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From the Blog: World-building a Diverse Landscape

If you’re working on making a big and immersive world for your story, NaNoWriMo writer Siera Schubach has some tips for building different kinds of landscapes into your novel:

The wonderful part of writing fantasy is you don’t have to rely on reality. 

However, there is much inspiration that can be drawn from the real world that will enhance your worldbuilding efforts.

Landscapes in particular can lend believability to your fantasy world, as well as inform plot and character creation. Here are a few ideas and tips to help you on your worldbuilding journey.  

Think Outside the Forest

When we think of landscapes, a few broad categories may come to mind: 

  • Desert
  • Forest
  • Mountains
  • Plains

If you look at the landscape of any country, you will see variations on each of these broad types. There are high deserts filled with sage brush, and coastal deserts flanked by ocean. Mountains can be tall and sharp, or sloped and smooth. And forests can grow trees in every size from as tall as the giant sequoia, to as small as pinyon pines. 

In my travels this summer, I have seen some beautiful landscapes I never knew existed. Here are few that have inspired me:

  • Pyramid Lake, Nevada
  • Great Sand Dunes, Colorado
  • Badlands, South Dakota
  • Panther Creek Falls, Montana
  • Cove Palisades, Oregon

Tip: If you are unable to travel, a browse through google images or national park websites can lead to some interesting discoveries. 

Landscape and Character

Landscape informs character in ways we don’t always consider. We have all been shaped one way or another by the physical landscape in which we grew up. Whether it be our understanding of the world, or just what we feel comfortable living within. 

Say you have a character who was born on an island. They woke up each morning with the sound of ocean waves, surrounded by hibiscus flowers and mango trees. How might they be affected if they were suddenly moved to a desert? 

If your fantasy world consists of non-human species, then landscape can also have an impact on their physiology. How might a character who grew up in a high mountain landscape have adapted to living in high altitude? 

  • Take a moment and consider how you have been shaped by the landscape in which you grew up. How have your experiences changed as you’ve moved to different environments?
  • Now consider one of your characters. How have they been shaped by the landscapes they experienced?

Nature is Messy

Nature impacts us in a multitude of ways everyday. Whether it be allergies, or rainstorms, or a steep climb up a hill. Your characters should have the same relationship with it.

Consider the difficulties that can arise as they encounter different landscapes. Remember, there shouldn’t always be a path. Let your characters wade through the water, get tangled in the underbrush, lose their shoes in the mud. 

Difficult terrain can be a catalyst for an argument or confrontation. Waiting for the tide to go out could lead your characters to finally have that difficult conversation. A beautiful view can inspire someone to admit their true feelings. 

Let your landscape inform character decisions in the same way our real natural world informs our own. 

Tip: Take a walk and pay attention to the landscape. What plants do you encounter? What beauty do you see? 

Embrace the Unusual

We tend to view landscapes in simple terms. We can easily imagine a forest lined lake, or a desert brimming with cactus. But what about large rock formations in the middle of a plain? Or sand dunes at the base of verdant mountains? These are the sorts of unusual landscapes that make a world feel believable. 

As I’ve written before, there is no need to know every single detail of your fantasy world before getting started. Instead, consider these ideas as you write and discover what makes your fantasy landscape unique. Challenge yourself to go beyond the basic lines of landscape to something a little more interesting. 


Siera Schubach is an award-winning writer, storyteller, and random fact collector. She is currently in the depths of editing her latest fantasy novel, and working on a nonfiction book that will be published by Bloomsbury in 2024.

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