Mozanya Rough Sketch

Even the most complex things can start with just a rough sketch on a napkin, or the back of a Christmas Party invitation in this case (thanks, Liz Hayes). This is a rough map of the port city of Mozanya, where Pageeda and Scuffee from my story, “Bitter Days,” are living a hard scrabble existence as homeless refugees.

Mozonya: Rough Sketch of a Fantasy Port City

OK, I know the map still needs a lot of work, but you can still see the basic concept for this northern port city. The sketch is something I scrawled out while discussing world building details with my friend, Bill Aguiar, after a writing group meeting. By the way, north is to the left.

Here are some details about the city, straight from own own background guide:


Overview

The port city of Mozanya straddles the mouth of the Yangazi River, a highly navigable waterway that wends its way from the Cragenrath Mountains across the entire length of the kingdom of Salasia and thence to the Western Ocean. Positioned southward of the typical freeze line for ocean ice, the port is generally open all year, although shipping is considerably reduced during the stormy winter months. Mozanya’s strategic location makes it a bustling center for trade.

The Yangazi River divides the city into North Mozanya and South Mozanya. Most nobles and rich merchants live in North Mozanya, which also hosts expensive shopping districts and numerous government buildings including the Etisimah Palace, the fortress-palace of the Praytor. South Mozanya is considerably less refined and more vibrant, a veritable melting pot of diverse peoples and raucous trade.

Mozanya’s size, its population of approximately three hundred thousand, diverse peoples, unique geography and sheer amount of trade present unique challenges for law enforcement, tax collection and city safety.

City Geography

The terrain around, and within, Mozanya can best be described as rolling hills. Mozanya itself sprawls across five sizable hills. The two highest are in North Mozanya. The houses of nobles and rich merchants ascend the hills in stately terraces, ostensibly for the admiration of the lower classes. South Mozanya is built on and around three smaller hills. The Tween (where Pageeda and Scuffee live) is located in South Mozanya. Some people derogatorily refer to the two halves of Mozanya as Highside and Lowside. One of the southern hills, formerly known as Beacon Hill, was renamed Temple Hill by the Church of Turkos when it acquired the rights to the land.

Within Mozanya, both banks of the wide Yangazi River are lined with docks for shallow river craft and barges, and are generally referred to by the unimaginative names of North Bank and Riverside. Expensive trade goods and the tourism trade tend to gravitate towards North Bank. Otherwise, businesses on both sides of the river compete intensely for river shipping, including bulk goods, livestock and slaves.

As an ocean port, Mozanya’s primary advantage is the Crescent, a rocky, natural breakwater that provides the city with a spacious bay, the Bay of Fools, protected from the Western Ocean’s tumultuous winter storms. As with the river trade, a sharp division exists between the two sides of the city. Thanks to expensive magical dredging, North Beach supports the largest and best maintained docks for the larger, deep draft ocean vessels. This leaves Dockyards to focus on smaller ships, budget shipping, the slave trade and fishing, including the dangerous arctic crab hunting trade. Dockyards is widely rumored to be one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the Thousand Kingdoms.

Bridges

Since the Yangazi River was too wide to be easily bridged at its mouth, Mozanya originated as two competing port cities, Mozey and Anya, on opposite sides of the vast river (to the north and south, respectively). The era of bitter competition ended 437 years ago when Mozey eventually proved victorious under the leadership of Everard, who became the first Praytor of the unified metropolis. Everard promptly declared Mozanya to be the new name of the combined city.

The city supports three distinctively different bridges:

  • The Bridge of the Morning Mist: Deciding that improved ties between the two halves would be beneficial in maintaining his unification efforts, Everard commissioned the building of the Bridge of the Morning Mist. The bridge, a narrow construction of steel and concrete, was positioned on the eastern, inland side of the city to take advantage of a strategic ridge of bedrock underlying the river. It was the city’s sole bridge for more than four hundred years. The bridge’s relatively low height and the distance between support pillars limits the size of river vessels that can pass down the river and into Mozanya.

