14.02: Geography and Biomes

Your Hosts: Brandon, Dan, Howard, and Mahtab

Mahtab Narsimhan joins us this year for a dozen episodes on worldbuilding, and this week we’re talking about geography and biomes. These pieces of our settings can be central to the stories we tell, but they can also be backdrops, and the story purposes they serve may determine which tools we use to describe them.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Dan Thompson, and mastered by Alex Jackson


Describe a landscape using four senses that are not sight

17 thoughts on “14.02: Geography and Biomes”

  1. Notice how they say any “four senses”? They never said which senses, only that they couldn’t be sight. I see a definite opportunity for creativity here . . .

  2. Amazing episode! For those interested in realistic biomes I recommend the YouTube channel Artifexian. You’ll see.

    1. I second the Artifexian recommendation, not only for biomes (climate, language,…).

      Also, low gravity + high air density? From what I know about planets (which isn’t a lot), that sounds sketchy. I’m really curious how Dan made it possible.

      1. Yeah, I was wondering the same thing. I’m no astrophysicist, but as I understand it, because gravity is what holds the air to the planet, there’s a strong positive correlation between gravity and atmospheric density.

  3. There’s a whole chunk of my WIP where the protagonist is blind. One of her other senses is limited perception of magical intensity, and that’s important.

    I’ll pass on the homework :-)

  4. Howard, living in Utah, I’m surprised you don’t say “wash” to mean “dry riverbed”. That’s what we say in Arizona.

    1. In eastern Montana, we have coulees. A coulee will have a stream for a few days while the snow is melting and sometimes after a heavy rainstorm, if we get one that year. The rest of the time, it’s a meadow with perhaps a dry channel winding through the bottom.

      We also have creeks. (Pronounced “cricks”.) In western Montana, a creek is a continually flowing stream with rocks and trout. In eastern Montana, a creek is a meadow for most of the year and a raging river two or three times during the spring.

      In general, words like “hill”, “creek”, “mountain”, and “canyon” will mean different things in different places. And if a place has geography not found in merry old England, the locals will start using their own words like “butte” or “mesa”.

  5. I’m glad Mahtab did this homework, because I’ve been struggling with this topic ever since I took setting into consideration. I am fully blind, and so reading maps, google images, and google maps are completely out of the question for me. This may be an impossible request, but can any of the podcasters come up with a way I can create my own worlds, cities, villages, and ecosystems?

    Also, I just started a WIP set in a fantasy version of south india. And research suggestions?

    1. Have you thought about recruiting a friend to trace existing maps using puff paint, or using 3D terrain from tabletop games like D&D or Warhammer to create your own maps and landscapes? They’re limited and sometimes a bit clunky, but it might be a good place to start.

      I’m legally blind, so I feel you on the map thing. I have an issue with seeing details or reading any sort of text on 99% of maps. I can see well enough to sketch a map of a city or world I’m creating and then give said ketch the map to a friend who’s good with Adobe. She makes prettier a digitized version that I can use Zoom or ZoomText to refer to as I write.

      1. Oh yeah. Teachers would do that in school, but I hadn’t thought about it in years. I’ve been looking for existing raised maps, but can’t find anything that covers the entire world. The only thing is, when I don’t really know what I want, it’s hard to have people help me with it.

  6. Ecologist in the room here. Sorry to say the biome definition made me cringe a little (as was predicted). Biomes are large areas of major vegetation formations (e.g. humid tropical forest, boreal forest), whose character is dictated by climate. Thus, as was also pointed out during the podcast, climatic details are important. And those climatic details will detemine the character of the vegetation. So if your story is in a monsoonal climate with a pronounced dry season, there is a good chance that many of your trees will lose their leaves when it’s dry. Many will also likely be unpleasantly spiky. On the other hand if you are in a cloud forest, the trees will be largely nourished from condensed cloud moisture, be evergreen, and will be festooned with epiphytic orchids and ferns. Anyways, didn’t mean to come across as pedantic, but these details matter (if your story is set on Earth…)

    As for deserts, three words: Frank Herbert, Dune.

Comments are closed.