Worldbuilding (part 4: Climate Change 101) (31/4/2012)

Posted in Critical Failures

Until I get to populating the world with some people and setting up their societies and their myths and histories, this is possibly my favourite part of building a world – figuring out the climate. I think, if you’re trying to make something that feels plausibly earth-like, this is one of the hardest parts to get right. It’s pretty abstract, but also very definitely driven by hard physical rules and the topography of the world.

I start with the prevailing winds. Earth, prevailing winds are largely tied to latitude and there’s a pleasantly simple map of them. Without turning into a climatologist, the most important thing to keep in mind at his stage of building a new world is how water is distributed from the sea to the land, the basic rule being that the prevailing winds generally pick up water from the sea and carry it with them to the land and the flatter the land is, the further it will get spread about to fall as rain. So if the prevailing wind hits a fairly gentle expanse of lowlands rain gets spread over a wide area with a bias towards coastal regions (Western Europe is a reasonable exampel of this), while if the prevailing wind hits a mountain range, nearly all the water picked up from the sea will fall on the mountains and on the seaward side, resulting in a very wet climate on one side and a very dry climate on the other (South Island New Zealand for example).This is sort of explained in detail in the Wikipedia article on prevailing winds.

This is all very glib generalisation, but it’s probably good enough to work with two rules of thumb:

1. The prevailing winds carry the bulk of an area’s rainfall. The first mountain range they hit will steal that rain. The land beyond will likely be dry.

2. The further from the sea a place is, the more extreme the temperature change will be between summer and winter (particularly true for coastal regions in the path of the prevailing winds, less so for those where the prevailing wind blows from land to sea).

By far the easierst thing to do is simply find a part of the real world with a similar latitude and a similar topography and then steal its climate :-)

There are plenty of useful resources for this: A world precipitation map, A world climate map, and various other maps from the same site. Or any decent atlas.

Also note that where the rain falls doesn’t necessarily equate to where the people will be.

Next up: rivers.

Worldbuilding (part 3: Topology 101) (31/3/2012)

Posted in Critical Failures

Orright orright, we can get to the map now, and from here on in I’m going to assume that that everything is mostly earth-like (barring any features whose origins have already been covered). That is, the world is round, orbits a sun, spins on its axis and has evolved over a very long period of time to become what it is. Just a few notes on the alternatives:

a) If the world is flat then you clearly have a fundamentally difference cosmology and nothing you do from there on in will make any less sense, so I reckon you might as well go to town. Just give it some sort of underlying logic for how the universe works and apply that logic rigorously and you’ll do fine. I had a world that was a 10000km diameter mushroom once. It had an underside that consisted of canyons and ridges all hundreds of miles deep and a 10000km stalk. And really, that was about as far as it went and it worked just fine for what it was intended. Not sure I’d write a novel there though.

Also, a flat earth will struggle to have a magnetic field. Stuff like that.

b) Orbits a sun – see above. If a world does orbit a sun and doesn’t spin on its axis then it ought to be tide-locked to its sun and most of the world will be uninhabitably cold or hot; and if it somehow manages to have an atmosphere that doesn’t simply freeze solid and fall out of the sky on the cold side, the temperature variations are likely to cause constant storms of apocalyptic proportions. To be honest, I haven’t ever looked at this possibility in detail before and it sounds kinda fun, but that’s not where most fantasy worlds go, so that’s not where I’m going with these posts.

c) Didn’t evolve? That how was it made? Created out of nothing by the gods? Fine. Then do what you like. Give your god or gods a little personality and make a world that they would have made. But then we’ve covered this already.

Right. Mountains and seas. Very basically, mountains basically get made by tectonic plates crashing into each other and getting all surly about things (Andes, Sierras, Himalayas) or by volcanic action through soft spots in the earth’s crust (Mid-Atlantic Ridge). These often occur together. Go to wikipedia and read a bit about Plate Tectonics and Formation of Mountains and really you’re about done. Very basic basics? Mountains come in ranges. They can be long linear ones or patches. Old mountains tend to be less steep and thus more habitable and passable, having been eroded over time, while young mountains tend to be sharper and more jagged. Volcanoes can appear in mountain ranges or on their own. They also tend to last a good long time, so old mountains might have been volcanoes once but are now extinct. About the only way you can really go wrong with mountains is to pock-mark them over the world like crates on the moon, to the point where they look like they’re some sort of cosmological acne.

Seas? They fill in the low bits. If you want them to. A world with a much greater proportion of its surface covered in sea is largely going to follow recognisable earth-like behaviour for climate. A much lower proportion and it probably isn’t and the difference is probably going to be less moisture in the air and less rainfall and much larger areas of lifeless desert land. But that’s just an educated guess.