  • The Bridge of the Graceful Heron: The city’s western bridge is one of the most advanced bridges in the Thousand Kingdoms. Known more colloquially as the “Archway,” it is a graceful steel construction with a concrete roadbed that soars across the mouth of the river, with pylons on several man-made islands. The Archway is more than three times the length of the city’s eastern bridge, but bears the majority of the city’s cross-river traffic. Unlike the other bridges, the Bridge of the Graceful Heron was mage-built, but designed to not require ongoing magical maintenance.

  • The Bridge of Heroes: The oldest of the three bridges and the closest bridge not within range of the city’s defenses, it crosses the Yangazi River some ten miles north of the Mozanya, at the town of Antigon. Formerly known as the Sudayeen Bridge, it was renamed the Bridge of Heroes after the Battle of Antigon eleven years ago. The Bridge of Heroes is an antiquated but strategically important bridge.


  • There’s a lot more to know about Mozanya, but this at least covers most of the basics.

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The Reactive Net: A Strategy for Writing Series

The Harry Potter SeriesUnless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ve almost certainly noticed that a lot of authors are making money with series. The reason for this is simple: readers buy the things that they like, and a sequel to a book they’ve already enjoyed is the easiest sale of all. However, many writers are finding out that crafting a series isn’t as easy as they thought it would be.

It turns out that creating a series is, well, hard. Not only that, but series are prone to different types of failures, both in their initial setup and in how they progress. Here are a few examples (slightly exaggerated for effect) of what can go wrong:

  • The rebels killed the evil emperor and took over the empire in Book 1. What’s left for them to do in Book 2?

  • The world-building details were sufficient to set up the precise constraints needed for the first book to work, but they weren’t consistent or detailed enough to support additional books.

  • The hero has a mystery in their background that needs to be solved. How long should it take to solve the mystery? What happens to the series when it’s solved?

  • The series is built around the tension between a vampire and the human woman who loves him. What happens to the dynamic of the series when they get married?

  • The author takes their sexy, supernatural urban fantasy and starts emphasizing the kinky sex until they lose (the male) half of their audience.

I believe that I have some interesting insights when it comes to series, despite the fact that I don’t have a New York Times best-selling series or a Hollywood-optioned trilogy to my name. You see, I’ve been doing series for thirty-five years a really long time. Not only that, but I’ve regularly put my series to the test in front of a highly critical live audience and, frankly, I haven’t had a lot of complaints.

I create and run run roleplaying games.

I’m not talking about the kind of fun but simplistic gaming sessions where the heroes descend into a “dungeon” and kill lots of monsters. I’m talking about “interactive novels” with complicated story lines, unexpected plot twists, hundreds of supporting characters (non-player characters for you gamer types), lots of competing factions, etc. Some of my “campaigns” continued for twenty or thirty twelve-hour games with the same loose group of characters.

Can you imagine keeping someone involved and engaged with the details of an intricately unfolding plotline for 360 hours?

I can. I’ve done it.

Leveraging this experience from the gaming realm, I came up with what I call the Reactive Net, a set of steps for crafting the canvas of your series. I believe the Reactive Net works just as effectively in the world of prose fiction as it did for me in the gaming realm.

Oh, it doesn’t solve every problem. It’s a strategy for designing a series, not a silver bullet. As such, it won’t solve all of the problems I highlighted above, but it can help you with a bunch of them. At the very least, it’s another tool in your Writer’s Toolbox.

Maybe the Reactive Net will work for you, or maybe not. It’s certainly helped me with my own fiction.

What is the Reactive Net?

The Reactive Net is a set of steps for creating a coherent, consistent and connected background that can support the creation of multiple story lines over time leveraging the same setting, characters and a diverse cast of supporting characters. It’s primarily focused on developing sufficient background details and connectivity to provide your series with a firm foundation that will support whatever you want to do with it.

Crafting unique primary characters and their ongoing story arcs is something you’ll have to layer on top of the Reactive Net.

