World Building 102: History

I never thought my blog on World Building will be my most popular page. Then again there are many things in my life I never thought would happen. Oh well. Moving on.

If there is one exciting thing about fantasy, or any kind of story is the incredible or at the very least, interesting back story that comes with the story you are planning to tell. In other words, History. What is the history of your world?

Rule 1: Always make sure you’ve smoothed out your back story first before implementing it into the story you’re writing.

The history of your world needs to be two things: it needs to be interesting and it needs to make sense. Bad writers and by extension bad stories tend to put little or no thought into their world’s back story which in turn leads to all kinds of terrible continuity issues and a disjointed history that not even the most dedicated scholar can follow. An even worse sin is that sometimes the back story is just plain boring. Some writers also make the history of their fantasy world about as exciting as a very boring history class. I’ve been in several boring classes. None were fun to be in and sit through. In fact one was so bad it took every ounce of my energy just to stay awake. Your story, regardless of which part, written or unwritten should never be that boring. EVEN IF YOUR CHARACTERS ARE BORED, THE READER SHOULD NEVER BE BORED. Otherwise, what the hell’s the point. I can waste my time doing something else boring. Remember, you want Red Dragon, not Hannibal Rising.

What makes an interesting back story? Well, look at the back stories of your favorite novels.

The events of Harry Potter come as a result of Tom Riddle’s upbringing in Hogwarts as well as his previous attempt to rise to power.

In The Song of Fire and Ice series, or the Game of Thrones series for everyone one else, the history of Westeros is a series of wars and invasions and so on. First were the children of the forest, then came the First Men, then the Andals, then Aegon the Conqueror, then King Robert’s Rebellion, then the war against the Iron Islands, then came the beginning of the Game of Thrones series. The present world of Westeros is interesting because its well developed past is interesting which gives me hope that the future of the series will be just as interesting and exciting. Just don’t get too attached to any one character.

In the Mistborn Series, a thousand years ago the Lord Ruler rose to power. Some years later a band of heroes tried to defeat him and lost…badly, plunging the entire world empire into permanent daytime ash falls and nighttime mist.

In The Wheel of Time series the pervious incarnation Lews Therrin if The Dragon went mad and broke the world. That story is too damn complicated for me to begin summarizing however when he was done, his entire family was dead, earning him the title Kinslayer.

Even in an Role Playing Game like Final Fantasy 6, a thousand years before the start of the game, there was the War of the Magi which pretty much destroyed the world. And what happens in the game? The world gets destroyed…again.

All of these back stories make interesting stories themselves. Some writers are afraid of telling interesting back stories because of fear that it’ll be more interesting than the main story. A logical fear but somewhat unfounded. The person telling both the story and back story is YOU. So it’s up to YOU to tell a more interesting present story than your back story. Your reader needs to know why you’re choosing to tell the story at the point you’re starting at and not a thousand years ago when that long remembered war with The Lord Ruler, or the three dragons, or the Magi happened. Do yourself a favor and set the bar high with an awesome back story and even more awesome present story. Cause if the story’s past sucks, chances are the present will suck and so will the future.

Rule 2: Pepper your world’s back story into your writing. Don’t try telling it in something as tedious and cliche as a long, historic prologue.

Most editors agree with this rule. Just start the damn story! If I wanted to read a story about all the things that happened in your story’s past, I’d read that story, or pick up a history book. Remember to show, don’t tell. And a long history lesson of your world is definitely telling. Not only that, you’re starting your book off with a history lecture instead of a story. So write the story and mix it into your novel, but ONLY when it calls for it. Don’t try to be clever and have the Hero’s grandpa dedicate an entire chapter to telling the world’s entire history. Just stick to the parts that pertain to the plot.

Rule 3: Wars and games
If there are two major aspects of history that have last through the ages it’s wars and games (or contests if you wanna get technical). Like I said in a previous blog, your story’s history doesn’t have to be just politics and laws, there can be fun and exciting aspects as well. Harry Potter has Quidditch, the Greeks have the Olympics AND a very long history dealing with several of the world’s greatest empires, the Middle Ages have jousting, archery, and the Crusades, and Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series has games such Stones or Dice whilst have a long and complicated history of different kingdoms rising and falling through the ages. Even Star Wars has pod racing, dejarick (the game where Wookies rip people’s arms off when they lose) and The Empire’s many conquests as well as its fall. What do people do for fun, past and present in your story? How have empires and religions and languages spread? These are questions you need to ask yourself when building the history of your world.

I hope this advice helps and I will you posted on the progress of Guild Assassin. If there’s anything new to report you’ll be the first to know. Take care and thanks for reading. 😉


About berleykerr

A Steampunk Author from Los Angeles.
This entry was posted in My Writing Process and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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