World-Building: Countries

The next step in making a world map is to move away from the science and look more at the human side of things.  Countries can make the world come alive.  But how do we map out the countries?  The simplest way is to just draw the borders and make big, medium, and small countries.  But doing it arbitrarily may not be the best way, and certainly not realistic.  Countries form for many reasons, and the boundary locations are also chosen for a reason.

CIA_WorldFactBook-Political_world.pdfLooking at the world map of our world, you can see a large variety of countries.  There are many large ones, but not all of them formed that way.  China used to be many smaller kingdoms at one time, for example.  There are also many small countries.  Europe is filled with countries, but many of them used to be one larger empire.  Countries change over time, the borders shift, disappear, and then appear.  In recent years, we’ve seen the formation of countries such as South Sudan, Timor L’est, and the breakup of former Yugoslavia.  Studying the map of the real world can help with the creation of your fictional world.

However, our world has a long history in some parts, but a much shorter recorded history in others.  So, we’ll take a couple of different approaches to this, the Old World and the New World.

New World Approach

The New World is the simpler method, so we’ll look at that first.  On our world, the Americas make up the New World, and have had a relatively short European history.  There is a very long aboriginal history, though.  But the nations that existed then have been obliterated by the European settlers bearing gifts such as disease and devastating war.  So, because of this, we can start from scratch.  This method is best for use with previously undiscovered land or colonisation of a planet.

We begin with the initial landing point, or the first settlement. It’s best to choose a place that has a good climate or conditions for growing food.  From there, you can draw the proposed boundaries for the first country.  Remember, this can change as you go along.  After that, choose a logical location for the next country.  It’s a good idea to keep track of the order and date for each country’s founding.  This will come in useful later for when we talk about history.  It’s most likely that you’ll follow coastlines, major rivers, and fill up land that’s got plenty of space for farming and building.

Peace Arch at the Canada-United States border.
Peace Arch at the Canada-United States border.

Naming countries is not the easiest thing to do.  If it’s a colony on another planet, you’re most likely going to use names that are English or whichever language the colonists speak.  If it’s undiscovered land in a fantasy world, you can be more creative with your own created languages.  In either case, have some fun with the names.  Consistency is the important thing, though.

One thing to remember is that the borders can change.  So if you work on this along with a general history involving wars, you can keep track of the changes and draw new countries.  Record keeping is very valuable here.

Old World Approach

Over time, the New World can become an Old World.  But if you start with a world with a very long history, you may have to look at things in a different way.  The biggest differences between New and Old Worlds is culture and language.  The cultures are more established with long histories.  Languages change over time, so several countries may have the same roots, but have developed into different languages.  Neighbouring countries are more likely to share common histories in language and culture.  So rather than basing your countries on expansion, base them on culture.

For this, you need to figure out where your cultures are.  Place them around your map, keeping in mind that older cultures were often restricted by physical landmarks such as mountains.  For ancient cultures, they most likely didn’t cross major mountain ranges unless necessary.  They also provided a good defense from neighbouring cultures that may be aggressive.  But even for New World countries, mountains are a good place to put boundaries.

The Andes in South America separate Argentina and Chile.
The Andes in South America separate Argentina and Chile.

Another natural boundary is the river.  Major rivers (and sometimes lakes) are sometimes used for borders, and have been used on Earth by many countries, including Canada and the United States (Great Lakes, Niagara River) in the New World and the two Congos (Congo River) in the Old World.

The Congo River is a natural boundary between Democratic Republic of the Congo and Republic of the Congo.
The Congo River is a natural boundary between Democratic Republic of the Congo and Republic of the Congo.

In some cases, these natural boundaries will separate cultures, but not always.  Sometimes the separation is convenient for political reasons, or it could be strategic.  There are many reasons that boundaries are placed there.

It’s important to remember that for Old World countries, working with cultures and languages are a good idea.  Knowing the history is very useful, as well.  And of course, regions with fertile land are great for strong, well-fed nations.

When you’ve divided the map into cultural regions, you can further create smaller countries or kingdoms in those regions.  Or you can make the entire cultural region a large empire.  Through war or conquest, they can even be expanded into other regions, which would create a very interesting dynamic within the empire.  But that’s a topic for another time.

Country names will definitely be based on the country’s language and culture.  Try to keep that in mind, but for a fantasy world, you can be very creative.

