What's the coolest thing about writing speculative fiction?
Well, I guess there might be lots of answers to that question. But I'll bet there's one that falls in everybody's top ten list:
Getting to create a whole new world.
I mean, writing fiction is a lot like playing God anyway, right? You create people ex nihilo and make them do your bidding. Free will? Pshaw, I say.
When you write speculative fiction you often find yourself creating from your imagination not just the people but the very worlds the story takes place on.
Suddenly you're thinking about geography and history and languages and tribal migration and systems of government. Stuff the author of a straight thriller doesn't need to bother herself with.
But that's okay, because we're weird enough that we enjoy making up pretend worlds. With J.R.R. Tolkien as our patron saint, we plunge into our new world, fascinated by the possibilities (and complexities) involved with fashioning the heavens and the earth. God, it seems, was a busy Guy.
Okay, if creating brand new (brave new?) worlds is one of the coolest things about writing speculative fiction, what's the coolest thing about creating brand new worlds?
Maps, of course!
[Forgive the paraphrase of Oliver.]
Maps! Magical maps! Wonderful maps! Marvelous maps! Fabulous maps! Maps! Glorious...maps!
If you feel as, er, enthusiastic about maps as I do, have I got the software goodies for you!
Hie thee directly to www.profantasy.com.
ProFantasy is the resource for you. They have lots of software toys to waste hours of otherwise useful time on, but there are two map-making products I particularly want to direct you to.
The first is called Fractal Terrains.
Fractal Terrains Pro
Fractal Terrains (the full title is Fractal Terrains Pro) is a random world generator.
I can't say enough about it. At the click of a button you see a truly random but believable world materialize before your eyes. Don't like it? Click the button again. And again. And again. Too much land? Adjust the slider bars and click to create a new world. Too low? Adjust and click.
Fractal Terrains can show you your created world in multiple views, and it's fully editable. Want to see how much rainfall graces your world? Click the button. Want to see high and low temperatures, type of foliage, altitude, distance between two points? Click.
Fractal Terrains also lets you import real-world data. Detail-ed topographical data sets are available for Earth and Mars. How cool is that?
Fractal Terrains lets you save your files as jpegs and other formats, but perhaps most impressive is how it links up with another ProFantasy product: Campaign Cartographer (see below).
Fractal Terrains Pro sells for $39.95 plus shipping. But they offer a free demo to try. It's well worth it if you're serious about building an alternate world.
Campaign Cartographer 3
When you've got your world created in Fractal Terrains, it's time to export it to Campaign Cartographer.
In Campaign Cartographer, you "decorate" your map. You put symbols, rivers, roads, and text. You can see it's the same landform as created in Fractal Terrains, but now it's useful for you as a storyteller.
Campaign Cartographer is another wonderful time-wasting software toy. The colors are pleasing and it's just plain fun to name towns and countries.
Incidentally, you don't have to have Fractal Terrains to use Campaign Cartographer. The latter program lets you design maps from scratch, plus there's an active user community that can help you get started.
Campaign Cartographer 3 sells for $44.95 plus shipping. As with Fractal Terrains, there is a free demo of Campaign Cartographer so you can try before you buy.
ProFantasy has a ton of other fun products, too, so check out that site.
This company makes some groovy mapmaking software similar to ProFantasy's list of products.
Check out Astrosynthesis 2.0 , a 3D mapping utility for space, galaxies, and local planetary systems.
Also check out their Fractal Mapper 8.0 software.
It appears to be a product that combines what Campaign Cartographer and Fractal Terrains do for ProFantasy.
Character Generating Software
Depending on your personality, creating story people might be just as fun for you as creating worlds.
As far as I know, though, there is only one software utility that creates detailed characters for you.
It's called CharPick.
It won't do all your homework for you, but it will, at the click of a button, give you a very fun character to begin with.
If all you need is a walk-on character, CharPick gives you everything you need. If you're looking to quickly populate a room or a spaceship or a den of thieves, CharPick is the way to go. Need an interesting Governor of the Plant Kyrolia? CharPick is your tool.
And even if you're looking for idea-starters for your main characters, CharPick is a great place to begin.
CharPick is a steal for $12. It's available right here in the WhereTheMapEnds Store.
Far less detailed (but free) is this quick fantasy character creation utility.
To develop fully realized characters who make your story memorable and rich, there is no shortcut. But I have given you a character-creation product to guide your work.
Speculative Story Idea Software
Again, WhereTheMapEnds comes to the rescue! This is your place for story starting software for Christian speculative fiction.
Check out my absolutely free software utility for creating random story ideas.
Here are some other generators for creating random SF or fantasy plot ideas.
Real Physics Simulators
Thanks to Meredith Efkin and her scientist husband for these. (Note that they require Java.)
That Should Get You Started!
If it doesn't... Well, then...yikes. Click around some more!
Have fun, fellow world builders!