History of the World
Why the world is the way it is
One of the joys of writing fantasy fiction is that it gives you the freedom to design a world from scratch; you can let your imagination run wild creating dark forbidding forests, waterfalls, lost cities, and so on…
This page looks at designing a history for the world. Looking at a general history to the world as well as individual history’s for characters, places and items. It looks at how they can relate to each other and how the impact of one can be used for another. Plus how it can be a source of extra richness to ideas and stories.
The different types of history
There are a number of different types of histories that need to be considered for a world with a lot of stories in it, each of which will combine with the others to give the richness of the stories. These include:
- The personal history of each character. The history behind a character can be influence by a number of different aspects of their past. Such influences include the basic culture of where they came from, the environment that they grew up in, as well as any personal events that happened in their lives
- The history of each race in the world. The history given to a race can depend upon the influence the race has to the stories; if there is an aggressive race, then give them a history that makes that possible, perhaps too many battles, or they live in a harsh place to survive in. This is important to the races that the characters come from, or any that they are going to be encountering.
- The history of the physical world. If some geological aspect plays an important part in the world then some history to its existence needs to be created, perhaps an earthquake happened a long time ago that destroyed an ancient city that the characters visit, or it caused a flood to sweep over the land.
- The history of places within the world. Places such as cities, forests and mountain villages will all have a history behind them, some may be long and complex where as others may only be a couple of months – but even that short time may still be noteworthy if only to wonder why it has only just appeared there
- The history of any special items within the world. A fantasy world without a special item is almost impossible to imagine. The importance that an item plays in the story will define the level of history that you need to give to it, the more important the item then the more history will need to be defined – the history itself may not be very long, but it needs to be completely defined. Items can include creatures as well as physical items.
- One person is born in an affluent city that is there due to the ease of the surrounding landscape, who is a member of a wealthy family and whose culture believes that politeness only extends to other city dwellers.
- Another person is born in a tiny settlement living on the edge of a dangerous forest and whose culture is one of helping anyone you meet since that may be the only way to ensure your own survival.
If these two characters were to meet they would either fight each other, or it could be an interesting story if they have to work together – ‘When we enter the city do not give a cheery hello to others you meet, they will be offended and may try to kill you’ or ‘Don’t try to stroke that small furry creature sitting on that rock, It will bite you with acid that will dissolve your hand in seconds’
The type of detail in the history – history breakdown
The amount of history that needs to be defined and the depth it needs to be defined to, will depend upon their importance within the story. The more important a character, race, place or item is to the story, then the more detailed will the history need to be. The history may be simple, but it needs to be recognised and confirmed as this.
If there is a specific period/event within the history that will be very important to the story line, and it is likely to be referenced in more than one place in future stories, then a detailed history will need to be established for the period before it begins to be referred to in any great detail, otherwise there will be a chance of a clash in the history line. However you do not need to have every minor detail worked out before you start using it, just enough to contain the history required for the start of the story.
One way of approaching history is by breaking into smaller and smaller slices of time
The steps for breaking down a history into slices of time are as follows:
- Identify the important periods in the history of the subject and then place them into chronological order – it does not matter if there are gaps in the sequence.
- Once this list is completed, take this basic time frame and decide how long each period lasted and how close together is that period to an adjacent important period – you can have spaces between important periods.
- Having established the basic order for the history of the subject, identify the specific periods within it that are especially important to the story at the current time, putting all of the others to one side for now.
- Take one of the important period from the list and identify the specific events that occurred within that period, using the same method used in steps 1 and 2, breaking it down into the events. These events (like the general history) can have spaces between them. Any part within that period that is not important to the story can be put to one side.
- This cycle can be repeated with smaller and smaller pieces of history and events until it is at the level required for the story.
The key points in the history of a person born in a city could include: Date of Birth, Day of Graduation, Date of marriage, Date of moving to another country and Date of death. Their history will start with the date of birth and end with their date of death. Between those dates anything could happen.
For example an important part of his history was when he moved to a new town. That happened after his graduation but before he got married, so any references of that time would not relate to a wife.
The event of the moving to another country will contain a lot of points for the history of its occurrence, it will have its own history dates, such as: date of moving, date for when he purchased a new home (which may have been done before or after he moved), date when the old home was sold, and so on…
By repeating this exercise,any subjects history can be broken into smaller and smaller parts to the depth required.
Once the important periods of the subjects history have been identified and the important parts within that period of history, then any other details can be filled in for that period before the story refers to it too much, otherwise it could end up with inconsistencies as the stories progress. But the periods that are ‘not too important’ can still be left as ‘gaps’ in the history. These can then be filled in later if, or when, they are needed, but it is essential that the ‘gap’ is recognised and accommodated within the history; otherwise trying to ‘insert’ details at a later time may upset the overall history – it is a case that it may never need to be filled in, but it needs to be recognised and is there if required
Bringing the history into the story
If the adventures are likely to spend some time in a particular area, then the history of the area can be used as an extra source for the story, by considering the possibility of what else could have once happened there and introducing it into a story. For example there may have an ancient city that was destroyed by an earthquake – what other influences could this event have on the area around it, perhaps a new river appeared or a gaping hole can be found nearby.
This approach also helps to ease the effort on designing the world. It can provide a good source of imagination without a lot of effort – the basic history has already been thought through which is then enriched by adding extra details to any area.
For example, part of an ancient forest was destroyed 50 years ago when its wood was used to create a fort on the battleground a mile away, this will mean that within the forest the characters will come across an area with trees much younger than the surrounding forest and which provides the right conditions for a rare plant to grow that they were looking for,
- Keep the background history simple, unless it is critical to the plot
- Identify the complete history of the subject under consideration, but only in basic chronological order
- Identify the key periods of that history to the story and give greater detail only to those periods
- Leave ‘gaps’ in the parts of the history that are not important at the moment, but do make sure they stay there – they may become important in the future
Jenny Maryl ~ Inspiring the Imagination ~ Contact Me