The evolution of maps

I’ve come to realize that maps, like novels and conworlds themselves, are never really finished.

All my older maps are just drafts of my newer maps. I change the place names as I gain a better feel for the language; I change the features as my understanding of geography improves; I realize that they’re not quite what I wanted, and start making revisions…

So, here is my map of the Yanbukan province of Kuarake.

A map of Kuarake drawn in CC3
A map of Kuarake drawn in August 2017 using Campaign Cartographer 3 (CC3)

If you look at the Yanbukan map I published a few weeks ago, you’ll see no Kuarake, but you will find a place in the south called Quasakeo.

A map of the Yanbukan empire drawn using CC3 (Campaign Cartographer 3)
A map of the Yanbukan empire drawn in July 2017 using Campaign Cartographer 3

First I decided that there was no ‘qu’ in the Yanbukan language.  Although the land’s original name was Quasakeo, it’s been part of the Yanbukan empire for over a thousand years, and its name will have been changed to something its conquerors could pronounce.

In fact, I decided that the land was originally called Qualo Aeo, after it’s main stronghold, Qualo (now renamed Kuara by the Yanbukans).

Like Ekusha, it is a region with a lot of history. Its people still feel a deep-buried resentment against the northerners who slew their kings – I can imagine that many Kuarakens / Qualoans are keen to recover their cultural heritage and revive their old language.

If you look at this older map of Ekusha, you’ll see it’s not only place-names that have changed. On the new map above, the south-west coast is raised and the river Yebukor has carved out a gorge.

A map of Ekusha drawn with Campaign Cartographer 3
A map of Ekusha drawn with Campaign Cartographer 3 in August 2017

This is because I felt like the mountains at the eastern edge of the inland sea should connect with the mountain range in Kuarake. I think they were all formed at the same time (it will be easier to see when I produce my revised map of Yanbuku). With such impressive natural defenses, the old royal stronghold of Qualo can’t have been easy for the Yanbukans to conquer!

Further west are lowlands which flood during the rains. The Sea of Chasuwa has no outflow, so surely all that extra water must go somewhere?

As you see, I’m still trying to make my world plausible with my limited knowledge of how things work!

Building a fantasy world that makes sense

I’ve been world-building for years now, telling myself that I know all the obvious mistakes to avoid (rivers don’t flow uphill, deserts don’t appear next to temperate woodland or tundra etc.) Yes, crazy things can happen in Askamar because it’s the magical realm, but Udaris is the mundane world and I want it to make sense.

Despite this, I’ve often just positioned mountains in places where I thought they looked nice and stuck down cities without giving much thought to their water supply.

Until now, I’ve never considered things like plate tectonics, prevailing winds or ocean currents. The result is maps that look like this:

A map of Ekusha drawn with Campaign Cartographer 3
A map of Ekusha drawn with Campaign Cartographer 3 in August 2017

What is wrong with this map of Ekusha?

Firstly, it’s a subtropical land in the southern hemisphere. This means that the wind is blowing up from the south-east, so that forest is sitting right in the rain shadow of the Dakurashen mountains!

As for the mountains themselves, why are they just sprouting up from the plains like that, so tall and jagged? They’re not lying along an active fault line, so they must be quite old. Shouldn’t they be more weathered?

I placed loads of cities along the Sangrabor peninsula, but where does their water come from? What happens to them during the winter dry season? The soil can’t be that great for farming, so is there enough farmland to support them all?

Then there’s Okusaba to the south. I made it a desert, because I know that deserts appear on the other side of subtropical grasslands, but… why would a desert appear there with the wind sweeping across from the sea? It makes more sense for the deserts to be further inland, beyond that unnamed range of mountains to the west.

With all this in mind, I’ve re-drawn the map.

A map of Ekusha drawn with Campaign Cartographer 3
A map of Ekusha drawn with Campaign Cartographer 3 in August 2017

Over the last week I’ve been doing more reading, but I’ll never be an expert in climate, geology and all the other things you need to know to create a truly authentic world. Still, this is the best I can do right now.

I’ll have to re-draw Yanbuka and the big Yanbuka-Kahubur map as well, of course, but I’d rather revise my work from time to time than be stuck with a nonsensical mundane world!

The Yanbukan Empire re-drawn

I’ve re-drawn the map of the Yanbukan empire, changing its borders slightly, changing some place names, and adding more detail. Instead of ten provinces, there are now only five, which makes things simpler for me!

