All speculative fiction writers know about building worlds with words, but what if you need more than words to visualise the space in which your story takes place?
I’m a bit of a perfectionist yet even so, I recently discovered that a guestimate right at the start of Vokhtah was not only wrong, it was very wrong. That, plus needing a distraction from my first jab of AstraZeneca, lead me to Inkarnate, a brilliant, fantasy map making app.
Within the first week of playing around with Inkarnate, I had a map of Vokhtah that was a million times better than the dinky map I’d made using only Corel Draw 8. The trouble was, the more I worked on the map, the more I noticed the gaps in my worldbuilding. You see, the eyries of the Vokh don’t just appear as haphazard dots on a map. They are chosen for very specific requirements, such as:
- the security provided by the cave system,
- the proximity to water [and hence to food animals]
- and the distance from other Vokh [the greater the better].
But if eyries have pre-requisites, so do the Trader caravans that service them. All iVokh can fly, including the Traders, but few can fly well. As for the Plodders who carry the bulk of the Traders’ goods, they can barely fly at all. And this is where biology and terrain combine to create problems, because if eyries need to be near water, but Plodders can’t fly over obstructions like rivers, how do the caravans travel from gather to gather? [A gather is like a human market place.]
In book 1 of Vokhtah, the only river the Traders had to cross was the Little Blue, and it had almost stopped running by the end of the dry season [Tohoh]. The ford across the river was dangerous but doable. But then what about the other seasons?
In my current WIP, I sidestepped that problem by saying that no caravans could travel during the wet season [Kohoh]. Neat. Unfortunately, when I came to filling in the Inkarnate map, I could no longer avoid the issue of terrain because the story of Vokhtah continues on past Kohoh into Tuhoh [the season of new growth] and beyond.
How in heck was I going to solve the problem of river crossings?
The solution to the problem of rivers required a complete rethink of the map, starting with geology and basic physics. Water always flows downhill, and depending on the slope and density of the material it flows through, it either slows down and spreads out:
… or it runs swiftly and carves out gorges. And sometimes it creates land bridges that span the gorge from side to side:
Or sometimes the bridge is actually the rim of a pool that sits high above the river. When the level of water goes back to its normal level, the rim provides a way from one side of the river to the other:
When there is too much water in the pool, it cascades over the rim and becomes a waterfall that feeds the river below:
And yes, I spent a couple of days just researching rivers and terrain here in Australia. 🙂 Much of the info. I discovered came from these videos:
The middle video was shot by an amateur so the helicopter noise is quite loud, but it feels real, as if you’re sitting in the helicopter, experiencing the trip along with the pilot and sightseers. Videos 1 and 3 are professionally produced and provide better visuals.
One of the things I learned was that Katherine Gorge, which is where most of the images were shot, is actually a deep cut through a plateau. All the images I’d seen before this were from the river level and made it seem as if the gorge had cut its way through a flat plain. Not so.
The realisation that the gorge was part of a plateau changed my whole perspective about the Inkarnate map, and how the eyries and caravans [of Vokhtah] would interact with the geology. The end result is this:
Click the image to zoom in closer. The legend on the left identifies the icons used in the map, including the eyries belonging to the Vokh, from the most powerful [large purple] to least powerful [tiny white].
The fuzzy purple areas represent the native vegetation of Vokhtah. As the planet is quite different to Earth, I had to re-imagine the evolution of plants without chlorophyll [the thing that makes Earth plants green and which they use to synthesize food from sunlight, water and minerals in the soil]. I pinched the idea from Earth plants that don’t have chlorophyll of their own. They’re basically parasites, but hey… 🙂
To be honest, I can’t remember exactly why I chose purple/lavender but you’ll notice that most of the water sources on the planet are shades of purple as well. A trick of the visible light off water in a binary star system maybe? The notable exceptions are The Eye [the lake at the top of the map], and the two rivers flowing out of the Eye [Little Blue and Big Blue]. The Eye is a maar lake and it was formed from a volcanic eruption.
This is a photo of Blue Lake in Mt Gambier [Victoria, Australia]:
Click the link above to discover more about volcanic activity in Victoria.
All of the photos and videos in this post are of Australia, and this ancient land was my inspiration for Vokhtah. Thanks for coming on this little journey with me. 🙂
In my next post, I’ll start posting tips and tricks I’ve learned about Inkarnate, and how to use it with Corel Draw 8 to achieve special effects.