On Obsession (and Bahlaer)

This is partially by request of the husband of the lovely Erica Dakin (whom I link to all the time because she is awesome) and partially because it seems to be what makes my blog interesting to some people: my obsession with world details.

I haven’t posted in a while because I had friends over for two weeks, one of whom is a beta reader and the other being my cover artist.  So though I took a break from the blog, it wasn’t a break at all from the story; all three of us picked over details and worked up new material/reviewed the old stuff, and I actually got a lot of writing done.  They left a few days ago, and I’ve been feeling deflated since.  Hopefully I will regain my pep soon.  But even in that deflated mode, I’ve been picking at ideas for a Bahlaer city map.

As in every building, every block, every person quantified if not outright counted and named.  (Probably not named.  That’s too many names even for me.)

I think for Mr. Dakin the thought was spawned by Adam Savage’s TED Talk on the topic of his obsession with collecting and recreating movie items like the Maltese Falcon, but there was also a recent article about a guy’s fictional island country with detailed maps that made me seethe with detail-jealousy.  I can’t stand to not have more details than the next guy.  Not because it will somehow make me a better writer but that I have some weird sense that if only I can quantify my world down to the crockery, I can somehow make it spring into existence somewhere in the multiverse.

(Though that might be a bad idea, because my planeswalking characters would probably try to seek me out and kill me for making their lives miserable.)

For an idea of how much physical text I have, I pulled out my storage tupperwares:

notebooks1 notebooks2

That’s about 20 notebooks, four folders/binders full of material and references, and a box of note snippets.  Except for the notes, these are mostly from before 2003 when I started working mainly on the computer.  Also my dog, who didn’t want to move.

The majority of it is probably rewrites of book 1 (or one of the older projects I abandoned that I might eventually revive as a prequel), but even without that, it’s a lot of text full of a lot of details that don’t show up in the currently published book.  And I’ve tried to collate and integrate a lot of that information into my computer files.

My main story folder looks like this:

story folder

Then I have a couple image folders — these are some of them:

image folder

(Yes that’s Henry Cavill in the Character Pix folder.  I think he could be a Trivestean…)

Then I have my other projects, heh, which I will eventually get around to.  I hope.

other projectsThe only one that’s even a vaguely finished product in there is Vampire: The Accounting, but I gave up about 1/3rd of the way through editing it, because I didn’t really like it anymore.  Oh, I like the ideas (it’s a vampire parody, obviously), but ehh…not so pleased with my execution.  And anyway, I have the War of Memory Project to work on.

Back to that…

I know that for the fourth and fifth books in the series, I will need a detailed map of Bahlaer.  I had already intended to do close-up maps of the specific kingdoms and countries, but this is probably more pressing, since stuff happens in Bahlaer from book 1 onward (though not all of it is terribly important).  My problem is that I can’t just draw a rough outline, stamp some landmarks on it and call it a day.  I grew up with the huge fold-out maps of Waterdeep and Menzoberranzan from the Forgotten Realms D&D setting (and dammit I still don’t know what happened to my Menzoberranzan boxed set), which included full-on travel guides to the locales and peoples of those cities.  I want that.  I want so much of that.  But the process of getting to that is flustering me a bit.

What I need to do, I know, is start with rough sketches, like a rough draft when I’m writing.  Sketch out the districts, figure out how many people live in them, how old they are, how they were built up, whether any parts have been torn down by fire or earthquakes…

I already know that Bahlaer is built on the ruins of Ghezidun, an old ogrish city.  I know about the underground and the Shadowland, I know the Losgannon River cuts through it.  I know the population — both current and pre-Imperial.  Heck, I’ve used this demographics calculator on my whole world so far, though I’m iffy about its results and have fudged a lot of the details.  I know the local livestock, grain supplies, textiles, building materials, root vegetables!

I just need to put it all together.  Find a way to wrangle my brain into submission (and maybe my computer, because big GIMP files gnaw on its poor little geriatric heart).

I’ve been tinkering with the housing.  In a sort of Roman insulae style, I have these apartment complexes that are supposed to be 3-4 stories high with shops at the bottom and apartments up above (and toilets at the ends of the apartment-levels, which feed into tanks on the first floor in detached chambers open to the street for the nightsoil men to get at them, but not underground so that the waste won’t seep into the high water table and give everyone dysentery…)


A problem I have is trying to engineer things well, instead of realistically.  How likely is it that the civil engineers will know about dysentery or consider it worth the problem of having aboveground sewage tanks?  (Well, probably the nightsoil men don’t mind it, because they have less of a chance of drowning in it, especially if it’s like foundry vats and can tip into your cart rather than you having to dredge the thing….  And now I’m designing waste management systems, sigh.)

