The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
We recently spent a little time reviewing 4 of the more commonly seen types of terrain: plains, grassland, mountains, and desert. When building your new world, it's important to diverify your landscape and give credibility to your universe. In this section, we'll take a look at a few more common terrain types, as well as give examples of how to utilize thier special characteristics in your environment.
This Land is My Land...
Before we dive into our next set of terrain types, let's do a quick recap of the ones we discussed last time. For more information, or to revisit our prior article, just click on each one.
In this installment, we'll take a look at a few more terrain types. Specifically, Forests, Swamp, Hills, and Tundra. Select each type to jump to that section, or read through them as we delve into each one. Hope you enjoy!
Arguably the highest concentration of different species of life, vegetation, and mystery are the forests of your world. Endless expanses of trees ranging from ancient oaks across the grasslands, to towering redwoods nestled at the base of your mountains, to a lush canopy of the jungle, forests offer an abundance of possibilities. Forests require two main ingredients…water and time. Most are very old, with the most ancient and venerable residing near the center, growing from the inside out as they expand their domain. Most forests are too dense for travel, leaving them untamed and untouched except for those that are brave enough to venture forth. As a result, many ‘unadvanced’ cultures fill forests with mythical folklore and legend.
When a large area dips below sea level, surrounded by rivers and streams destined for the coast, swamps, marshes, and bogs are formed. Large expanses of watery, spongy land are teeming with nutrient-rich vegetation; however, the nature of the land makes it unsuitable for cultivation or settlement. In addition, the abnormally high humidity and lack of wind tends to result in an ominous haze, leading to the sense of mystery surrounding these regions. The high water saturation results in unusually formed vegetation, adding to the distinctive nature of the swamp. Much like forests, swamps are rarely settled or traversed, and only inhabited by those that are brave and adventurous enough to navigate through.
In a fantasy setting, swamps offer some of the richest sources of legend and lore, being home to some of the scariest creatures known to man. Place them anywhere rivers diverge near the coast, or in areas that have unusually low elevation, as the water has no chance of escaping. Swamps provide a wealth of mystery and will give you ample opportunity to thrill your readers. Use them sparingly to increase the uniqueness these regions can offer.
“After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.” - Nelson Mandela
Use in Your World
Typically nestled against a larger mountain range, a region of hills offers a smooth transition from the gently rolling plains. This terrain offers tremendous variety as it can support a very large range of life. Be creative in what groups/clans call this area home. People that hail ‘from the hills’ tend to be more reclusive than their grassland counterparts, so think of unique ways of incorporating their ‘quirks’ into your storyline.
Seward’s Icebox, Siberia, Antarctica, ‘Beyond the Wall’…there are many potentially creative names for the frozen sections of your fledging world, and each one has the opportunity to pose a complex network of conflicts and challenges to your characters. Inherently, the cold alone is the most obvious…but think beyond that…who lives in a frozen wasteland? What types of creatures call it home? Why is it frozen in the first place? Food, resources, and sunlight are always scarce in the parts of the world where the sun hits at the sharpest angles. Days can either be very long…..or very short….but often they are polar (get it?) opposites of what you would find in your more inhabited regions. Creatures are unique and more terrifying, simply because less is known about them. The population is typically not used to dealing with visitors, and as such, tend to be much more brutish in nature. Finally, these regions of the world can offer some of the most picturesque, beautiful scenery around...images that you will never find anywhere else, and something your characters (and your readers) are sure to remember upon their first visit.
Use in Your World
Feel free to treat a tundra-covered region as a whole other world, because it truly is. Different landscape, different inhabitants, different vegetation, and different wildlife. Nothing you find in this region will be found anywhere else, so use this opportunity to drastically change the landscape and create something unexpected. Your characters will have no predetermined expectations, and neither should your readers. Create lasting, over the top scenic references, and make it apparent that anyone that lives in this region is truly ‘out of this world’.
Bringing it all Home...
There's a few other types of 'sub-terrain' that could be considered, such as caverns, steppe, jungle, marsh, and bluff. To some extent, these are really just extended versions of some of those that we've already described. There's another, however, that probably deserves a little more consideration...ocean. In the historic eras of humanity, little was known about the seas. As a result, they were filled with lore and even had their own gods to oversee their unpredictable domain. Depending on the era your story is set in, it's certainly plausible that the seas will take on a life of their own.
Now that we've discussed the main types of terrain, let's bring it all together and begin plotting our world. In the next section, we'll take the steps necessary to develop a realistic landscape and see how adding a little variety allows your readers to immerse themselves in your creation, letting the story speak for itself.
Continue our series...World Building 101: Boundaries
Hello, my name is Scott...I'm a husband, father of 3, and work full-time in IT. If that's not enough on my plate, I'm also tackling the biggest 'creative' project of my lifetime, bringing the world of Mists of Kel Doran to life. I hope you like what I'm trying to pull off and I truly appreciate all of those who have supported this dream of mine. Here's to following your heart and having the courage to put your ideas out there for the world to enjoy :)
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