When creating a world, knowing the biomes can help bring depth and believably to the creatures and cultures with which you choose to populate them. A biome is a region of the world defined by its climate, animals, and plants. The most common biomes in our world are deserts, boreal/taiga forests, temperate deciduous forests, grasslands, rain forests, and the tundra.
You’ll most likely be using some form of these biomes in your own writing—it’s all we know, living on earth—but some authors have created interesting twists for their worlds. A lot of Brandon Sanderson’s Roshar is essentially a large tide pool in The Way of Kings. Fran Wilde’s Updraft has a city of living bone high above the air, with the ground long-forgotten. You can take your settings to all sorts of highs and lows, but for the rest of us traversing the soil, here are some things to keep in mind when using biomes.
Biomes Influence Their Inhabitants
Flora and fauna—it’s fun to say, but it’s also really important to consider when creating your world. The plants and animals in a region completely depend on the climate surrounding them. This applies to people and cultures, too. Deserts can provide oil for fuel while forests can provide timber for ships, shelter, and tools. The biome of your setting will have an influence on the culture’s economy, technology, and class structure.
Think of The Eyrie in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. In the books, Martin addresses the difficulties associated with having a large castle nested on the peak of a barren mountain. The food is grown in the valleys below, carted up through the narrow trails and way-castles until delivered to The Eyrie’s kitchens. The Eyrie is bordering the boreal forests of The North and the temperate forests of the Riverlands. By understanding the biomes in his world, the differing regions of Martin’s Westeros feel unique, realistic, and are captured in the personalities of the great houses.
Only Certain Biomes Can Neighbor One Another
Not every type of biome can neighbor against one another. It’s impossible to have a lush rain forest next to taiga (the dry forests of norther Russia) because of the vastly different climate needs. One needs to be near the equator, the other near the poles. One of the most jarring ways to pull a reader out of your story is to have an unrealistic landscape.
Another strength of Martin’s Eyrie is its relationship to the Riverlands. If the Mountains of the Moon weren’t so close to the Trident and the rich nutrients of its soil, it wouldn’t be feasible for fresh food to be carted up to the Eyrie before it spoils.
Make sure the settings of your story make sense in relation to one another. Ask yourself how the people living in that area can survive off the land, and how far they must travel to get certain resources. Now, if you’re writing fantasy or creating a science-fiction setting with strange settings on purpose, be sure to include some form of explanation. What magic/technology/ecological phenomenon has made this situation possible? For speculative fiction writers, warping the natural laws of your climate—if done correctly—could really make your setting unforgettable.
Knowing Your Biomes will Enhance Your Descriptions
It takes more than just a well-drawn map to create a convincing world. The descriptions of your world need to be detailed and consistent, with a believable mix of science and imagination. If you map out your world and draw the lines between the different biomes, you’ll know when to transition your descriptions to follow the map. I do this either on paper or on simple drawing programs. It’s good to know if there should be flowering trees in your mountains or not, and if three days of travel would really place them from the rain forest to the desert (in some parts of our world, this is entirely possible). For my biome research, I always check UCMP Berkley’s The World’s Biomes.
In a story I once wrote, I had my characters travel from the icy tundra to the lush forest in a week. But when I went to draw my map, I realized there was no way that was possible! I had to tweak the world so that it went from the icy tundra to taiga down to the lush rain forest. It made the journey longer, but I just transitioned from one scene to the next and skipped all the boring campfires.
It’s a crude picture I made in MS Paint, but this map is a working version I used when doing my first draft of Spectrum: Enlightenment. Not only did it fix the tundra to rain forest issue I was having, it also helped me keep in mind what sort of temperature my characters should dress for and what kind of tree species should be present for that leg of their journey.
Let me know what you guys think about using biomes in your drafts down below in the comments! Do you think it’s important? How does examining the biomes of your world affect your story, if at all?