The steps for creating a Reactive Network are detailed below, along with an extended example that illustrates the design of an urban fantasy.

  1. Define the “Playing Field.”
     
    The Playing Field is the home territory where most of the action in the series will occur. For Batman, it’s Gotham City. For Harry Potter, it’s Hogwarts. For the wizard, Harry Dresden from The Dresden Files, it’s Chicago. We’re looking for a bit more than just “Chicago,” though — what we really want is a thumbnail sketch that gives us a bit of the flavor of your Playing Field.

    Our Playing Field will be Kosmopolis, a small but growing city in the state of Tennessee, situated in a valley surrounded by rolling hills and forests. This up-and-coming city has become a high-tech center thanks to the relocation of the headquarters of MOEX Technologies, a cutting-edge bio-tech company, to the city. Kosmopolis is also the home of Dartfell University, an educational institutional with an excellent reputation in bio-tech and computer science. Whether you’re looking for the cultural amenities of a booming city, the beauty of nearby nature reserves or just want to experience our local agricultural and art festivals, Kosmopolis has something for everyone.

    OK, there’s a bit of “marketing speak” in the description above, but basically Kosmopolis will allow characters to rub shoulders with urban, rural and artistic communities, as well as high-tech companies and a university. There’s nothing particularly fantastical about this setting, yet, but we’ll fix that before we’re through.

  2. Are there any special rules in play?
     
    Special rules are things that are of vital importance to your series, like whether magic works, supernatural creatures exist, people with superpowers exist, etc. To put it another way, if there’s a Hell-Mouth (as in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series) anywhere nearby, here’s where you mention that vital fact.

    For this series, there are some special rules. Supernatural creatures have come out to the public. Vampires and werewolves are known to exist. There’s speculation about other types of supernatural creatures that haven’t revealed themselves yet.

    As a corollary, magic exists, too, but isn’t very common. Of course, it’s a little more common in Kosmopolis, since one of the major nexus points for ley lines lies just outside the city. Strangely, the artistic sub-culture of the city seems to be anchored around the nexus.

  3. What are the factions?
     
    A good series needs conflict, but predictable conflict is boring. To provide the potential for interesting conflict, you need factions, i.e. – groups or organizations, with differing: 1) attitudes, 2) goals, 3) strengths and 4) weaknesses. Sometimes factions can oppose each other; alternately, the interests of two or more factions may be aligned for a short time.

    Here are eight factions for our urban fantasy series:

    At a minimum, you’ve got the Kosmopolis city government (which is notoriously corrupt), MOEX Technologies and Dartfell University. There’s also the police, which is a powerful group that’s not necessarily precisely congruent with city government policy. Since the city government is corrupt, the FBI could be conducting an ongoing investigation into the corruption. That’s five factions.

    Since this is going to be an urban fantasy, let’s add three more factions. We’ll add a local Werewolf Pack (Kosmopolis has ready access to nature parks and is set in an area of rolling hills and forests). Let’s also add the Kalifey, a small community of diverse fey living in the deceptively-sized Brambles (an old-growth forest adjacent to one of the large parks and conveniently close to the nexus). Finally, we’ll add the Church of Christ Triumphant, a conservative religious group that holds supernatural creatures to be irredeemably evil.

    Let’s flesh one organization out in a little more detail: The Church of Christ Triumphant.

    Attitude: The Church of Christ Triumphant hates everything to do with the supernatural. Everything supernatural is part of a nefarious plot by Satan. All supernatural creatures and those who dabble in the black arts (magic) should die violently. Supernatural creatures, including mages, are not really people.

    Goals: Their goal is to expunge the supernatural from the world. However, they are ruthless and pragmatic about achieving their goals.

    Strengths: They’re relentless, smart and wealthy. They’re also good at public relations.

    Weaknesses: They are relentless. Sometimes they don’t recognize when to cut their losses. They’re fanatical. Compromise isn’t a word in their vocabulary.

    If stories truly revolve around conflict, well, I can see lots of ways in which these eight factions can come into conflict.