So but yeah, these are not the ill-built ancient Roman insulae, but meant to be a block long with an inner courtyard/communal garden (along that white strip in the middle of the colored diagram) and walkways, staircases I forgot to draw in, etc.  The apartment sizes will get smaller with each level to provide those walkways, so that the second floor is family/prosperous housing while the top floors are for couples without children, singles, or really cheap people.  Water from an apartment fountain or spigot in the courtyard or from further up the street from a communal fountain; probably there are apartment service personnel who can fetch water for a price.  Most urban Romans lived in places like this (sans the courtyard/garden) so it’s feasible.  I already have much of it written in.

As for the more prosperous, I have family compounds — like Roman domus, I guess?  One- or four-family, depending on prosperity…

FamilyCompoundFullBW FamilyCompoundFullColor

The color version is to show how the pseudo-domus breaks down if it’s divided between four families.  The yellow areas are walkway/courtyard/garden; the white ones are empty air for that level.

What you might notice is there are no ground-level exits.  I built this compound like some old pueblo-style complexes (and I’m sure there are other kinds as well) where you can only enter via ladders let down from above, as a precaution against raiders.  The second floor has those ladder-exits (with barricade-able doors or perhaps portcullises in case your enemy brought their own ladders), while the third floor’s exit-notches are for extending bridges across to different compounds for visiting.

Like with the apartment complex, there is a central courtyard/garden with a well or fountain.  Unlike the apartment complex, there are no shops.  The big black squares are stairs, the little ones are doorways because I was tired of making doorway-cutouts.  The upper-right and lower-left corners are for washrooms/toilets, with the third floor having those tiny little triangular ones, all of which feed into pipes that go down into basement-level nightsoil pits accessible from the street.  For easy waste collection!

Also note the communal open-air kitchens on the second floor.  The rooms/apartments right above them probably aren’t terribly comfortable, so they might just be storage.  Oh, and the little notches in the inner edges of the white space in the middle of the third floor are for ladders going up; no stair access to the third floor, you have to climb.

The safety-mindedness is cultural; Bahlaer, as an Illanic city-state, has been raided and conquered and freed and reconquered over and over again in its history, yet does not have a standing army; it prefers to negotiate, to yield, to hide and sabotage.  So its people prefer to tuck themselves away from danger and hope their diplomats and merchants can convince it to flow past them.  So far, they have been successful.

All right.  Either I’ve gone well off-track or I’ve illustrated the point.  I also have the Bahlaer garrison sketched up, but not well so I won’t include it…but at the end of the day (year….decade…) I really want to have a D&D-style city map to work with when I finally get around to breaking things.  I might have to get a big roll of butcher paper and just try to sketch it instead of using GIMP, since I don’t think my computer could handle it…

And then there’s the globe I need to get so I can paste my globe map onto it and create a constellation chart around it…

So many projects, so little time.


About H. Anthe Davis

Worldbuilder. Self-published writer.
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11 Responses to On Obsession (and Bahlaer)

  1. gravecall says:

    EQ Next you can build 3d representations to scale of your world. 😀 and not invite anyone but me and the others. 😀

  2. Pauline Ross says:

    You have an Evil Overlord List! Of course you do. Every fantasy author should have one.

    I’m totally with Mr Dakin, these posts are awesome.

    • Thank you! Yes, I enjoy the Evil Overlord List…and the Evil Overlady List…and the Evil Henchman List… Some of my characters are more aware of these things than others.

  3. Erica Dakin says:

    And I’m with Pauline. This is why you’ll always be one of my favourite writers: you have a file called Evil Overlord List.

  4. Chris Dakin says:

    Yay, nice post. What about building or room dimensions though? *run away*
    When I see this amount of detail, it makes me want to poke and prod it just to see how far the detail goes (and once causing you extra work when I found a typo, sorry about that again!).

    I love it how you know exactly how many people are in the Crimson army, which means you just have to _know_ how large the camp is and you even know each character’s location within the camp. So yes, obsessive? you? hehe, but it all helps make the world that much more believable when there’s that amount of detail.

    • See, I’m not good with sizes and visualization, which is why I have to design these things — so I can get a realistic idea about them. Building and room dimensions, I have to go figure out what would be typical for a Roman or medieval urban setting so I can extrapolate from there — so that I’m not designing New York City lofts or something. These are pretty rough sketches, therefore. But I know how they’re divided up inside (with curtains), how people sleep (pallets on the floor or hammocks, mostly), what kind of street food is available (Bahlaerans will boil anything in a dumpling), et cetera. The shop distribution is just kind of guesswork; I’d have to build a whole neighborhood before I’d say what each shop actually is. Need a reasonable balance between competition and variety…

    • And don’t apologize for pointing out mistakes! I live to fix them. ALL MISTAKES MUST BE FIXED.

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