction.
-Climate is influenced by geography. Mountains create a natural barrier that trap air and moisture. Often, one side of a mountain range is colder and/or wetter than the other.
-Forests are often in wetlands. They can be mild climates, or extreme, but almost always wet. Think of tropical rainforests versus temperate forests. Hot & humid, or cold & misty.

Bad Example:
The map from A Court Of Thornes And Roses.
Guys… I love these books but… this map is not good. I’m sorry.
The mountains are all over the place.
The rivers branch off in unnatural ways.
There’s a random mountain IN THE MIDDLE OF THE LAND with no other mountains around it, but we’re not given a real reason for this happened, except that it’s a magical place, but… That doesn’t explain why Mass just said NOPE to basic geography. Tell me a wizard put it there. Tell me a Queen died there and from her body, a mountain took root. I don’t know but…
Tectonic plates are a thing. Give it a Google.

Awesome Example:
The map from Realm Breaker by Victoria Aveyard is BEAUTIFULLY done.
Not just the illustration, but the way she laid out the land.
You can tell she used the Mediterranean as her inspiration.
It’s very clear how borders came to be between kingdoms (natural boundaries like rivers/forests/mountains).
Rivers flow to the sea. Mountains are found in groups or trails across the land (that’s how tectonic plates work).
Just really well-crafted. Take a look if you need inspiration. She also did a video on her Insta about how she made it and that really helped me with my mapmaking.

I am far from a geography expert. These are simply things I have gleaned from my own research. I highly suggest doing more research if you’re going to focus on geography in your story.

After that, just play around with whatever you’re using to create your map. Work on it until it feels right to you.

Climate:

Weather & what it means for your story.

Photo by Ralph W. lambrecht on Pexels.com

So as I mentioned before, climate is very much influenced by geography.

Mountains trap moisture and air.

It’s hotter the closer you get to the equator, colder the further you get from it.

Thank about how your geography might impact climate, and determine what the weather will be typically like for your society.

What implications does this have for their way of life?

While modern societies have learned to run with nearly any climate, your society might not have such modern conveniences.

How will your characters need to adapt in order to survive in this land?

How have societies tailored their cities, their way of life, to fit the demands of their climate?

A lot of research has been done into the behavioral differences between cultures in different climates.

Give us some weirdly specific facts!

Example:
Here in Portland, it rains all the time. Like 8-9 months out of the year.
But we have this weird cultural faux pas where you can’t use umbrellas.
Everyone knows you’re not from here if we see you using an umbrella. And we WILL make jokes about you. We WILL give you weird looks. We WILL pretend not to know you.
Is shielding yourself from the elements a sign of weakness? Is wet hair a weird fashion statement? No clue. All I know is that it rains here all the time, but I’m not even sure I own an umbrella. And I certainly wouldn’t be caught dead using one.

Flora & Fauna:

The types of plants and animals that live in this land.

Photo by Laura The Explaura on Pexels.com

Climate and geography will have a big impact on the types of plants and animals in the land. So it’s important to determine climate before you really get underway.

Is your story in a desert? You’re probably not going to see many trees or leafy plants.

Is your story in a wetland? Your character might not even know what a camel is.

If you’ve modeled your land after somewhere in real life, try researching what kind of plants and animals live there! This will make the story more realistic.

Using a made-up language in your story? Use a word from that language to name some common plants or animals.

Make up your own creatures for this land based in lore or your own imagination.

The sky really is the limit when it comes to writing fantasy.

The key here is just to have a list in mind so that if your character is walking through the street, you know what kind of animal is rummaging through the trash beside them. If they venture into the woods, you know what they need to be wary of. What they can eat. What might make them sick. Or try to eat them.

As long as you are able to make it believable, you can add whatever feels right to you!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is pexels-photo-326055.jpeg

I hope you found this guide helpful!

Make sure to keep up with your writing this week.

Even a paragraph is better than nothing.

Sending love,

MK

Do you have a Linux beast in your fantasy world? He’s a good boi, so I’d highly recommend it.

1 Comment

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s