Things to Remember

Creating countries can be as simple as drawing the lines.  You’re welcome to do that.  However, if you want it to be more realistic, take history, culture, language, and physical geography into account.  You may want to work on all of these at the same time.  They’ll be covered in other articles.

Boundary lines should also not be straight lines, unless it’s a New World.  But in most cases, this isn’t practical.  Use the land to guide you in these cases.

What I Did

For Ariadne, I initially did the simple approach.  I just drew border lines on my small map.  I already had the physical map, and I chose the locations of the first and second colony sites.  There was a lot of land between them, so while expanding the countries along the coastlines, I also created new ones bridging the span between the original colonies.  Luckily, there was a major river.  I was more concerned with encompassing areas of fertile land, since the people of the colony needed to be able to grow their food.  Access to transportation (rivers are extremely useful, as is the ocean) also dictated where I put the initial countries.

This is the ecosystems map, but you can see country borders in it.
This is the ecosystems map, but you can see country borders in it.

After the early days of Ariadne, the countries expanded outward to cover the continents.  The mountainous regions were natural barriers to expansion, but they were crossed, which led to massive expansion on the other side of the range.  The tropical and sub-tropical regions were filled up the fastest, with temperate regions gaining quickly afterward.  The more arctic climate areas were among the last to be colonised, along with the islands in the oceans.

I kept track of the order of country foundations, as well as the years and major events.  I didn’t change the borders much at all, but I will do some changes when I work on the history.

As for country names, the colonies were based on Earth names, words from common languages, or people’s names.  As time went on, the names tended to get more unusual.  Language shifts can result in this, but also just what sounded good.  Some were based on nothing but my own imagination.

This entire process can be simple or as complicated as you like.  Just have fun with it.  Please check out the Worldbuilding main page for more posts on this topic.

Authors Answer 15 – The Influence of Media

Since the early twentieth century, new types of media have become popular ways of telling stories.  Books were no longer the only way to get your stories.  Movies, radio, television, computer games, the internet, and more kinds of media have influenced many authors. But how are our authors influenced? This week’s question is brought to you by D. T. Nova.

645px-Family_watching_television_1958Question 15: All of us write prose fiction (unless I’m mistaken) in an era that has an astounding variety of storytelling media. Has your writing been significantly influenced by any works of newer media?

Elizabeth Rhodes

When I first started writing novels in earnest a few years ago, I became heavily influenced by the music I happened to be listening to at the time.  Jasper has influences from song lyrics by Nine Inch Nails, Gary Numan, and The Cult.  I have other stories in the works that have been influenced in similar ways from TV shows and video games.  For the most part the newer media just plants a seed, as in “what if these zombies are aware of their transformation?.”  The premise and plot are things I figure out later.

Linda G. Hill

I’m greatly influenced by whomever I’m reading at the current moment, which is why when I’m writing I need to stay away from badly constructed prose. I think it’s because I tend not to really read anymore as much as I tend to study. So if, for instance, I’m reading Stephen King I write like him (which is incidentally most like my natural storytelling voice). Alternately, if I’m reading something with a lot of poor grammar, I tend to edit it as I go along. I find then in my own writing, I pay far too much attention to editing and not enough to flow, which stifles my natural writing voice.

Caren Rich

Not that I know of.  Well, that’s a short answer.

D. T. Nova

While I fall short of my inspiration, I think the biggest influence on what I consider ideal dialogue is Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Some of the clothing and hairstyles that my characters tend to have are influenced by anime and manga.

And then, my first novel more or less belongs to a genre that originated in manga (super robot), and acknowledges those roots with a few direct homages to Mazinger Z.

While there are certainly novels I’ve read with similar pacing, it’s possible that my pacing is influenced by serialized media.

Amy Morris-Jones

Although I am very much a prose writer at heart, I’m in love with some of the “hybrid” creations I’m seeing in the online lit mag world. lit mag world. For example, I appreciate that WhiskeyPaper asks writers whom they publish to suggest a song that goes with their work somehow. Literary Orphans loads up its site with beautiful artwork that supports the writing incredibly well. I also appreciate Storychord where they highlight their multi-media goal: “Every other Monday, Storychord features one story + one image + a one-song soundtrack — each by a different, underexposed artist — for a collaborative, multi-media storytelling experience.”

