Lesson 2: HistoryA Lesson by Mila
How do you go about jotting down a history for your world? Here I will lay out tips and advice to help you with that!
Our world has it, and yours must have one as well. Now, the history of your world can be the basis for almost any plot line that you choose. From blood feuds, to political disputes, to heroic ventures and so on so forth. What happens in the history of your world shapes what you are writing about. Not only that, it can also help with providing explanations for many things, such as why these people are this particular skin tone, or why this country or House hates/loves this other country or House or why this particular location has a certain architectural form and so on so forth. Providing explanations for why things are the way they are in your high fantasy story is monumental to that plot, and having a good history to assist you with that will work in your favor.
Here I will breakdown the many ways you can go about jotting down a history for your world. Of course, how you do it is your own personal prerogative, but I've found these particular methods to be extremely helpful.
After we go through that, I will go into the way you can implement your history into your plot without overhauling information. I know a lot of us do fall into that rut--I know I did!--but hopefully after reading through this, you won't! :)
Part I: Charting your History
In my opinion, this is the most basic means of keeping an organized track of the history in your world. The beauty of these things is that they work for most any world type. If you refer to the types of worlds from Lesson 1, it doesn't really matter what sort of world you are doing where a timeline (or any organization mechanism for that matter) is concerned.
Of course, how extensive or detailed your timeline is will vary based on the world you are working on. Also, certain aspects of history may be heavily weighed on than others. So you may not focus on the wars in the past so much as political disputes. Perhaps you won't even talk about those things, you'll just focus on powerful Houses. Maybe you'll just worry about how magic came about or how an area was discovered. Remember, when it comes to history, focus only on what makes your plot strong. If you mention something for the sake of mentioning it, it may work against you if it does not have its place in your story. If anything, it may just add on more work. Everything must have its place in your story.
Chronologically, it would be easier to go from past to present. Just think about how basic history classes are taught. Generally, you start farthest back and work your way in toward the present. If you have a world with different realms or countries, separate the timelines of those places.
Note that the XXXX stands for the year or time (in which) and the "..." stands for whatever events occurred then.
Now that's not to say that history won't interconnect. That's the beauty of it, that it always seems to do that. When that occurs in your story, merely add in a note or even make a separate timeline for it..
Just remember that this can only help to strengthen your plot. I would advise against writing up a history before you get into your story UNLESS you know EXACTLY what to mention, WHEN to mention and HOW MUCH needs to be said. If you have that down, then go ahead and type up your history before you get into your story. If you don't have any of that down, though, it will disorientate you. You'll want to dump a load of history in your story because you feel everything needs to be said. Instead, draw up a blank timeline (for a World, Country, Realm, House...etc. depending on what world you're writing on) and add in whatever is mentioned as it is mentioned. How to place bits of history in your plot will be covered specifically in Part II.
Perhaps you have a history in mind but don't know how to organize or go about putting it in. You don't know what comes before what and how to add it in accordingly. A rough breakdown of your history is not the same thing as a timeline. This works only for those of us who have a TON of history in mind but don't know where to go with it.
Again, it depends on what sort of world you are trying to build when it comes to this. Of course, with a timeline, it didn't matter, because you could throw one together one for any world you've got going. A rough breakdown is literally taking whatever history you have for the world that you've created and jotting it down bit by bit. Really, chronological order only matters if you know where it's all going to go. If you have no idea, merely putting it down to use as a reference guide is sufficient. When you get to an area of your story were you feel like it lacks depth, you can always refer to the rough breakdown of your historical tidbits and say "Ok, if I put this here, than this can go here and that can go there..." and so on so forth.
Of course, merely putting down one aspect of history won't necessarily lead you to knowing where everything needs to go, but it's at least a start.
A rough breakdown, I think, only works if you already have an idea of what history you want to mention. A timeline is for that as well, if you know what it is and where it needs to go. But, what happens when you have none of the above?
You're not breaking any fantasy law by starting to write without a history in mind! Very likely it will come to you as you write! If you have no idea what happened before the events that you're writing but you know where you want to take your story, then just start writing and let everything fall in place as it does. Who knows, maybe you'll have a timeline ready by the time you are done, with a little bit here and a little bit there filled in.
I know from person experience that, when I was taking those three-ish years to just build my world, that I had no idea what the history was. I was so into the countries and the culture and the pomp and circumstance that I neglected to add in a past. But every story has a past that leads up to its starting point. What I did when I didn't have a history was compose a trilogy of books that take place before my main series, all comprised of events that will be referenced as history when the main series comes around. If writing is what gets you to find out what goes where in your history, then write!
Part II: History in your Plot
As we know as authors of any kind of fantasy, the temptation to put all that you have and know into the plot is a large one. This is so for several reasons:
1. You feel as though your readers NEED TO KNOW this information right at the get go.
2. You fear that your plots won't make sense without everything out in the open.
3. You give your history more importance than it needs at the wrong time.
4. You want to add depth in places where depth is not needed.
There may be several more reasons, but those tend to be amongst the top ones. So in order to get into how to put history in your plots, let's address each of the four assumptions:
We all fall victim to this. We as writers always have a need to put all our information in the beginning or at the get go so our readers are in the 100% know how of what's going on and there is nothing more that needs to be addressed.
