Discovery, part II

December 6, 2007

As my friend Stephen Leigh mentioned in a reply (on livejournal) to my previous post on worldbuilding, I begin the worldbuilding process the same way he does:   with a map.  

Why?  Part of it is that I’m pretty visual — I like to have the physical layout of my world in front of me as I work out other issues (history, religion, economics, culture, politics, etc.).  I find that having that physical context fixed in my mind facilitates the more abstract elements of worldbuilding.  Another reason may be tied to my academic background.  I have a degree in environmental history, and what sets environmental historians apart from others who study history is our focus on the ways in which climate and terrain and the distribution of natural resources combine to shape human behavior.  By creating that map, by setting those environmental parameters, I allow my world building to be guided by those same physical forces.

I’ve also found over the years that the process of labeling a map, of giving names to the physical features I’ve created, actually fires my imagination and helps me fill in the back story — the history — of my world.  Look at any map of our real world, and you’ll find a huge variety of names.  Some, clearly, are sourced in physical characteristics of the place in question —  Mountain View (where Nancy and I lived as grad students), Larchmont (where I grew up).  But other places are named for historical figures or events or for the people who founded them.  And everyone of those names suggests a story.  So as I name places in my worlds, I also develop histories for those names, and those histories, in turn, give depth and texture and flavor to my new world.

That’s what I’m doing now.  The outlines of my map are done.  I’m naming now, and as I do, I’m finding stories.

Today’s music:  Johnny A. (Sometime Tuesday Morning


3 Responses to “Discovery, part II”

  1. This is the part I still haven’t finished. Sure, I’ve named everything. But the stories for these names never end. It’s incredible. Even as I was naming things (using the language I created; thanks Holly Lisle!), I was coming up with stories, historic moments, major plotlines, etc. It’s very thrilling.

  2. Kaya Alder said


    I’ve been writing recently on my blog about worldbuilding; hope you don’t mind that I’ve linked your entry from my blog. Reading your post has given me the spark I needed to get my own world map out again and get it finished.

  3. davidbcoe said

    I agree, Alex. It can be a very exciting process. Glad you’re enjoying it. And Kaya, I’m grateful to you for linking to my entry, and I’m flattered as well. Glad to know that what I wrote inspired you in some way.

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