  4. How do the factions operate?
     
    How do the factions perform their day-to-day operations? Where do they get the money they need to run? How do they recruit new members? Who’s doin’ deals with who? Here are some potential answers to some of these questions:

    Here are some examples:

    The Werewolf Pack has a group house owned by the pack leader where they all meet. They live separately and tithe 10% of their income to the pack.

    Dartfell University has research programs sponsored by the federal government and MOEX Technologies. One of those programs is to develop drugs that can affect supernatural creatures.

    MOEX Technologies pioneered the blood substitute, AAA-Plus ™, that vampires use so they’re not dependent on human blood.

    The Church of Christ Triumphant runs a syndicated “Anti-Monster” radio show. They also accept donations from all over the country to campaign against the supernatural realm.

    When you’re done working some of these details out, you’ve got a web of organizations with competing goals, who are likely to clash in certain areas, or cooperate in others. Again, anything that provides for potential conflict is good.

    Note: You don’t have to work out every possible detail about each faction. You just need a rough sketch of how each organization operates and the general attitudes/motivations prevalent within them.

  5. Define key people in (and outside) the various factions.
     
    The key people are supporting characters that you expect will probably play a role in your series. Spenser, the famous detective from Boston, had his friends in the police force that he could call on for help. He also had periodic run-ins with some of the mob posses in his city.

    Here are some sample characters (or, really, just roles at this point):

    The ambitious reporter who’s looking for a great story.

    The FBI agent investigating corruption in the city government.

    The local fence for stolen goods.

    The veterinarian at the local zoo (who may have some insights into unusual creatures).

    The fixer from the local Werewolf Pack, responsible for making sure the werewolves aren’t portrayed in a bad light (and fixing any problems that arise).

    The guy selling a new recreational drug that impacts supernatural creatures.

    You don’t have to work out these people in detail (not until you need them). You just need to know the types of people that exist so you can bring them into a story if it makes sense.

Everything I’ve just described is your Reactive Net, the canvas where the events of your series will be taking place.

Putting the Reactive Net Through It’s Paces

We just spent a lot of time working out background details for our series. Isn’t that just world-building? Well, yes, and, at the same time, no.

Drawing a map is world-building, but how much does it help you craft a story? The goal of the Reactive Net is to provide a background with connectivity (the “net” part of Reactive Net) that can help you determine what happens as a result of the inciting events of your story.

Let’s just try it out, and everything will become clearer. We’re going to sketch out some story ideas layered on top of the Reactive Net of our urban fantasy, so we can see how it all works in practice.

Your hero learns that someone has been savagely mauled in the nature park by an animal. The local Werewolf Pack is worried that they might have a rogue lycanthrope that’s moved into the area, so they send their fixer to quietly investigate. The Police want to know what’s going on. Your hero wants to prevent anybody else from getting hurt. The hero talks to the vet at the local zoo, who was originally brought in by the police to look at the body. The hero may also encounter the fixer from the Werewolf Pack. The Church of Christ Triumphant would like to use the incident as part of an anti-monster campaign. Your local reporter smells a story, too. Finally, the Kalifey are annoyed because the body was left near the Brambles — was it a warning or a threat aimed at them?

We haven’t even defined who our hero is yet, but one little incident has attracted interest from the local Werewolf Pack, the Police, the Church of Christ Triumphant and the Kalifey. We’ve also brought in characters like the fixer from the Werewolf Pack, the vet from the zoo, the ambitious reporter and, potentially, others. There’s a workable story in there somewhere.

Still not convinced? Let’s do it again.

A half-blood fey dies of an overdose of a new street drug that affects supernatural creatures (this isn’t really supposed to be possible). The Kalifey want to know where the drug came from, but they’re a little hampered when it comes to investigating a crime in human society. They ask our hero to investigate on their behalf. Meanwhile, the Police want to find whoever’s distributing bad drugs (they don’t know about the fey connection). The Werewolf Pack is involved again because the drug affects werewolves, too. Dartfell University is involved because the drug was a byproduct of one of their experiments, and its been hijacked by an insider for illicit purposes.