Of course, this is a mistake. If anything, it hurts WAY more than it helps.
The way I see it, history is such a thing that it needs to be addressed in bits. Not only will your story mean that much more to the readers, but they will actually want to read when they realize that there is something more to learn. Addressing things sporadically in your plots is better than dumping it all in the beginning.
So how do we go about doing this? The first thing to look at is what NEEDS to be addressed? What questions need an answer for the time being and what does not?
Perhaps there's a war going on, right? It would help to know who the enemies are, generalize what their beef is and then, as the story progresses, start tossing in different plot lines and tidbits of history (perhaps a blood feud) that addresses the conflicts going on in that story at the time which you are writing. Add on to it as it is RELEVANT. Trust me, inviting questions only to answer them as the story goes on is one of the better ways to keep a story going.
Think of Troy. We all thought it was because that king wanted his wife back and, yes, that is A reason, but not the only reason. Turns out king's brother just wanted to conquer Troy! And perhaps there was a myriad of other things going on, but there is a story behind each motive: a history! Would that story mean anything at all of EVERY history behind EVERY conflict was addressed at the beginning?
You can broach a question in your plot and perhaps even give an answer. But there has to be a reason that, maybe, only history can address. If it is safe to do so, there shouldn't be a need to give a reason to give that explanation. Keep your readers guessing! And, when it's relevant, only then give the answer.
As a writer, it is important to use your judgement with this. We know that putting everything in the beginning is an all around bad idea. Only put enough that answers enough questions to move the story forward. You want to keep your readers reading, and trust me, having to read ten pages of history will put them to sleep. I've seen this a lot of great fantasy books, so it is safe to say that it happens to the best of the best as well, especially if there is a lot that needs to be said.
If anything, remember this: it is good to have a lot of untold history because that leaves room for more to be said later. Also, it may or may not get you out of a writer's block. If you still have a good amount of information that needs to be told, you can find a way to weave it into your plot and then you can continue forth accordingly.
The fear that your plots won't make any sense without all of the information being made clear from the start is very natural. Of course, as readers, we like to know things when we read, but we also love the mystery. We love to hate and hate to love NOT knowing certain things because, as mentioned before, when it is told to us, it makes it that much more special.
For this fear, the mantra(s) to remember is this: if you do not need to mention it, do not mention it. If your story works without this aspect of history being mentioned for the time being, then let it be. If you are afraid that your readers will not know anything, then choose ONLY THE INFORMATION THAT ONLY GIVES ENOUGH AWAY so that there IS a story to read after wards.
Your better judgement as a writer will help with this. As you get to a particular part in your story/plot where you feel the answer should be made clear, and you've only mentioned enough history before for it to make sense, then you know you've done something right. Packing it all on in the beginning is a HUGE mistake but a natural fear to develop a crutch for.
It's a common error all writers and people, for that matter, make that when something has a certain level of importance, we try to push it as far as it can go. History is not immune to that. In fantasy, yes, history is VERY important, but you have to remember that it is not always needed at a certain time.
When you get to a spot in your story where you feel like history is lacking, or more could be said, before even writing down anything, just stop and think of what was already mentioned. Giving history more importance than it needs is a surefire way to not only lead you into a severe patch of writer's block, but it will weaken your story. Yes, at certain points, history is very important to mention. But, similarly, at certain points it is just not needed. It is up to you, as the author to pick and choose those moments precisely.
Ex: War going on. You are now past introductions and deeper into your plot. History or no history?
Order of importance when mentioning history is crucial to keep the strength of your plots going.
So you want your story to have depth. Stories with a lot of that tend to be read and enjoyed more than stories that don't. In fantasy, referring to history to add depth to a story is often a very common practice. But why, then, is that an error?
This may or may not be similar to number 3 above, so I will keep this one brief. Adding depth where depth is not needed generally refers to you throwing in a chunk of history just because you feel like your story is lagging. This may be history that you've just thought up at the spur of the moment (another common practice in fantasy, since we have the freedom to do so) or history that you've had prepared all along but just didn't know where to mention it.
Remember this: history does not always add depth.
When used right, it does but, when used incorrectly, it just adds pages upon pages of information that readers may or may not yawn at. Don't get jittery because you have more dialogue than description and, if your story is lagging, think of other ways to keep it going rather than dumping in chunks of history. Honestly, then you are just adding fuel to the fire.
(If you want tips as to how to keep a story moving and avoiding writer's block, message me and I will be happy to oblige!)
Remember, this is fantasy, so history is a huge crutch because you've created it and you want to work with it. Just be very careful what is actually done with the history after you've refined it
That is all for history, and I hope this was very helpful to you! As always, message me with any questions! :)
Lesson 3: Culture, is to be posted soon.
Added on October 15, 2014
Last Updated on November 11, 2014
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