I remember how it started.
Bored during Mrs. Beckman’s 5th grade class, losing interest in her lecture, I started to doodle on spare sheets of loose-leaf notebook paper.
It started with an island. But it was not just any island, mind you. It was one whose outer composition was that of a coral ring, whose inner space had been filled like a salad bowl with fertile soils deposited by long-dried-up river.
Inspired by embellishments J.R.R. Tolkien used on his Middle Earth maps, especially the one found in “The Fellowship of the Ring”, I drew concentric, wavy outlines around that island. These would represent the lapping shorelines that for eons had tried to destroy this mythical outcrop, to no avail.
A lone city rose on the island and would become known as Iscan, the capital of the ancient Iscar Empire, my world’s closest analogy to the late Roman Empire administratively divided between Rome & Constantinople. Iscan was itself parceled into cardinal regions (North, South, West), with the coral island itself becoming Central Iscar. It was quite a formidable location for the capital, its impenetrable coral borders having repelled many a foreign invader. Although the outer fringes of the empire waxed and waned (perhaps that what accounts for East Iscar being missing), Central Iscar remained stout.
After drawing Iscar, I kept going with inspirations from real-life. One prominent example was the neighboring island country of Vancover. Just one letter off from the British Columbian city, in my mind it was differentiated by being pronounced “Van-cahver”.
Another example was the Salty Sea, an homage to our planet’s Dead Sea. It also played off the Dead Sea’s proximity to the Fertile Crescent, as this sheet of paper was the start of my world, much like ancient Mesopotamia gave birth to many earthly civilizations.
And the isthmus connecting the inner & outer regions of Iscar was totally copied from Panama.
In general, Iscar and its neighbors represented the wholesome, peaceful part of the planet. As you journeyed further north and east, the landscape would become more treacherous. I find it fascinating how in fantasy worlds, there is such polarity between good and evil…realms of light vs. darkness, while in our world things you find that things are typically a shade of gray.
Returning east, we find Lake Iscan, a great inner sea like the Caspian, with one amazing unique feature. The distant volcano Zueveus has been erupting forever since man can remember, gouging the plains with great trenches of lava that flow like a fiery river. As those chunks of molten earth reach Lake Iscan, they cool into large floating islands that lazily drift across the water, a constant thorn in the side of the lake’s mariners. If you look closely, you’ll see an easter egg: one of the islands is shaped like a tiny Texas.
A similar freak of climate affected the boringly-titled Desert of Doom: a never-ending sandstorm that scoured the trees and mountains of the West Iscan realm until it was shaved down into a sterile waste. Where did the storms power and authority come from? I don’t know — it apparently didn’t concern me in the 5th grade. I do recall it being inspired by Jupiter’s great red spot. But as an adult, if I had to make something up, I suspect this sandstorm is a curse the Iscan people by a conquered nation pushing back upon the aggressive empire’s western expansion. Few of the civilized people have travelled beyond that atmospheric maelstrom.
I especially dig the topography I was able to bake into the drawing. For example, on the east side of Vancover, where the mountains gently slope towards the Doran River. Or along the shores of the Sandy Sea, as the trees shift from deciduous to coniferous.
One feature that I never developed a story for was the Tomb of the Gods, which appears as a giant crystal in South Iscar. Tucked into probably-impassable mountains, what did it contain? What did it mean? Did it infer a “chosen people” status on the Iscar Empire? Was it a cursed place that bespoke of doom to any/all visitors? Did anyone even know it existed? And what are the visual implications of a crystal as big as a metropolis?
Those are the stories I remember, and it was just for this one sheet of notebook paper. And I haven’t even enumerated all of the other interesting geographic features & cities. Perhaps this inspires you to imagine some history of your own. If so, let me know!