Write Hacks 3 : Worldbuilding Hack


by Sherwood Smith

Okay, you’ve got this grand idea for an epic fantasy, and you’ve outlined your story, listed your cast of thousands, and you’ve got all these cool maps of your kingdoms, empires, territories, free cities, and so on.

You start writing, and as your cast gets split up all over the place, you find yourself trying to keep track of who is where when, and above all what time it is where. “Oh, calculating that is easy,” says your math friend. “You simply plug your numbers into an easy equation, beginning with yadda-blither-garble-goo.”

You nod and smile and go away whimpering, because if you’d ever managed to get anything above a D- in simple math you probably would be earning megabucks in some math related industry, not living on ramen as you try to follow your writing dream.

So what do you do? Simple, sez I. Buy a beach ball.

What you have in those colorful orange/blue/red/yellow slices an instant time-zone calculator, as well as an easily transportable 3-D map. The tough part is getting your maps  onto the globe. I made mine when I was nineteen, and as you can see it’s been corrected a lot over the decades with white-out and a weird variety of paints, depending on what I could get my hands on at various points in my life.

Instant globe

Instant globe

The best thing was, I was able to see how my plate tectonics worked, which enabled me to better imagine weather patterns, climate patterns, and how those would affect the various cultures and economies in the paracosm.

That thing has traveled to Europe once, and across the North American continent countless times. It deflates and packs up easily. And figuring out who is where when is a matter of a moment for this math-challenged writer.



Write Hacks 3 : Worldbuilding Hack — 22 Comments

  1. Love it! and when you finish the series you can auction it off for charity.

  2. For Starfarers, which is set in an O’Neill colony, I used a large soda bottle and drew the map on paper pasted onto the outside. It was inside-out, but it sufficed.

  3. I love your beach ball idea. Now I’d like beach balls of lots of fantasy worlds (the round ones–I’d like a frisbee for Discworld)

    • I know! I once had this idea of making maps for them all and hanging them from the ceiling in a fantasy solar system, but time, money and in those days landlords . . .oh, for several lifetimes to carry out all these ideas!

  4. I love this. I may steal it. I have been SO frustrated trying to draw flat maps for areas of land above a certain size (I believe I drew the equator line on one quick sketch and found it zigged and zagged raggedly. At least when I switched to my super-rough photoshop creation I could get continents lined up… But beach ball, yes.

    Although i still fudge how many days and weeks travelling to X or Y is, so no doubt something will still be wrong.

    • The beach ball can be helpful once you decide what the distances are relative to the time zones, (That took me quite a while to figure out!)

  5. I was so expecting a new technology app or gadget that would calculate the answers. Love the old school approach. Bonus, you can spin your globe and imagine all of your characters clinging for dear life to the surface. The lesser drawn peoples will fly right off, leaving you nothing but the strong-willed and interesting ones to write about.