Monday, September 10, 2012

Fantasy Chat: Worldbuilding Series: History


Worldbuilding Series: History

Click here to read the first in our series: The World and Maps
 Click here to read the second in our series: Populating the World
Click here to read the third in our series: Cultures and Languages
Characters and places have a past, a history, unless somehow both appear fully formed from a vacuum of nothingness, which isn't likely to happen. As writers we learn not to insert too much backstory into our stories, but that doesn't mean that there isn't a backstory.

Why do our characters do what they do? Why is their world as it is? The past plays such an important role in why we do what we do. Depending on the story, we will have to decide how much of history actually gets into the book. History, of course, is what happened before the start of the book. And fantasy novels tend to have a rich history because we often create new cultures and lands for them.  

A good question to ask is "why"? Why does this character do the things they do? Why are the laws of the land such? Why is this place called such-and-such? And the whys will vary for each story.

For example, in my un-published novel The Phoenix Prophetess, Yssa's birth goes back to a prophecy uttered almost 2500 years before her birth. Amora, the first Phoenix Prophetess, claimed that every 500 years, a female child would be born dead but revived by the god Apenth. This child would have special powers of foresight. Without this tidbit of history and Yssa being chosen as the sixth Phoenix Prophetess, then the entire story wouldn't happen. It also creates conflict because gods aren't supposed to meddle with Fate, and Apenth does. Also, because Amora was not only the first Phoenix Prophetess but also the first queen of her self-named city, then she set a precedence that there are only queens of Amora, never a king.

A more current and non-fantasy related example is Americans' distrust of kings. It's so ingrained in our society back from 1776 when we broke away from England that it has caused quite a bit of problems even today. It's why we have the government we have, for better or worse.

History can play a vital role and in order to create that history for our worlds to ring true, we must ask why.

Have you created a history for your novels? Or used history that we have of this world for them?

Next month on October 8th, we'll have our last entry in the Worldbuilding Series. So stay tune for Worldbuilding Series: Rules and Laws.


Crystal Collier said...

Holy cow do I have history behind my characters/worlds. The thing I discovered through my last couple drafts is that I wasn't allowing enough of that history to come through. I loved the characters because of their thought processes and agony, but I had to let some of that history through so readers could empathize and adore my characters in the same way. So, I suppose either extreme is dangerous--too much information, or the lack thereof.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I probably focus more on the history of my characters than the worlds they occupy.

Unknown said...

The 'Why' question is so important, Cherie. And it applies to so much more than just history and storytelling. Choices made by the characters, story outcomes, etc. should all have a why.

Loved your thoughts on it all!


Hart Johnson said...

I often have to write the story for the history just for the sake of consistency, and i don't even DO any fantasy. I like your history that sets the plot in motion, though.

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

I can see all of these things in your writing. You are definitely a pro at world-building.

Christine Rains said...

Fantastic post. History has a great impact on how people act. And it's amazing how one thing - like a prophecy - can have such an effect on the future.

Golden Eagle said...

I love exploring the history outside of the story I'm writing. It can be so easy to get carried away with potential novels/characters from another time period, though. :P

Cathy Keaton said...

These are really cool posts about world building. Thanks for taking the time to write them up and explain them so well. :)

Unknown said...

I love creating a history for my world; it all comes as part of building the culture of the story. I've 2 ideas at the moment; one is a world where I've made the history, and the other is one where I use a historical setting. It's win win :)

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

The best question we can ask when we're writing is 'why?'
Problems happen when I ask that question when I'm reading if the author hasn't done his or her research properly ;)

Anonymous said...

One of my drawer manuscripts was heavy with history. These days, like Alex, I focus on the histories of the characters.