If you aren’t already familiar with the term Fractalling, shame on you, and go read my introductory post on it. 😀
This article is to show you how to fractal out a world’s geography. A daunting, but well worthwhile task.
First off, what is necessary in a world’s geography? How complex does it need to be? Well, if you take one look at Earth’s geography, you immediately see that it will be next to impossible to replicate that level of detail in any world you concoct. Thankfully you don’t need to.
But many fantasy authors make ridiculously small worlds devoid of global detail. They might be good at plotting a nation’s geography, but they try to take the same fractalling methodology from their nation development and apply it to global geographical development, and it breaks down very rapidly.
So here is how you do it right, to get the most amount of detail possible (without relying on random map generators: we want design and creativity here) with the least amount of effort.
First off we need some big shapes. Really big. What are these big shapes for? They are for the general layout of the continents. Very basic. Stick to triangles, or at the most squares. Huge ones, each covering about half of your globe. The pattern for Earth’s is two triangles, points down, for reference. Because of this simple format for Earth, it is pretty easy to change it up. On one world we did a diamond, and then a line next to it.
Then you go break those up. First skew, and then shatter them into a couple pieces each. Keep long straight lines at this point. Now is also when you decide about how many continents you are going to have. Stick in the 4-10 range, as beyond those points makes them either too small or too simple. You don’t need one shape for each continent yet though.
Now drop the shapes: we are going into a new mode. Lines!
This is a fun type of shape fractalling. Based only very loosely on your earlier shapes, draw a bunch of lines showing the essence of the land and its directions. This part is more vector based, rather than mass based, if that help you any or makes any sense. They can cross, curve (but not squiggle yet), intersect, or run off in weird directions. Be imaginative.
Now merge the two sets with squiggly shapes outlining each of your continents. Base them off of both of the previous stages. Remember at this point, and keep it in mind for the rest of the development, that the top of your square map is stretched out because you aren’t drawing this on a globe. Unfortunately. Just take it into consideration. 🙂
Now you can break those continents up into various islands (especially the ones that are fragmented like the Pacific Isles and Oceania), think Europe and the coasts of the Asian continent. Get the rough drafts first, of course, and then move on to the next step.
In this one, zoom in to one continent, shaping and molding it. Pay close attention to the way that it was made (glacial, volcanic, etc.) because this effects the coastline and the shapes of the mountains. Get an idea of the mountain ranges, sketching them into the land mass with lines like you did before with the continents. Do this with each continent.
Now zoom back and look artistically at how the whole thing balances and looks together. Tweak the orientation of them to each other. Stretch, squish, grow, splatter, simplify, etc.
So now you have a really good base to build off of. You can now take this and start your history, and add on as that dictates. Cities, etc. Go have fun!