The essence of the Reactive Net is that when an event occurs, people and organizations react, generating various types of conflict. Not only do they react, but they do so in logical, consistent ways. But the reactions don’t just occur in response to the inciting events of your stories, they also occur when your hero takes action as well. After all, what lengths will Dartfell University go to to cover up the scandal your hero exposed with regard to their most lucrative government grant?

Conclusion

The Reactive Net is basically a highly connected, interactive model of your series, a simulation that you can run in your own mind. It allows you to explore what-if scenarios, like: What would happen if the child of a member of the Church of Christ Triumphant was accidentally bitten by a werewolf? It’s a tool for generating plausible reactions to events that might reasonably occur in your series. It’s your background details, but packaged together with expected behavior on the part of the factions and key supporting characters that you’ve defined.

So there you have it: the Reactive Net, a new and, hopefully, useful tool for your Writer’s Toolbox. I hope it proves as useful for you as it has for me.

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Creating Realistic Worlds: Resources

World Building - By David KeenerI’ve starting releasing the various sections of my World Building project as blog entries as I soon as I complete them. My intention is to eventually gather them all together and publish them as a single non-fiction ebook to be entitled World Building: Creating Realistic Worlds for Stories and Games.

So far, I’ve published the Introduction and, today, I’m publishing the “Resources” section of the project (which is still a work in progress, and something that I’ll be continually adding to until the project is completed). The two sections beyond the “Introduction” have been completed, but I can’t put them online yet because I’m still in the process of securing the rights to some of the graphics and maps that I want to feature in the project.

While I’m still getting the rights issues resolved, I thought there might be some general interest in some of the world building resources that I’ve looked at during my research. Some of them may be a little rare, but you may still be able to hunt down a copy online.


Writing a book like World Building: Creating Realistic Worlds for Stories and Games is one of those interesting endeavors that required an astonishing amount of research. Indeed, the effort required far more investigation than I had anticipated when I embarked on this journey of exploration. I am indebted to numerous writers, scientists and cartographers who provided valuable information that helped me in this enterprise.

The entire concept of detailed world building, of creating realistic and plausible worlds for diverse purposes, is notable for the depth and breadth of the topics that can come into play. My book provides, at best, a hopefully solid overview of what can be done. For more information about world building, feel free to explore the resources that proved so useful to me in creating this book.

Useful Resources

GURPS Space AtlasGURSPS Space Atlas – By Steve Jackson and William A. Barton
1988, Steve Jackson Games
This was a supplement for the GURPS (Generic Universal Roleplaying System) game (another product of Steve Jackson Games). It provides numerous two-page examples of solidly designed worlds, including icosahedral maps of each world. Followed by at least three sequels of a similar nature. Note that William A. Barton also went on to become a successful SF writer.
Map Projection Essentials – By Daniel Strebe
http://www.mapthematics.com/Essentials.php
This online article by Daniel Strebe is an excellent introduction to the realm of map projections. Daniel Strebe is one of the principals behind Geocart, a leading commercial tool for producing map projections (available for purchase on the Mapthematics web site). He has also provided many of the open source map images that are available on Wikipedia. In short, he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to anything related to cartography.
The Traveller Book by Marc MillerThe Traveller Book – By Marc Miller
1982, Game Designers’ Workshop (GDW)
A compendium from GDW containing the basic rules for the Traveller roleplaying game (previously published in three smaller booklets beginning in 1977), a game noted for its emphasis on hard science. Notable for containing a useful 2D star mapping system; the Universal Planetary Profile (UPP), which described characteristics of a world such as atmosphere, population, government type, law level and tech level; a technology levels timeline, which illustrated what typical technological items might be seen at different tech levels; and an abstract but very useful model for a world’s fauna. Now referred to as Classic Traveller to distinguish it from alternate versions of the rules. Still available in various forms today; see the Traveller Wikipedia entry for more details.
World Builder's Guidebook - by Richard BakerWorld Builder’s Guidebook – By Richard Baker
1996, TSR, Inc.
This is a surprisingly complete wording building supplement for Advanced Dungeons and Dragons created by Richard Baker, who has gone on to write numerous tie-in novels for various game systems. In its 96 pages, Baker covers diverse subjects such as seismology, hydrography, land features and climate. He also includes information about crafting realistic low-tech societies and mythologies. Like many of the other game supplements, the book uses an icosahedral map for world maps. Highly recommended; one of the best AD&D supplements that I’ve seen.
World Builder's HandbookWorld Builder’s Handbook – By Joe D. Fugate Sr., J. Andrew Keith and Gary L. Thomas.
1989, Digest Group Publications
This 96-page book was a supplement for MegaTraveller, the second generation update of the Traveller roleplaying game produced by Game Designers’ Workshop (GDW). The second half of the book provides a fascinating and excruciatingly detailed set of procedures for designing not just worlds, but entire solar systems. Also notable for being the first resource that ever introduced me to icosahedral maps. Note that J. Andrew Keith, the brother of SF writer William H. Keith, went on to become a successful military SF writer before his untimely death.
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Creating Realistic Worlds, Part 1

