A Resonance of Place

One of the things I’ve always loved about a good world-building is a sense of place: the idea that after a little while, hearing a place name alone will bring in all the echoes of what the place actually means to the characters. It’s important, particularly in a narrative that bounces about between cities and Significant Ruins or flows over entire countries; if you can’t get a proper sense of place together, it’s easier for the audience to start getting all the Significant Places mixed up. In short: created places of significant narrative importance need to resonate individually!

To do that, though, we first need to understand the kinds of echoes that these places can resonate with.

Some places carry themselves on the mythic quality of the people who inhabited them. While we still have aspects of this today, I find it works far better in a low-tech fantasy setting, particularly one where history matters and legend means more than it does here. After all, for a place to be carried on the shoulders of one of its old residents, that resident needs to be much, much larger than life, and that in turn is far easier when there isn’t all that much life to be larger than. Note that while a mythical figure simply living in a place can be sufficient for resonance, you’re going to get a lot more if they did something notable there: heroics, divinations, even just up and dying.

By the same token, places might get their resonance from something that happened there” just think about all the places in our world that were unremarkable fields or islands until two armies started using them as a battleground. While some places are changed by what happens on them, and such changes can reinforce a place’s overall feel, this isn’t necessary. In fact, unless the forces at work in a given place really are capable of changing the landscape and likely to change it in the way specified, it’s as likely as not to come across as trying too hard.

Then there are places that are remembered for things that still happen there. Maybe it’s something that just occurs regardless of outside interference: for instance, a mountain which once a year is wreathed with sandstorms and lightning that leave it covered the following day in strands of brilliantly colored glass scattered over it like discarded tinsel. In other places, the things the place is noted for tend to happen when someone comes visiting, to the visitor: while good things exist, more often the things that happen are variants on unpleasant fates.

And every now and then, there are places that are just plain spectacular. Usually, though, they overlap with one of the other categories: there was a battle involving cosmic forces and now it’s a blackened wasteland, a crowd of eldritch horrors sat down to tea when the world was young and ended up creating a new species, a great warrior rediscovered how to live in peacetime by creating a place so beautiful it could soothe even her troubled heart… you get the idea. Spectacular visual qualities can work on their own, but they work far better when they’ve got a meatier resonant concept backing them up.

To be able to keep places straight, it helps to understand what makes them important; to choose what makes them important, it helps to understand what the options are. What places matter in your worlds?


  1. UZ says:

    Ha, like Megiddo? Most people haven’t been there or even know where it is, but everybody knows it as a battlefield by metaphor…

  2. Ravyn says:

    Pretty much!

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