On Fantasy Worlds and Their Geography

I’ve been thinking a bit lately about how the geography of the world makes stories. Especially in Fantasy, it seems like the author takes on the frightening task and incredible opportunity of creating their own world, but that the map often becomes the biggest catalyst in the story.

Consider The Lord of the Rings for a moment. We all know (and participate in the memes about the fact) that Frodo walks into Mordor. But he has to start in a quiet, sheltered place, and go through various areas of chaos and noise to get there; these come in the form of forests and tunnels and towns. And it’s the journey that’s the story, really. If it was next door, and the story was Frodo sitting in his armchair debating for 3000 pages whether to get up and hop across the street… it would not be the same story, to say the least.

What’s more is that we can’t say he took a chartered flight to New York and then drove 10 miles. As most fantasy worlds do not mirror ours geographically, we have to spell everything out! And that’s where the beautiful, journey-provoking maps come into play. I don’t know about you, but I flip back to that page at least once a chapter in most books that provide one.

I just finished the FOURTH and final book of Rowena Cory Daniells’ King Rolen’s Kin TRILOGY (ahem…the long begged-for conclusion to sooo many unfinished plot lines… finally), King Breaker. I loved this series. It’s ideal modern Fantasy reading. You fall hard for the characters, are led to some interesting ideas, but mainly just can’t put the book down for the racing, twisting, plot. Political intrigue, battles, magic, creatures, and tavern wenches. You know you want it.

Rowena juggles through her characters’ individual paths, so the reader is constantly jumping from one side of the world to the other, especially in this concluding book where everything has been thrown wide and now needs to be reeled in. She writes about her mapping on her own website here. The interesting thing to note in the image below is that her map is topographical because the mountainous and arable areas are critical to the plot. With all of the running about, her characters get forced into certain confrontations simply because of the land (or sea) they need to traverse.


I get the sense her inspiration for this map came from her kid’s art hanging on the fridge, but hey, I still bought all her books.

So here are the big questions:

  • Where are my characters starting? Do I want them to start sheltered, or already in tumult?
  • Where are they going, and why are they going? (How they get there is a matter of research, but seems simple compared to the rest!)
  • What do they have to pass through, and where are their pit-stops?

Maybe it’s cliche, but all I know right now is that she’s going to go downhill and then climb!


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