Welcome back world building frendos!
I hope you’ll forgive me for another image light post this week. I’m working a new contract at the moment developing some content for a University website and it’s been chewing into my free time.
But, just because I have a little less time to spend prettying up my posts, doesn’t mean I’m not still thinking about worlds and building them aplenty!
Today’s post is about something which I love, both in and out of world building. History.
History is a fascinating subject, part of what makes it so wonderful is the beauty of hindsight, of course, it’s easy to see random events as serendipitous occurrences when we’re looking backward. But there’s also a lot to be said for the characters we find in history too. As a source of material for world building, you can’t really go past the subject of history. It’s a literal wealth of information about all the facets of a world, from the environment, to the infrastructure, to the people.
Paying attention to the flow of history in your world is important. Plenty of people before me have pointed out the flaw in creating an orderly history. Although you could say that with a good plot, you can create a perfectly logical, minimalist history and still succeed in telling a captivating story. Take one of my favourite authors for instance; David Eddings. The history of his world is completely static. But Eddings has a strong plot, the static nature of his world and its past, reinforces his plot.
So the question becomes, how dynamic do you make your world’s history? How much happens, how much has your world changed before, and during, your characters lifetimes?
With a solid plot and reasoning for a static history, readers will forgive you. Without that, you run the risk of creating something which may be too shallow, or simplistic to let your readers immerse themselves in your world and narrative.
Of course, you can go the other way too, and create too much irrelevant history, which rather than reinforcing your plot, weighs it down. Maybe you’ve put in too many uprisings and cataclysmic wars, and are running the risk of detracting from the story you’re trying to tell.
Whether by creating too much history, or giving too little. Only you’ll be able to find the magic ratio for your creation, but every narrative requires some sense of a history to the world the characters and story exists in. To springboard you into thinking about yours, I’ve plucked out three aspects of history which I think are good starting points to consider when you’re creating the history of a fictional world.
Geography is an important part of history, inevitably places themselves are wrapped up in history. The geographical shifts in power of Empires and colonization, sites of natural disasters, the effects of time on the landscape. The way places function in history is multifaceted.
Of course, natural features of your landscape are historical. The wide canyon that no one has ever crossed would have been formed by the passing of time. Just as the location of the deep crater caused by an alien object would take on significance.
But the idea of ‘place’ can also take on cultural connotations. Take the Roman Empire in our own history, for example. It endured for a thousand years after it shifted it’s seat of power to Constantinople. The Byzantine Empire, or Eastern Roman Empire, provides a classic example of the way ‘a place’ can take on a different meaning to simply ‘a location.’
Thinking about the changing nature of places in your narratives history is a good starting point if you want to map it all out.
But places aren’t all that is important to history.
People are important to history too. From rulers of nations to average citizens, our history is populated with characters that stood out for one reason or another.
The child Emperor who rules over the kingdom, the innovative thinks who invents a magical device, or the ordinary citizen, who stands up for justice. The characters that populate a history are some of its defining features. I’m sure I only have to mention names like, Tutankhamen, Thomas Edison and Rosa Parks for you to realize exactly who I’m talking about.
Figures in history are another good place to start if you’re trying to develop a timeline. Especially if you’re creating a narrative that’s heavy with some kind of cultural or geographical conflict.
Turning points are pretty much just the moments in your world’s history where things started to change. They overlap with People and Places, but they also deserve thinking about alone.
The invention of the wheel was a turning point in human history, so was the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in 1914. They were turning points in very different ways, but the consequences of these moments were far-reaching and went on to really shake up the way the world was operating at that time. In the case of the wheel, we still benefit directly from its effects today!
Turning points can be big or small events in your world’s history, but they’ll definitely be there, and thinking about them helps you develop a history that feels relatable to your readers.
I hope these ideas help inspire you when you’re creating the timeline of your world, and populating it with the interesting characters that have shaped the place it is.
Until next time, happy world building!