I don’t know about you, but the word ‘history’ always reminds me of high school where the same stuff was repeated every year, and where one sentence spanned most of one page in text books.
Don’t worry, your world’s history doesn’t need to be a nightmare and conjure memories of boredom and sleep overtaking you! In fact, your world’s history is the reason your world is what it is when your story starts. It’s kinda important.
It’s an intricate, detailed, and sometimes complicated thing. I don’t want to overwhelm you with information; rather I’d like to give you the starting points to help you make your world as believable as possible without losing its magic. And to make the whole thing a little less daunting, I bet you that I can break it down in as few as six hundred words! (Not including this intro, of course)
Your world’s history encompasses everything, and it’s the reason plotting this specific aspect is so daunting. Just take a look at our own history – the many wars, the natural disasters, the countless civilisations which preceded ours! Where the hell are you supposed to start? How much do you need? When do you stop?
You’ll be relieved to hear that you don’t necessarily need all that, unless your story calls for it. How far back you want to go is entirely up to you. You can plot your world’s history all the way back when dinosaur-equivalents roamed your lands, or you can start at a time that’s relevant to your plot. The latter is what matters, but I won’t stop you if you want to go all out!
Because this step is a wee bit overwhelming, it can help to draw a timeline or make a list of important events throughout, well, history. Start at the beginning of your story, and work backwards. For example, imagine your main character is the last of her race. Why is that? Why has an entire people all but gone extinct? Was there a war? Did natural causes kill everyone? In many stories, dwarves have long since become an extinct race, or elves were driven out of their homeland. What happened to cause this?
Think about the landscape, too. Perhaps a city has disappeared, a great rift has torn a country in two, or a once fertile country has turned barren. Wars and widespread natural calamities tend to leave scars!
There are a few simple questions you can ask yourself to break this down into small, doable chunks.
What are the large events (such as war/famine/genocide/natural disasters) that affect your world and characters?
What caused these events?
How long ago did they happen?
How do they affect your world and characters today? Why?
The environment we grow up in shapes us a great deal. Where did your main characters grow up? Focus on past events that have made the town/city/small collection of huts what it is. Has war ravaged the country for years? Has your main character grown up with stories of a local hero? Is the town, or the whole country, known for any large scale events like an invasion, or a natural catastrophe like a volcano erupting? Perhaps your main character’s people are peaceful and live secluded in a forest, but were driven out by deforestation. What have past events done to the people living there? What have they done to your main character?
The same list of questions I’ve suggested above can help you sort through this one, too!
But we’re getting more into character development and personal history now, so let’s move on.
Your world and its history will develop as you write and build your story, same as your characters do. Having some of it, maybe even most of it, figured out before you write that first word is brilliant, but don’t panic or feel like you haven’t prepared enough if you have less than that. Sometimes we start a new story and we know everything long before Chapter One is typed, and sometimes we know the bare bones of our newest book baby. It’s a long process, and takes time. Your world’s history is no exception.
So relax, and enjoy yourself! Your history will come to you eventually if it doesn’t before you name your MCs, and it will likely do so because you’re writing. You don’t need to have everything figured out before you start – knowing that something huge happened at some point in the past is an excellent start!
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