Writing a novel

Worldbuilding 101: Topography or How to Craft a Planet

The first in my Worldbuilding 101 series.

Topography and Geography

This is literally the foundation of a novel’s world. Potentially the most uninteresting, too. It’s all about dirt.

LE Medlock: Worldbuilding - planet
Image from Flickr Creative Commons via Daniel Lombraña González
        • Poles
        • Equator

The temperature of these will be affected by the rotation of the planet and the position of the sun relevant to the planet, among other things. They help determine climate and terrain.

        • Astronomy

This is imperative for space-based science fiction, and needs consideration for historical fiction: stars and planets may have been named differently and satellites visible now would not have been 100 years ago. That’s assuming the characters pay close attention to the sky at night… (pirates, anyone?). Most civilisations will have named the constellations and mentioning just one or two is an easy way to add depth to your world.

Land mass

        • Pangea
        • Continental
        • Archipelago

Continental shift may be applicable here. Consider this when building islands and peninsulas.

      • Oceans
          1. Water?
          2. Fire?
          3. Pink ooze?


LE Medlock: worldbuilding 101
Image from Flickr Creative Commons via Barbara
        • Mountain
        • Swamp
        • Jungle
        • River
        • Steppe
        • Tundra
        • Savannah
        • Desert
        • Sub-artic
        • Etc.

Start closest to your protagonist and work out.

Natural events and disasters (earthquakes, tsunamis, droughts, meteors, ice ages etc.) can change the shape of the land. Be logical in placement of these terrains.

Plate tectonics will determine the placement of mountains, volcanoes etc. and the equator breeds deserts.

I don’t often use map drawing software, but I’ve heard these are ridiculously useful. Me, I draw everything by hand. Mostly due to an inability to leave the couch. (Chime in if you have any recommendations for this.)


        • Temperature
        • Rainfall
        • Wind
        • Seasons
LE Medlock: Worldbuilding 101
Image from FlickrCreative Commons via StormLoverSwin93

Worldclimate.com has data on things like average rainfall for most cities.

Blue Planet is a good resource for climate types.


        1. Biotic
            • Flora, fauna, coal, petrol (organic)
        2. Abiotic
            • Land, water, mineral ores (non-organic)

Communities spring up around natural resources in defensible areas.

Natural boundaries form from rivers, mountains and seas. If it’s hard to cross, it’s an issue. It’s very unusual for countries to draw a line over the grass and declare a border (but it happens. They tend to build a wall).

There are also places that fall into dispute (e.g. the Senkaku Islands) or are continually under new rule. Watch out for small, out-of-the-way gems like this that could fall between countries.

Do you have any other considerations for geography?

2 thoughts on “Worldbuilding 101: Topography or How to Craft a Planet”

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