World Building - By David KeenerHow do you design realistic worlds?

This is a problem unique to science fiction and fantasy writers (and sometimes even game designers). The challenge is to create a world that seems realistic, without rousing the ire of fans who rightly point out things like unrealistic locations for mountain ranges, implausible deserts, unlikely climates, overly regular coastlines, etc. Additionally, the world shouldn’t seem so artificial that it was clearly designed solely to support the needs of a story.

Designing a realistic world can be a daunting task, so the first principle we need to apply is “divide and conquer.” Let’s separate the design process into components, and deal with each section of the problem separately. Here are the major components that I’ve identified:

  1. Mapping Strategy: There are lots of ways to produce a map of a world. Since worlds are typically spherical (yes, yes, I know about Terry Pratchett’s Discworld and a few other counter-examples, but I did say realistic worlds), all two-dimensional maps involve some degree of distortion. Our goal is to choose a mapping strategy that will support our efforts to design a realistic world.

  2. Geographical Features: Our world needs features like continents, oceans, mountains, volcanoes, etc. Our goal is to develop a step-by-step process for generating these features on our world map in a natural and realistic fashion.

  3. Climate: We want to develop a realistic world so we can avoid the dreaded “It was a rainy day on planet Mongo” syndrome. If our world has realistic geography, then we should be able to specify climate features like ocean currents, deserts, jungles, and rivers with some degree of plausibility.

  4. Flora and Fauna: Given the opportunity, life will develop. How do we create plausible lifeforms in realistic ecologies?

  5. Solar System: Planets don’t exist by themselves (unless they’ve been ejected from a stellar system, in which case they’re really cold and boring). What does the rest of your world’s solar system look like?

I’ve always enjoyed the technical aspects of world building, and I’ve engaged in world building for years — most often for elaborate worlds for roleplaying games. I’m also just a little tired of all the stereotypical “Class M” worlds, all narrowly constrained copies of some particular Earth climate, that I see in a lot of science fiction. Accordingly, I decided to produce a series of “World Building” installments covering the diverse areas that must be addressed to design realistic worlds.

I’m a “kill many birds with one stone” kind of a guy, so I’ve got some wide-ranging goals that I hope to accomplish with this series. First and foremost, I hope to inspire other writers to develop more fully realized worlds, with obvious benefits to their writing and to the experiences of their readers. Second, I’ll be using these techniques and strategies myself to design some of the worlds that I need for my upcoming projects. Third, I hope to gather this content eventually into an ebook and sell it online (although I plan to keep all of the installments online for free as well).

I hope you enjoy these “World Building” articles. More importantly, I hope you find them useful and relevant to your writing process. Let me know what you think of them. Your feedback is welcomed.

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