A map of the Yanbukan empire drawn using CC3 (Campaign Cartographer 3)
A map of the Yanbukan empire drawn using Campaign Cartographer 3

I feel like it’s great improvement on the old map; I’ve become much better at using Campaign Cartographer over the years, and I’ve also done a bit more research on rivers.

A map of Yanbuka created using CC£
An old map of Yanbuka created in Decemeber 2015 using CC3.

As you can see, Jekeskra and Abokowa are no longer part of the empire, but it has gained the whole of the eastern peninsular. Why did I do this? Mainly to make Yanbuka a more pleasing shape, but also because it makes the history of the empire more interesting!

Naturally, I have written a new history to go with the new map. Writing histories can be hard – I get too bogged down in detail sometimes – but I’m pleased with this one. It goes right up to the 16th century, which is as far as I have planned the events in my conworld.

While I was writing, I decided that in face Ekusha would be the final (and most difficult) province to conquer. Therefore I’ve also amended my great map of Kahubur and Yanbuka, and given it a date.

The Yanbukan and Kahuburi empires circa 620 EA, drawn using CC3
The Yanbukan and Kahuburi empires in 620 EA, during the time of the 4th Namivan war.

I love world-building!

A Map of Yanbuka and Kahubur

My blog might get more readers if only I could think up more interesting titles for my posts…

Anyway, I’ve started doing more work on Yanbuka and its old enemy Kahubur. As as result, I’ve felt inspired to create this huge map that depicts the territories of both empires:

A map of Yanbuka and Kahubur drawn with CC3 (Campaign Cartographer 3)
A map showing Yanbuka and Kahubur, drawn using Campaign Cartographer 3.

I love maps like this! I get used to just seeing maps of individual kingdoms. Drawing a map that shows several kingdoms helps me gain a new perspective of my world, and to consider how the different lands might interact.

Taking a break…

There’s so much world-building that I plan to do, but I haven’t gotten around to any of it. Indeed, it’s been weeks since I did anything significant enough to be worth mentioning in my blog (I haven’t even done any writing!)

It’s not that Askamar and its denizens aren’t continually in my thoughts; I just haven’t felt like doing any new work on the world.

Still, maybe it’s helpful to take a break every now and again. When I finally return to writing and world-building, I’ll perhaps do so with fresh inspiration!

In fact, I feel like doing some work on the time-line right now – a task that I’m always putting off, but really does need to be done…

Zakrusepi’s new look

Zakrusepi, Skurmondul and company haven’t appeared on the website yet (my world-building is still stuck in the era of Shekruvaris), but that doesn’t mean I don’t think about them often.

I’ve also been thinking about the ‘races’ of my conworld. For the last several years there have been four races – the Ankaykari, the bantagri, the yuyarni and the humans – but I’ve now decided the combine the yuyarni and the bantagri (my two vaguely draconic races), thus simplifying the setting and the story.

Anyone who knows anything about the yuyarni and the bantagri must be thinking, ‘WHAT? You want to merge a race of lumbering land-dwelling herbivores who hate heights with a race of flying meat-eaters? What will that do to their culture and psychology?’

I know it seems strange, but I’ve been thinking about it these last few months, and I can see how it will work. I’d also rather create one draconic race in detail rather than have two draconic races that seem sketchy when compared with the Ankaykari and the humans.

Most importantly, I can picture Zakrusepi with wings! Jagrothazri has also adapted well to becoming a yuyarni. Skurmondul with wings is a bit harder, but I’m sure he’ll cope…

So, here’s what Zakrusepi used to look like (although I used this picture as the website’s generic bantagri illustration, it is an actual picture of him):Zakrusepi the bantagri

Here are some generic yuyarni:

A picture of some yuyarni

Below, you can see the yuyarni and bantagri combined. I’ve given the female yuyarni the ‘bald’ head of the original yuyarni (which you can see in this post), while the males have bantagri horns. I might decide to give the male yuyarni manes as well, since that was part of the original yuyarni design.

Mountain Yuyarni Male
Male Mountain Yuyarni by Louisa Watson

It’s great to finally have some yuyarni ‘main characters’, as it makes it much easier for me to visualize the yuyarni culture and figure out how it works.