It’s very unlikely that anyone (except maybe me) is going to pick at your map and start pointing out the underlying flaws in your geology. Do what you like, but do the mountains RANGES and the coastlines first because what comes next is the climate and what comes after that are the rivers and the wildlife and that starts to tell you where the people will be, and all that starts with the mountains. If you want the odd solitary mountain added later, that’s not going to upset anything om a wide scale, unless what you add is a solitary mountain that happens to be a hundreds of miles long and twenty miles high.

Done with mountains now. Climate next.

Awards are Always Fun (29/3/12)

Posted in Critical Failures

Go HERE for some good old-fashioned bitching about this year’s Authur C Clarke Award. Don’t see why a man can’t express his opinion, although I don’t see why a man can’t be a little more of a gentleman about it either. Sympathy to Mark Billingham. Should all make Eastercon fun. Please don’t heckle the award judges on any of the panels I might happen to be doing with them.

Anyway, we’ll all forget about it in a week or so, and then in June it’ll be our turn (by “our” I mean “us fantasy writers” when the Gemmell awards come around. Chances of that passing without someone venting their spleen? Not very high. Seemly spleen-venting this year, please? It just sits wrong with me to lay into fallible but well-intentioned enthusiasts when there NHS Bill are News International so many banker bonuses more everything at all to do with the Republican Party right now deserving heck, even the chair on which I stubbed my toe this morning targets for such bile.

The first round of Gemmell nominations closes shortly. Please vote.  Do it now. Be a part of the controversy :-)

Best epic/heroic fantasy novel of 2011

Best debut epic/heroic fantasy novel of 2011

Best epic/heroic fantasy novel cover of 2011 (But not the Rothfuss cover, please not the Rothfuss cover unless you actually physically try and stand in that stance and hold the sword the way its held like I did and can really, truly convince yourself that Kvothe isn’t about to either a) scream in agony as his straining ligaments finally snap, b) cut his own face off the moment he swings his sword because he’s holding it the wrong way round or c) simply flail a bit and then topple over sideways).

Do it. Do it now. Pretty pretty please? (the vote thing. Not the Kvoth pose thing. Do that at Eastercon in the bar where I can watch)

Lightening Cannon (28/3/2012)

Posted in Critical Failures

When I was doing MopNoWriMo back in February and blogging about it every day, that was because something was happening every day. Or most days. Five thousands words is easily enough for your entire story to either explode in a cacophony of wonderous possibilities or implode into Black Hole of Failure, resolutely impenetrable behind the Event Horizon of Contradition.

In the last month, I’ve been editing and polishing. That is to say, taking on board editorial suggestions from my editor for The King’s Assassin, and polishing up Dragon Queen and Sodium Hydride Volume I getting them ready for submission. In general, these days are nowhere near as exciting as the ones where that raw first draft gets laid down. However, I’ll do my best to pass on a few lessons over the next few days.

Lesson 1: When writing a story in which lightning has a significant presence, for example, say, as an attempted defence against a marauding dragon, DO do a Wordprocessor search for lighting and lightening. Not that either of these are necessarily wrong at any given time, but as substitutions for lightning, they’re damn hard to spot by eye on a read-through. There are probably some other word-pairs that merit a search too. From/Form for example, but I’ve had most fun with lightning errors:

“Sir! The dragon’s coming right for us!”

“Fire the lighting cannon, soldier!”

<soldier fires cannon>

“Excellent work, soldier! Now that the scene is lit up with special effects lighting, the shattered shards of our flying glassips and the trailing burning remains left as our zeppelins plunge to their doom are vastly more aethestically pleasing! And truly, that dragon is now far more terrifying to behold now that a carefully designed interplay of light and shadow accentuates its size and savagery. Soldier? Where are you going? Soldier! Come back! There could be an oscar in this…”

Or else the lighting cannon unleashes a hail of Ikea lampshades and other assorted fittings. I’m not sure.


“Sir! The dragon’s coming right for us!”

“Fire the lightening cannon, soldier!”

<soldier fires cannon>

“Excellent work, soldier! Now that the colossal still-heading-right-for-us-and-apparently-undetered-in-any-way dragon’s colours are now all pale and washed out, surely it is no longer a threat… Soldier? Soldier!”

Some typos are worth it though.

Baros Tsen levelled the wand at the intruder. “You will never get out of here alive!”

“I will kill you first!” The assassing leapt to one side. Tsen fired. Despite the assassin’s speed, the bolt of lightening hit him squarely in the chest. The two of them stopped and regarded one another, breathing hard.

