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 your world. This history includes the story, the characters, places, items, ...
The Main Fantasy design menu provides more in-depth details to fantasy world designing
Throughout these articles I will reference my own fantasy world that I designed to help demonstrate it, how it interacts and grows with the stories that I write. In truth I enjoy creating the world just as much as the story writing
The different types of history
There are a number of different histories that need to be considered if you want a reusable world, 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 their race, the environment that they grew up in, as well as any personal events that happened in their lives
- The history of each race in your world. The history given to a race can depend upon the influence the race has to your stories; if you need an aggressive race, then give them a history that makes that possible, perhaps too many battles, or a harsh place to survive in. This is especially important to the races that your characters come from or any that they are going to be encountering.
- The history of the physical world.This is essential if some geological aspect plays an important part of your world, perhaps an earthquake happened a long time ago that destroyed an ancient city that your 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 your world. A fantasy world without a special item is almost impossible to imagine. The importance that an item plays in your story will define the level of history that you need to give to it, the more important then the more you will need to define its history – 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 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
The amount of history that you need to define and the depth that you need to take the histories too will depend upon their importance within the story. The more important a character, race, place or item is to your story, then the more detailed will your history need to be.
If you are aware that a specific period/event within the history will be very important to your story line and it is likely to be referenced in more than one place in future stories, then you will need to establish a detailed history for that period before you start to refer to it 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.
A subject requiring a history can be the world, a person, place, item or creature.
The steps that you need to consider for establishing a history are:
- 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 you have completed this list you now need to work out a basic time frame for the history. How long did a period last 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 your subject, you need to identify the specific periods within it that are especially important to your story at the current time, and ignore all of the others for now
- Take one of the important period from your list and identify the specific events that occurred within that period, using the same method that you used to get the general time scale sorted out in steps 1 and 2. These events (like the general history) can have spaces between them. Any part within that period that is not important to the story, ignore it and move on.
You are doing a history of a person and you identify some of the key history dates as being: Date of Birth, Day of Graduation, Date of marriage, Date of moving to another country and Date of death. You know that the birth and death come at each end of the list but the other 3 events could be at any age and therefore any order within the list and also with an unknown gap of time between each of them.
For this example we will say that it is the one for when he moved that is important to the story and that it happened after his graduation but before he got married.
Considering just the history of his moving, this would have involved a number of events each with their own history date, 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 you can break down any subjects history into as small parts as much as you need to.
Once you have identified the important periods of the subjects history and the important parts within that period of history, you will then need to fill in all of the details for that important period before your story refers to it too much, otherwise you could end up with inconsistencies as your stories progress. But the periods that are ‘not too important’ you can still leave 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 you may never need to fill in that gap, but you need to know about it!
Bringing the history into the story
If your adventures are likely to spend some time in a particular area, then it will be worth considering the possibility of what else could be there that was influenced by the history. For example you 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 will supply you with a good source for your imagination without a lot of effort – the basic history has already been thought through and you will be enriching it by adding extra details to any area that the history had an impact upon.
Perhaps part of an ancient forest was destroyed when its wood was used to create a fort on the battleground a mile away, this will mean that within the forest you 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 you were looking for (I will leave the rest for your imagination)
- 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 your 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 M L ~ Inspiring the Imagination ~ Contact Me