Worldbuilding for Orin’s story has been a major part of my process, and a lot of the worldbuilding has centred around making Orin’s forest a forest I found interesting, a forest I wanted to draw and share with people, and a forest I felt I understood well enough to really highlight.
To do that, I wanted to start at home. I live in and grew up not far from Toronto, Canada, on the shore of Lake Ontario. I knew from camping trips, fieldtrips, photo excursions and the landscape even of Toronto itself that the ecology and geology around Lake Ontario had more than enough interesting features for my story, so I dug in to some research.
Wayne Grady’s book is a fantastic overview of the history of the Great Lakes region. Products of the Wisconsin Glacier, they have had their current shapes for less than 10 000 years. Thanks to all the erosion, the morains, the drumlins and kames, and the continuing continental rebound, we know exactly where the glaciers went, and how they receded. Grady’s book has thorough maps of the water level, the drainage patterns and the climate throughout that era; for me this is fascinating!
I love the idea of setting a story in a world still changing dramatically fast. With the climate shifting, the water table constantly reorganizing itself, and all the local wildlife shuffling around, it felt like the perfect setting for a fantasy story steeped in its own history.
Beyond their changeable state and their relative novelty, the great lakes region had a few other story elements I couldn’t ignore; for starters, the idea of a craton. The North American craton, specifically. A craton is the oldest, most stable element of a section of continental crust. The North American craton has been relatively unchanged for the past 600 million years. Even more relevantly, you can go touch it, with your hand, without digging or spelunking at all, because the Wisconsin glacier tore all the topsoil off of it and left it exposed as our Canadian Shield.
Maybe you’re not as excited about that, but as a kid who sat on the shield rocks every summer for most of her life, I gotta admit that’s pretty magical. 600 million years makes human history look like a thin hem on the end of the scarf of history. This is the sort of scale I want to work with, the sort of epic scope any good fantasy story (in my opinion) nods to once in a while.
So my next step was to research native vegetation. The Americas have been dramatically changed by colonization, and I wanted to set this story at the end of the last ice age, geologically and ecologically, so I needed to know what was here before Columbus let loose his pigs. Hell, I needed to know what was here before the Clovis people ate all the big game. Grady’s book was a great introduction, and from there I’ve been exploring things like the Royal Ontario Museum, which has a variety of Pleistocene megafauna skeletons, and fantastic websites like http://ontariotrees.com/ that differentiate native and invasive species of plants and insects. Above, you can see some of my research sketches of trees.
This worldbuilding gave me a time and a place, but to get the story I wanted I’m taking a lot of historical liberties with human society, civilization, travel and so forth. It is a fantasy world, you know, so I do feel a little more freedom than if I were writing a historical novel. Hopefully having my environment hammered out well will mean that, though I am kludging a lot of other human history and societies and architecture and such together, I can build those imaginary castles on the firm, familiar soil of my home.