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Building Fantasy World with Real World Geography

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Linnorm, Jun 4, 2012.

  1. Linnorm

    Linnorm Dreamer

    I've had this thought bouncing around in my head--PING!--to build a world, maybe small in scope, using geography that I am familiar with. Basically, Southern California. I live in the Inland Empire, an area often ignored by Hollywood. I'm wondering what it would look like if I removed all of the man-made stuff, and put my own in there. Perhaps tweak the names of the features, or maybe existing cities. Something like this:

    Mt San Gorgonio (highest peak in Southern California)...The Gorgon
    Cajon Pass...Pass of Chaos
    Mormon Rocks...Zealot Massif
    Mojave Desert...Mahafee Wasteland
    The Badlands...The Badlands (hey, if the shoe fits...)
    Santa Ana River...working on that!
    Los Angeles (City of Angels)...Port Seraph

    Basic premise is an empire, that is Empire in name only. The Emperor and his family were all executed several hundred years ago. The hero of the story is an unknown descendant (as the Emperor had more kids than anyone knew about.)

    Well, that's my idea. A very rough work in progress.
  2. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    How far do you intend to carry this?

    Is this an actual 'future' California, centuries or millenia after some catastrophe? (I am aware of a number of series that took this route with differing parts of the US)

    Even if it is a fantasy California, what of the realm beyond its edges? Is there a large temperate mountainous rainforest to the north (Oregon, Washington, Britich Columbia) and a large desert extending east and south?
  3. Telcontar

    Telcontar Staff Moderator

    You could try checking out Dies the Fire, which is fantasy set in the dystopian future of the real world.

    I know that lots of fantasy authors have designed worlds 'based' around the real world, and I just read The Arm of the Stone by Victoria Strauss which used a 'mirror version' of the real world. Strauss did little more than hint at it and use a place name (though it was "Brittania" so was pretty obvious, I guess). Still, somewhat similar.

    As ThinkerX mentions, though, what else will you do? Using real geography might be handy for ease of reference, but I feel your readers may want it to serve some larger purpose as well.
  4. Linnorm

    Linnorm Dreamer

    Like I said, so far it's small in scope. I don't think I've thought further than the SoCal area. And, no, it's not an actual future Cal, but rather a fantasy world with the same--or close to the same--geography. One time I took some actual topographical maps, and imagined what the coastline would be if the water level rose, say, 500 feet. Or even 200 feet.
  5. Linnorm

    Linnorm Dreamer

    I've read Stirling's work; good stuff. He also did another called 'Conquistador', which had an alternate California. Of course, most of the rest of the country thinks Cal is in an alternate world, anyway!
  6. Lawfire

    Lawfire Sage

    Interesting idea. One of the more difficult things to pull off (in my opinion) is making terrain 'realistic.' If you are basing it off of existing, real-world, terrain it definitely helps that along.
  7. Linnorm

    Linnorm Dreamer

    There is a hotel in San Bernardino, called Arrowhead Springs Hotel. It was once the site of Campus Crusade for Christ, and in its heyday brought in a lot of famous people. On the mountain directly behind the hotel is a massive arrowhead shape--totally natural, not man-made. Several Native legends are attached to it. I'm thinking...great place for a wizard's tower! And I'll leave the arrowhead alone.

    There are also, within 30 miles of where I live, four Indian reservations, all of whom have highly successful casinos. I'm wondering...elves? Just a thought!
  8. Caliburn

    Caliburn New Member

    I think its cool :D I like how you got all the derived names, like Port of Seraph and The Gorgon.

    Casino elves! :p But yes t'would be brilliant!

    Do you plan on actually stating that the setting is based on California? Personally I would want to conceal the whole thing, but perhaps find sneaky opportunities to make more oblique references.

    Also, you could have characters based on people from California's history; like a brawny barbarian king called Arnolf :p
  9. Linnorm

    Linnorm Dreamer

    No, this is not based in California; I'm only using the geography because I'm familiar with it. Brawny barbarian king named Arnolf? And I bet he speaks with a think, German accent too. Possibilities!

    I'm toying with the idea of having orcs in the Wasteland--not necessarily good, but not necessarily evil. In fact, one human sttlement trades with an orc tribe fairly routinely.

    And, of course, what fantasy story is complete without...DRAGONS? There are the Drakes (winged), and the Wyrms (wingless). I might put a Wyrm in the pass; he'll have his own agenda.
  10. Fluffypoodel

    Fluffypoodel Inkling

    I find that in my own world building actually drawing a map to be very helpful, both in laying out the geography and in "seeing" the physical direction of my plot. Where you are working with a real location, albeit devoid of real world human influence, I would cation you to be careful not to get caught in preserving the real world too much. Changing the existing physical layout might lead you to even better ideas. Definitely draw out your map though.

    ps topographic maps are really good to look at as well. They show you all of the elevation changes in an area. Even though you are familiar with your location it might help to look at a topographic map of the area.
  11. Caliburn

    Caliburn New Member

    "Brawny barbarian king named Arnolf? And I bet he speaks with a thick, German accent too. Possibilities!"


    I love orcs.....

    "I might put a Wyrm in the pass; he'll have his own agenda."

    oooh spooky!
  12. Snowpoint

    Snowpoint Sage

    Using the real world as your map is not bad, or against any rules. The real world is more interesting than people think. People think they understand what the Amazon is like, but do your research and present the Amazon in a unique way and people will never believe it is a real place on Earth.

    Good Reality is the Foundation of Good Fantasy.
  13. dragonangel517

    dragonangel517 Scribe

    I am basing my WIP on a twin planet in another universe, connected to Earth by portals. Land masses are roughly the same,but with noticeable differences. Geography is not my strong suit, so I can use reference books for the basics and then change things as needed for the fantasy elements. So I say go for it.
  14. studentofrhythm

    studentofrhythm Minstrel

    This is very similar to what I'm doing. And I just picked up a Guy Gavriel Kay book the other day and saw how he invented an alternate reconquest-era Spain and Europe. So it must be in the air . . .

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