Building History in a Fantasy World

If you want a rich world you have to think of everything. One key thing you should be building is the history of your world.

Unless you plan on starting your story right at the beginning of time, you will need to establish your history and key events that have led to the way the world is in the present.

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What Can Game of Thrones Teach Us?

I will refer to the A Song of Ice and Fire aka Game of Thrones as an example throughout this post because the world is so vast and rich. Whether you like the series or not, the work that has gone into it is pretty incredible and it can teach us a lot.

The history that George RR Martin created is so ripe with detail. It goes back hundreds of years. He plots out several major events throughout his timeline, all of which are important for the current climate in the world.

Westeros becomes inhabited, invaded several times, species and monsters are wiped out (or are they?) Kingdoms rise and fall. Great houses are formed, then destroyed. All of this happens way before the books begin but it’s all important.

This is why Martin’s world is so great and also why he takes so bloody long to finish the books. He has a thousand and one things going on at once. I don’t know how he keeps track and doesn’t go insane.

The show is much easier to digest and I do feel like the books are probably underappreciated in comparison. They need your full attention and a good memory to get through them. Enough people struggle with the show.

You cannot ‘half arse’ it as they say round here, when it comes to reading or writing in this genre. It needs your full attention and effort to appreciate the amount of work and detail. That being said, I always prefer to just fall into a world and inhabit it, rather than wade through it like it’s a chore, but maybe that’s just me.

 

My history

With my world, I created a a big global timeline, highlighting major world events. I also created a few different timelines for each country. What is a huge event in one country might not be in another, so it’s important to know what happens in each part of the world as well as what happened in the world as a whole.

My timeline is absolutely nothing in comparison to Martin’s but I quickly drove myself mad and worked through it as best as I could.

When you start plotting out your history, you’ll probably find yourself inventing characters along the way, key historical figures. I personally wanted to stay away from creating characters while I was still building so I could use the world to shape them rather than the other way round. But I noted everything down and thought I’ll worry about it later. Writing is messy and sometimes you just have to run with it.

Your history

Think about creating timelines for your world, no matter how big or small it is. Write out summaries of what happened where, when, how so that you can refer back to it later for reference or when you come to write the story.

Also, try not to worry too much. There’s nothing stopping you from changing everything. However, I’d advise against doing so to make it easier or more convenient for you at the expense of the story.

If you want to change something, fine, it’s your world but if you’re allowing the story to change your world before you’ve even begun to write the story, then you’re going to end up with a world that doesn’t feel organic.

History Affects Everything

Remember that history is not its own entity. Like everything in world building and worlds in general, history affects everything. Everything you’ve ever known from the tea you drink to the policies in government has a history. It’s usually a bloody one too if you back far enough.

Historical events will determine the structure of your government, trade relations, wars and weaponry, law…etc. People learn from history (or just ignore it) and this shapes everything you see.

 

History and Religion

History bleeds into and shapes religion. Some people will have different ideas on how the world began, what gods did what and whether the gods even exist.

People will always disagree, that seems to be the one consistent thing in the world. So it’s only natural that you use this human trait to plump up your world with conflict.
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In our world, there are many opinions on history. What one person calls fact another will say is fiction. Take a look at Israel and Palestine, a bloody history that no one can agree on.

You might want to do something similar. It can be a great source of conflict that can shape a country’s attitude to the world and neighbouring places.

As horrible as the conflict in this world is, it’s important for fiction. Conflict is at the heart of storytelling after all.

Onto you, how have you used history to shape your world? How far back/how detailed do you think you have to be on past events? Share your thoughts in the comments! 

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2 thoughts on “Building History in a Fantasy World

  1. We must learn from our history or we will be doomed to repeat it. Good points in this article. The world of The Veil Saga, my series, relies heavily on historical events of our world because it takes place in our world and in our present time. So, I’ve had to go back in time and figure out what was happening at specific times and then create what was happening in the fantasy realm too. Timelines have helped.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey, thanks for reading!

      Sounds great, I always think history is such a great source of inspiration for fantasy fiction and I do love stories which are grounded in historical context. Glad you found it useful 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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