The assasin frowned. “Actually, this is a pretty heavy scene, dude. Couldn’t we just, y’know, chew on a couple of pieces of Xixic and maybe talk our differences instead”

Tsen shook his head in relief. he started to laugh. “You have no idea how long I’ve been waiting for someone to say that. I’ll open the apple wine. Strictly’s on in a bit if you want to stay.”


Diamond Cascade To Return (27/3/2012)

Posted in News | Uncategorized

A couple of things have come together over the last few weeks. Firstly I’ve had some feedback that at least two, possibly even three people were reading my MopNoWriMo posts AND enjoying them, which I think makes it a bigger hit so far than The Warlock’s Shadow. So thanks, Hilde and Matt and Gavin.

Second thing is that Diamond Cascade is set to return. Yes, the game is afoot once more, the defining moment so far probably being the use of a Dragon Orb as an improvised melee weapon with which to hit a dragon (as opposed to using, Oh I don’t know, maybe one of its LEGION OF DRAGON-RELATED POWERS perhaps?). In preparation for the resumption of this illustrious[1] and unforgettable[1] epic narrative, the previous Diamond Cascade posts have been re-vamped, including: Elimination of the nearly ALL of the bizarre character sequences that suddenly rendered the early episodes almost unreadable following some software upgrade or other; Elimination of TWO or THREE of the several thousand spelling mistakes and typos that riddle this un-proofread series; integration of the infamous INTERLUDE ON THE ELVISH BORDER sequence, and best of all, now available in ALL-NEW CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER. Although you can still do it backwards like it used to be if you want.

START HERE >>>>> Diamond Cascade And The Quest For Some Bat Shit

Oh, it’s a bit sweary and Father Christmas gets killed at some point, so best keep away from children.

Yes, Yes, I’ll write something about World Building again soon. I know I promised…

[1] Words do not necessarily mean what you think they mean. Terms and conditions may apply. Occasionally when some words are out of stock, and equivalent word will be offered as an alternative. Check with your local dealer for eligibility in your area. Etc. Etc.

Worldbuilding (part 2: Bob the Builder) (20/3/2012)

Posted in Critical Failures

Oh yes, and another thing before you rush off to your map – how did the world begin and what massively major events have happened to it between then and now? It needs a moment of thought at least, and I’m not talking about the creation myths of the peoples who will one day inhabit it, I mean who actually made it? If the answer is has something to do with Professor Brian Cox and Higgs Condensates, then fine. If the world was sneezed out of the left nostril of the Creator during an allergy attack that’s fine too. Everything’s fine, but I ask you to think about it before putting pen to paper in case there are any significant events that would affect either the map or the mythologies of the people who live there. If the world was made by some intelligent design, then why, and was there anything in that reason that cause the physical shape of the world to be a particular way. If there are god-like entities extant in the universe, have their actions at any point drastically shaped the world (the world in which my dragons exist was ripped apart and then badly stitched back together again. Not that you see very much of that in the early books but the consequences are there in the background). If the world was struck by a very large meteor that brought magic/aliens/pot noodles to the world, should there perhaps be a crater on the map (maybe, maybe not)?

The answer to all the above might be don’t know don’t care and that’s fine. All I’m saying is give some thoughts to any (possibly literally) earth-shattering events that might affect your world before you start drawing the map. You can still just add the Great Crater From Which All Pot Noodles Were Spawned later, but honestly really, sorting it out up front is a lot less hassle. [1]

Next week, on to the map, finally.

[1] OK, standard world-builder map-making tip here: Drop some interesting features about the place for which you have no explanation whatsoever.

Progress Report and Publication Dates (16/3/2012)

Posted in News

TBM Cover de-rezzed

The big bad news, unfortunately, is that the publication date for The Black Mausoleum has slipped from May to August. This is entirely my fault for having done basically all of the work and then sending the wrong draft back to Gollancz and not noticing for a month. This late in the day everything’s on a tight schedule and so now that it has to go back a couple of steps there’s not enough time to have the book ready for May. My bad. Sorry. I will try and make it up to anyone readers here over the next few weeks with some interviews with some of the characters and some free books.

Bad author. BAAD author.

Speaking of publication dates, if anyone (like me) thought that The King’s Assassin was coming out in August, think again. October, and that’s probably what it always was. So far so good on that one, barring any wrong-draft cock-ups :-!

kings assassin new

And then Dragon Queen. I’ll let Zafir say some words about that in a few days but it’s on its last spit and polish before submission and still on track for May next year. Beyond that, the first book of the myserious Sodium Hydride project is going through almost its last rewrite, the second book has a good first draft and with a bit of luck all three will be done and dusted by the end of summer and then I’ll be looking for something new to do.

Which is why I’m writing pitches.

