Worldbuilding: Part Two (Geography & Terrain)


This is Part Two in my worldbuilding series. Read Part One (Introduction) here.

Firstly, I just want to stress the fact that I am an amateur writer. These are just all a few things I’ve learned in my writerly experiences. Feel free to discuss in the comments below!

So I’m just going to dive into my second part of worldbuilding, in which I discuss geography and terrain.

First thing’s first: building your world, physically.

Climate, natural/man-made features, common weather patters, distance between cities.

  • Climate: Hot and sandy? Cold and icy? Temperate and mild? Your world’s climate is going to affect how your people live. (It will also effect the economy of the world, which I go into later.) If it’s hot and sandy, buildings are most likely going to be a white-ish colour to keep out heat (think how in Greece, buildings are often white to reflect the sun), or possibly underground (think Tatooine in Star Wars). The climate is also going to effect how your characters go about their daily business, and what they wear. If your world is cold and icy, your characters are going to be rugged up, majorly. Fur coats, perhaps for a richer class of people, animal skins — and, of course, woodfires would be common, especially in a fantasy-esque world.

On the other end of the temperature scale, you’re likely to find people in head-to-toe clothing to protect themselves from the viscous heat and sunburn, or, depending on the world in itself, and taking into consideration its customs, cultures, and traditions, you might find that a lesser amount of clothing is worn when it comes to the heat. (This will also depend on their job, too — if, for example, the character/s in question is a fighter, then they’re probably going to be decked out in armor anyway, regardless of the temperature.)

Deserts, too, often become startlingly cold as the sun fades, so take that into account. Weather patters: This is quite similar to climate, but in a more immediate area. Desert — eg, sandstorms in a hot desert climate; therefore, people could commonly wear things that cover their mouth/eyes. Your world doesn’t have to have just one of these climates — it can vary, not only between seasons, but regions, too. (Is there snow all year round? Or just in winter? Does it melt in the summer and feed into the rivers and lakes?) There’s more likely to be snow/ice on mountains, where it’s naturally colder.

  • Geographical features (natural): Mountains! Lakes! Rivers! Forests! Woods! Valleys, gorges, hills, volcanoes, oceans, steams, glaciers; I could go on and on about what you could include in your world. This part of geography is fairly self-explanatory — include what you will in your novel, or whatever you see fit to have. But also be aware of the consequences that could have.mountains animated GIF

That sounded awfully over dramatic, I know, but I couldn’t think of another way to put it. If you’re unsure of what I mean, let me give you a couple of examples: Mountains: Will these stop/prevent your characters from getting from one place to another? Are the mountains passable, or are they too cold/high to cross. (Eg, like the mountains Katsa and Bitterblue crossed in Graceling; the pass became an physical object for them to reach their objective.) Rivers: Are the rivers too swift/rocky/unstable to cross? Do your characters have the necessary equipment (eg, a boat) to pass them? Has society thought to erect a bridge for travellers? And forests, as another example: are they to thick to travel through? How large are they? Are your characters well experienced with forest travelling, or are they likely to be lost? Do they have a map? Another point to consider is what lives in these forests. Eg, I have a novel where the forest is infested with a spider-like race of creatures. Which does not generally bode well with my characters.

Suggestion: Don’t name too many unnecessary natural geographical features in your novel; otherwise, you run the risk of confusing your reader with names/places.

  • Geographical features (man-made): Cities, towns, buildings, roads, ruins, canals, dams, railroads, and so on. Depending on the population of your world, the amount of cities and towns are going to vary. Cities are going to be more populated, probably dirty and more rife with crime, whereas towns and villages will be smaller and have more of a “community” feel. (I’m going to go into more detail about this in a later topic.) Roads and railways might be used to link towns and cities together, whereas ruins could suggest the world’s history/past.

city animated GIF

  • Distance between cities: This effects how your characters are going to travel. The larger space between your cities, the further characters are going to have to travel, and their methods will vary, depending on the type of world. Horse? Camel? Train? Carriage? Walking? This will also depend on the economic status of your characters. Eg, a peasant isn’t going to be able to afford a horse — unless they steal it — and a noble isn’t likely to walk.

Next week on Writerly Post Wednesday — Worldbuilding: Part Three (Society & Culture). I hope you’ve found this week’s post helpful! Let me know in the comments. If you have anything to add, or anything you think I might have missed, then feel free to discuss it in the comments below. I love to hear from you!


9 thoughts on “Worldbuilding: Part Two (Geography & Terrain)

  1. IT IS HELPFUL. I tend to not really think about what I write…I just write. >.> Which is probably going to come back to bite me eventually. I usually go backwards though, and write the actual journey/terrain/whatnot and then try and map it out after the draft and sort things. It gets confusing. But I agree! Don’t name too many things. And don’t contradict your own world-building. xD

    • Generally in my first drafts, I just write until it’s done… But then when I decide to go back to it in a few months I’m finally forced to face the fact that I NEED to actually do some worldbuilding. :D And that’s exactly what I do — I write the geo/terrain in the story, then I go back and flesh it out some more so I can picture my world a little better.

  2. Great advice, and all so important if you want your world to feel real. One thing I learnt about writing fantasy is to have your characters change their horses if they are travelling on horseback over long distances because they get tired and wear out. I think you’ve covered things well.

  3. I LOVE these posts! I used to write a lot, but haven’t tried writing stories for quite a few years now. I feel like I wouldn’t know where to begin, but these posts have me thinking about my world building a lot. That’s something I always really struggled with.

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