Jean Davis

I’d love to say yes and feel more worldly, but alas, I write what I like and what pops into my head. The only thing that has significantly changed is that I don’t pay as much attention to word count because there are markets for pretty much any length these days.

Paul B. Spence

Newer?  I find myself influenced by the storytelling media of film and television. I think visually and cinematically about the action.

Tracey Lynn Tobin

There’s definitely no doubt on this one. Popular culture, whether from books, movies, or other forms, has a huge influence on what I write, because I write about what what I love, what excites me, what makes me cry, and what scares the hell out of me. Nowhere to Hide came to life as the result of several years of zombie movies, zombie TV shows, zombie books, and zombie video games. The book that I’m currently working on (which will be part one of a four-part series) is inspired in a lot of ways by several YA series’ that I’ve read in recent years. And stories that I wrote in the past? You’d better believe that they were inspired by what I was watching at the time. Honestly, if you’re not being influenced in some way by the media that you’re surrounded by, your writing is probably extremely boring because it’s human nature that we get some of our best ideas from other people.

S. R. Carrillo

Not exactly. I try to keep the modernity up, seeing as how I don’t write historical fiction, but other than that, I’m largely un-influence-able that way.

H. Anthe Davis

My writing has been greatly influenced by roleplaying games and by anime (Japanese animation).  I really enjoy the bombastic visuals and the wild settings that you can get from both, and since anime is quite willing to twist tropes and deal with darker ideas, it’s given me a lot to think about regarding how I handle plot complications — and how I describe them.  Since I deal in high-magic fantasy, it also gives me a kind of visual lexicon for magical effects, of the type that (until just recently with CGI) you couldn’t expect to see anywhere outside of animation.  I’m also a rules-and-structure nerd, so I’ve built my own RPG framework underneath a lot of the story, but I don’t confine the characters to it really.  You won’t hear dice rolling in the background.

Jay Dee Archer

This is a difficult one.  I find that most of my influence is from good old-fashioned books.  However, in my earlier days of writing, I did have somewhat of an influence from fantasy RPGs and anime.  In university, I watched some. Though these days, my ideas are more grounded in hard sci-fi novels.  I guess I also get some influence from the internet, particularly real science news.  And in fact, a recent physics news report gave me an idea.  Or more precisely, it reinforced an earlier idea that I discarded.

How about you?

Other than books, what other media has influenced your writing?  Are there any specific examples?  Let us know in the comments below.

Worldbuilding Overview

Now that I’m getting back into writing worldbuilding posts, I’ve been thinking about the direction I’ll be taking them.  There are a lot of topics to cover, and I’ve only barely scratched the surface of the topic.  It’s a very complex task.  Creating a world isn’t a simple thing.

Here is what I’ve already done:

  • Choosing a Star – What kind of star is best for life? I go through the spectral types and which would be most suitable.
  • The Planet – I go into a lot of detail about creating a planet that could be habitable.  Plenty of science here.
  • Mapmaking – I discuss how to create the world map.  This is a general overview of physical maps.
  • Climate and Weather – Here we take a look at various climate types and the kind of environments they create.

As you can see, it’s been pretty scientific so far.  Things are about to change, though.  I’ll be going into topics related to humanity, including culture, food, religion, language, and so on.  I’ll also step back into science and discuss the native life.  Here’s a general idea of what I’ll be writing about in upcoming posts.

