Mapping the World Part II: Redrawing Isfalinis

With this article, we come to the end of my eight-part series on how the world of Isfalinis, home to “Tears from Iron” came to be. We began by looking at Isfalinis’ earliest beginnings as one of a handful of brainstorms twenty years ago. Next we looked at the evolution of the four sentient races: the Bergrist, Humans, Aestari, and Ie’dhae. That was followed by a trip into the metaphysical with an exploration of the belief systems of Isfalinis’ inhabitants and the nature of the ten Etyni who form the foundation of most such religions. This led naturally to a discussion of magic, first concerning its core concepts and then a deeper look at its eight affinities. Last week, we looked into the geography of Isfalinis and the roots in my own life that saw its shaping. This week, I will finish that conversation by recounting how the world of “Tears from Iron” came to take its final form. I’ve always been intrigued by how things are made and I hope this exploration has sated similar curiosity in you.

Though I’d finished my mapping of Isfalinis by 2007, for years, I had nagging feelings in the back of my mind. I liked the world I’d developed and was particularly fond of certain regions, but something was off. For starters, I did some math and realized that what I had envisioned for local distances, say from one mountain range to another, made the overall size of the continent rather small. I’d intended a land with a north-south length modestly close to Europe plus Africa, but it was only about half that size. I tried to stave off my dissatisfaction by shrinking the continent down to make local distances correct. But that still troubled me. What else fills all the open spaces on the globe if this continent is the largest land mass? Furthermore, I discovered other shortcomings. For example, the main setting of my earliest novel was in a climate that might be akin to central or northern United States. But it’s location was, in fact, further north than frigid wildlands comparable to what might be found in upper Finland or Alaska! I tried to justify it with wind patterns and seas, but it wasn’t enough. Additionally, there were some parts of the world that were just plain bland… not enough islands, coastlines that were too straight without bays or sounds, and so on. What I’d created was a good start, but frankly, it needed work. A lot of it.

In 2015 things came to a head. I’d already completed my first draft of “Tears from Iron” and was working on the sequel. I was generally pleased with the Osenjian Sea and its shores, so I felt that a new map project would only have a modest impact on my novels… just altering a few descriptions without involving a change in plot (though the same couldn’t be said for my earlier book). Yet I knew I had come to now or never. I dove in and made all the adjustments that had been bugging me for years. I kept the core of what I’d already developed, but I bent some coastlines, twisted some mountain ranges, and added a lot more land.

When this project was done and I was satisfied, I moved on to the final step of re-charting the Cataclysm. This time, I didn’t just settle for coastlines. I drafted full contour maps and plotted the shifting of the world into about ten distinct stages. This proved to be a herculean effort that took three years to complete with hundreds of hours invested (though with several multi-month breaks)… a nice project for relaxed evenings while watching TV.

Yet a map is more than just a map. Like the world’s cosmology and it’s peoples, it’s belief systems and its magical laws, a world is ruled by its geography. For an interesting look at the influence of geography on our own world and the development of human civilization, I encourage a reading of Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs, and Steel.” Geography influences how people live and develop and interact. It interweaves with history and with story.

One of the roots of “Tears from Iron” was geography, but not in the sense of local details. The environs of the Syraestari are fairly unremarkable… a coastline, a vast and ancient forest, and a distant mountain range. I mean in a grand sense. When I finished my aforementioned earliest (unpublished) novel to the furthest point that I felt I could develop it, I set it aside and looked for a new tale to tell. My first act was to turn to my map and see what stories might claim my attention. As I’ve mentioned in a previous article, the Cataclysm period had already piqued my interest. I was also intrigued by a period I’d sketched where the Syraestari rose out of that ruin to form an empire built upon the backs of human slavery. Thus, the maps I’d drawn some years before were the source of “Tears from Iron,” though I didn’t realize it at the time. Those maps also provided the names for peoples and kingdoms that you might recognize including the Iengian, Tatyrni, Isyren, and Zengris tribes. Indeed, it was from those maps that I found the name Belarrin itself.

Despite all of these efforts, “Tears from Iron” occurs in a very narrow locale, little more than the size of Idaho. The second book of “Memories of the Cataclysm”, tentatively titled “A Whisper in the Sand” will unveil a lot more of Isfalinis, including the greater part of the Osenjian Sea and its coastal environs. But even this involves a land area little greater than the size of Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico combined and there is a whole world out there filled with stories. Stories I intend to spend the rest of my life recounting.