But what will become of the bantagri? I’ve decided to name Zakrusepi’s tribe after them (he can keep his old clan name, of course!), and I’ll incorporate as much of their culture into it as I can – this actually won’t be too hard, since I originally imagined the bantagri as fearsome hunters before I realized they’d be too slow to catch anything! Since Zakrusepi ends up eating Daskesurul’s heart, his whole plot makes a lot more sense now!

I now know the name of my hobby: conworlding

I’ve always loved writing stories, but I also love working on the setting of my stories – even when it isn’t at all relevant to the plot!

Many people would say that this is a sign of failure as a writer. There are a plenty of books out there that tell you how to ‘world-build’, but they almost always say the same thing. Only build as much as you need. Don’t get carried away.

This always frustrated me. It felt as if the world I built didn’t matter, because only the story was important (and presumably, the story itself only had value if other people were willing to buy it!) These books told me that expressing my creativity purely through world-building (a thing I loved doing) was a waste of time.

Well, if you want to become a successful author, they have a point. How can you churn out bestsellers and make money if you’re busy creating an illustrated guide to the different types of tree in your fantasy world?

Anyway, I ignored this advice, which perhaps partly explains why I’ve failed as a professional author.

I’ve drawn maps and written histories of Udarissan kingdoms that my characters never even make reference to in the stories, let alone visit, simply because I want my world to feel complete. I even once created an illustrated guide to the jazhagria species of Askamar (I’ve yet to get around to an illustrated guide to trees, however!)

A few years back, I discovered a fascinating book called Building Imaginary Worlds: The Theory and History of Subcreation by Mark J. P. Wolf, and I realized that there are many others like me – people who build worlds as an artistic creation in their own right.

Calling my hobby world-building never felt quite right, however. World-building is what authors do to create a setting for their stories. It serves a purpose, just like plot-building and character development.

It was only last autumn, when I was thinking about inventing some languages for my world, that I discovered what my hobby is actually called. I found that invented languages are called conlangs (from ‘constructed languages’). I then found that a constructed world – one built as an artistic project for its own sake – is called a conworld.

It seems that, when you’re a conworlder, you don’t build a world for the sake of your stories. You write a story to illustrate / expand upon your imagined world.

That’s exactly what I do!

A Servant of Shekruvaris

Mendaran balanced on a narrow ledge, waiting for his opponent to strike. A lava lake bubbled twenty feet below him, bathing the fire-blackened crags in a ruddy glow. Mendaran grinned. He could have fought this battle in the dueling-pits of the Royal Citadel, but he enjoyed being out in the wasteland.

Mendaran’s step-mother Carashanza regarded him coolly, holding her sword before her. She was one of the immortal Ankaykari, and although she looked like a slender human woman, she was far stronger than him. Carashanza’s skin was ebony-black and her eyes burned like embers. She could have melted into the air, shattered Mendaran’s blade or struck him to the ground. Instead she fought without magic, even though his sword-fighting skills now surpassed hers.

Mendaran felt the ledge crumble slightly. He adjusted his balance.

Read more

Re-arranging the library

After much thought, I’ve managed to re-arrange the library in a way that I like!

Instead of lengthy novellas, I’ll be publishing inter-linked short stories online. These will be arranged in chronological order (rather than publication order) in the library, so that people can either read the whole epic saga as it unfolds, or choose which story thread they find most interesting.

I’ve re-used my book titles for some of the library sections, so that those who have read the first two books and now want to read The Ruler of Ruins can easily find it.

Writing short stories gives me so much more creative freedom! I can work on any part of the series that I want, and include scenes that wouldn’t have fitted into a novel.

For example, I’ll be able to write about what happens in the twenty years between The Scepter of Ice and The Ruler of Ruins. There is no structured narrative that makes these years worthy of a novel, but nevertheless it is an important period in Askamar’s history  – indeed, it makes up the bulk of Ruzenathra’s reign!

This is the advantage of not being a successful self-published author and not having a readership (I talk about people who might want to read The Ruler of Ruins, but there isn’t anyone except Maggie, as far as I know). Rather than worrying about making money, or what will be popular with my readers, I can write whatever I feel like writing and just publish it on my website.

Character Profiles Re-designed

I’ve started doing more world-building, as promised. Unsurprisingly, I’ve been focusing on character profiles again.

When you have so many notes and so much information about a character, it can be hard to know how to organize it! However, I think I might finally have settled on a profile design that I like. I hope I don’t want to change it in a few month’s time…

As usual, I’ve started with Liralian.

An epic fantasy saga