On a laptop. In bed. Eating pizza at the same time.

Damn this writing is hard work…

UPDATE: Some new reviews I forgot, all from Pauline’s Fantasy Reviews.

“a whole heap of rip-roaring fun and no mistake.” (The Adamantine Palace)

“the second best opening I’ve ever encountered after ‘Tigana’” (The King of the Crags)

“The dragons are brilliant…” (The Order of the Scales)

Obviously I pick the highlights. Fine, look, it’s already a done deal that the next set of deagon books will have a) more time invested in fewer characters b) a few more sympathetic ones and c) OK, OK, I’ll ease back on killing them.

Worldbuilding (part 1: How to Start) (12/3/2012)

Posted in Critical Failures

I keep coming across posts and articles on Worldbuilding and they keep on annoying me because they either don’t do it right (my idea of right which on this matter is objectively and unquestionably and mathematically provably correct) or else (more common) they do some bits but miss out a whole swath of Stuff That Really Matters.

People who say that worldbuilding starts with a map: I’m looking at you.

So I’m going to do my own set of posts on worldbuilding. Nyer. Just so that anyone who wants to can grumble about all the bits I don’t do right and all the stuff I miss out.

I’m going to start with where you start, which isn’t with a map, dammit!

I find there are two distinct places to start with building a world, but they both stem from the question of what it’s for. So start there. Some worlds (particularly those for RPGs in my experience) are built for the purposes of being explored. Neither the builder nor the explorers really have any idea what they specifically want from the world other than for it to be a generically fun place to explore with quirks and features that will inspire ideas for stories. Other worlds are built with the same general premise but with one or two sweeping constraints (I want a desert world; I want an archipelago, that sort of thing). Yet other worlds are built with a whole series of specific constraints (in my experience these tend to be the worlds built after the fact to support a specific story or collection of story-lines). For example a world that needs to have a desert and then an impassable range of mountains that can only be crossed by getting hold of a flying carpet, both of which are littered with the ruins of an old civilisation; and one ruin in the mountains contains a gem deep inside it that can be used to trap the soul of the wicket djinn that’s rampaging about somewhere: and there are probably more constraints in there than are immediately obvious. The physical terrain has simple enough requirements (a desert with some ruins, some mountains with some more), but the mythology and history of the world now have to deliver an ancient society, flying carpets, djinn, soul-trapping gems and the mechanisms by which all these things work and the people who know or knew how to built and maintain them. And then it has to deal with all the logical consequences that follow from these, and that can be excruciatingly tricky and can easily lead to a logical consequence that buggers up the story the world was supposed to support in the first place.

Oh yes, and another thing: context. This is probably a thing that most world-builders take for granted, but chances are that whatever you’re building exists within a greater context. Mostly the greater context is assumed to be “like the real world works” and left at that, and it that’s the way it’s going to be than fine: The world is round, it orbits a sun, tides are made by the moon(s), mountains are made by plate tectonics, valleys are made by rivers and glaciers, apex predators are relatively sparse compared to their prey etc. etc. If any of these things are not true it would beg the question why, but then again if you’re building a fantasy world with either magic or actual real gods (i.e. magic) then they don’t have to be, just as long as there are logically consistent consequences for all deviations. Mountains aren’t made by plate tectonics but are in fact were all brought into being when the God of Being a Git punched the God of Eating Too Much Ice Cream really very hard in the belly and the latter vomited mountains from the sky? Why not? And because it was ice cream than they’re really cold, right, and that’s why they’re covered in snow . . . But then your mountains will be scattered across the world in the shape of barf-splats instead of linear ranges and if you want any volcanoes or earthquakes or tsunamis then you’re going to need to find a new cause for them. Not that that should be hard but it’s not to be taken for granted either.

This isn’t about what the people of your world believe at this point either. This is about how your fictional world was really made. Want a giant inverted mushroom flying through space to be your world? Fine. How did it get there? Are there others? Etc. etc. Maybe you don’t need the context beyond. Doscworld manages well enough without it – but note that it isn’t just a disk. It has its elephants and A’Tuin and that makes all the difference . . .

So three things before you start with the map:

What is the world for?

What constraints are being applied to it?

In what context does it exist?

Back at the Funny Farm (7/3/2012)

Posted in News

The mental dust has finally cleared from last month’s effort, and one other little learning experience has cropped up: when driving yourself real hard, do take extra care to make sure you send the right version of your manuscripts to your editor.


Back to rewrites now and Dragon Queen is coming along very nicely. Very nicely indeed although it does seem to stray into rather a lot of “difficult” areas. Meanwhile I seem to have a lot of jiffy bags and a lot of copies of books lying about. I feel a “competition” coming on.