  • Countries – This is a continuation of mapmaking. I’ll be discussing where you put the borders, especially if you want it to be realistic.  This is a general overview, though.
  • Cities, Towns, and Other Settlements – I’ll discuss where to place cities and towns.
  • Political Subdivisions – Countries are often broken down into states, provinces, counties, and so on.  I’ll talk about them here.
  • Plants – I’ll go into how to create plants for your world.
  • Animals – Similar to the plants topic, but based on animals.  How do you create animals?  This will likely be quite in-depth.
  • Other Life – This will involve microbes and other possible life.
  • Culture – This will be a general overview of the culture topic, which is extensive.
  • Food – Looking at food from both a cultural point of view as well as for survival.
  • Religion – I’ll go over religion types and how they affect cultures.
  • Language – I’ll discuss the creation of languages and how they can evolve and link different cultures.
  • Traditions – This is likely to involve food, religion, and history.  I’ll discuss various aspects of traditions, including holidays, rituals, and other events.
  • Clothing – I’ll discuss what you can do to create clothing for your cultures.
  • History – This is a very complex topic, as is culture.  There are various aspects I’d like to go into further, but I’ll talk about it generally first.
  • Government – I’ll talk about the different government types and how you can choose them for your countries.
  • War – This has a major impact on a world’s history, as well as governments, traditions, religion, and culture.  It can change the map, too.
  • Natural Disasters – History can change because of the world itself.  I’ll talk about various natural disasters here.
  • Technology – From the most basic to the advanced, I’ll go over how you can create new technologies and have them evolve over time.
  • Notable People – There will always be famous and important people in history. I’ll discuss that here.
  • Magic – This is especially for fantasy.  I’ll talk about that here.
  • Races – This is for both fantasy and science fiction.  In the case of science fiction, I’ll discuss alien species.
  • City Design – I’ll be going through how to design a city and make it realistic, and why it’s important to know the layout for your novel.
  • Industry – I’ll talk about industries, and what’s appropriate for various levels of technology.
  • Architecture – This can involve technology, industry, and culture.  How can you design a building?

That looks like a lot, and it definitely will be a lot of work.  This is not a complete list, though.  And I won’t necessarily do it in this order.

If you have any suggestions about worldbuilding topics, I’d love to hear about it.  Please leave a comment below.

The 2K International Writers’ Blog Tour – Brittany Boyce

the2kinternationalwritersblogtourWe’re back with another interview for the blog tour.  You can find the original posts here and here.

Brittany Boyce

brittany_boyceI live in Northern Virginia, just outside D.C., with my husband of almost four years and two beautiful furbabies. I have been writing ever since I was a child, strongly throughout the middle and high school years. In fact I have an entire box of random story ideas from that time period, which I assure you are all hilarious in their lovely teenage angst. I’m currently in the editing process of what will be my debut novel, which I hope to self-publish this year.

What is the first piece you remember writing (from childhood or young adulthood)?

I don’t remember the first piece I wrote – but I do remember the first short story I had published. It was in my senior year literary journal, which in my Creative Writing class I also had the privilege of helping to edit and put together. I gobbled up more copies of the journal than I needed, just to show my family and friends that my story had been published. It was a short little love story, something I don’t write as much anymore, but it certainly fed the bug of wanting to one day publish a full novel.

What is your favorite aspect of being a writer? Your least favorite?

I absolutely love coming up with characters and new worlds. Fantasy fiction is just so unlimited that it’s almost freeing to take these characters out of my head and plant them in a world I created out of thin air and dreams.

My least favorite – editing. Enough said.

Do you believe in writer’s block? If so, what is your best tip for beating it? If not, why not?

I do believe in writer’s block, how can I not? I suffered it for years. Stress, depression and the general craziness that is life won out over any creative energy, blocking my ability to write anything, even something as miniscule as a short poem. My best tip for beating it is to write anything. Keep a journal, start a blog, write something, anything, keep the habit up because eventually the muse will return and when she does it’s usually with a vengeance.

What is your current writing project? What is the most challenging aspect of your current writing project?

As previously stated I am working on finishing my first novel and self-publishing it this year. It’s a new adult fantasy fiction story that came to me in a dream, literally. I worked for nine years on the first 20,000 words (thanks writer’s block) and then thanks to encouragement from my husband I took a writing class as well as participated in my first NaNoWriMo. So now I have all the scenes and have reached what I lovingly refer to as my Achilles heel…editing.

What supports you in your writing?

My husband, my family and my friends are really the best supporters of my writing. They’re the behind the scenes people that keep me sitting down at my computer and working hard. Also my blog has become a fantastic support – the readers, many of whom are also authors, all working towards the same dream. It’s really encouraging, especially on those days when I’m pretty sure my dream is never going to come true, having my readers encourage me and lift me back up.

What are you currently reading?

Currently I am reading the second book in the Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor called Days of Blood and Starlight. It’s absolute fantastic! Her characters are so vivid that they leap off the page, fiery wings and blue haired. I highly recommend them – and I haven’t even finished it yet. It’s a dark series, but filled with sarcasm and laughter, a tragic love, and a new world so amazing I wish it were real, despite that it’s completely filled with war at the moment.

Where can our readers find you and your books online?