History may not be your favorite subject in school. So many names and dates and battles… they can start to blur together a bit. Or maybe you love history. Maybe the exploits of those who lived before us fascinate you and you can’t get enough of it. Either way, if you are a fantasy author, history is something you will probably find yourself needing to consider at some point in your writing.
Just like you have to pick a size and scope for your world, you will have to determine how much history you need to create and know for your story. Some stories may require you to create vast amounts of history and a lengthy timeline, while other stories will require very little.
Some basic questions you may need to ask as you begin writing might be: Where does the world come from and what has it been through? Do you have an origin story for your world? Do you need one? What are the recent events leading up to the beginning of your story?
Not every world needs an origin story.
I know, Tolkien is probably rolling over in his grave as I utter those words. But the size and scope and length of your story may not demand an origin story for your realm. But it’s the truth.
Take, for example, my recent pieces of flash fiction that I wrote about my space-trucking duo: Blake and his android counterpart, Earl. In just under 2,000 words, there isn’t a lot of time or space to create a history. I had to do some research into a few things for the technological aspects of the stories, but I literally have nothing documented about the history of the galaxy/universe they live in. I do plan to expand them into a novel of their own some day, and when that day comes, I am definitely going to have to do some more world building… but for now, it is not necessary.
With my Minstrel’s Song series, much of the timeline did not really get built until I started drafting Minstrel’s Call, the fourth book. 8,000 years of history did not come into play until I had 3/4ths of the story written, but they really helped when it came to editing the series.
With Turrim Archive, we did a lot more world building up front. I’ve mentioned before, my husband did most of the original world building for that story, and I’ve tweaked and adjusted it as the books progressed, as well as created a basic timeline that covers over 11,000 years of history, including an origin story and specific birthdays for all of my characters.
Now, for Revelod, a large world with the potential for many different types of stories, we definitely need an origin story for the world itself. An origin story will give us a good place for creating myths, legends, and idioms used by the various people groups in the world, which will help to give a sense of scope and realism to any story that takes place in this realm. Be aware that your own world view will most likely naturally incorporate itself into any world you build. That’s okay. You can also create worlds that do not reflect your own world view, of course, but you may find it more difficult.
So, for Revelod, we have the following creation story:
Veritoth did not always exist, but Orimar does. Before time was set in its tireless march, Orimar stood alone. In his power, he chose to create for himself companions to learn, study, and discover his infinite being. These first companions are the Ari. Their home was set into the void and Arimoth was set down, a continent traversing the newly born cosmos. It was a paradise of life and glory, light and nature, power and knowledge. Set within the continent each of the Ari held their dominion and worked and toiled with their kin and the might of the Ari wrought wonders to behold. But, not all were content with their position.
In time, the Ari were growing powerful in their might and understanding of Orimar, and there were some among them who felt it their right and position to replace him. Thinking their power and potential superior to their father, Aeren and Zarkus set their knowledge to the task of rebelling against Orimar.
Now Orimar was aware of their efforts and accepted their efforts for what they were. He had given them free will and would let them exercise this will, but he was not an aloof parent set in his ways or ignorant of his creation’s machinations. He limited their understanding for a time, but as with many children, Zarkus and Aeren soon discovered what none of the others had understood; the ability to kill. They had breathed life into a creation, studied it and destroyed it. And with this discovery their path was set.
At a fateful hour, they set their will upon Doran thinking to overthrow and kill the eldest among them. But Orimar expected this, and at the last moment before the arcane spell could be unleashed, he stood from his thrown in the center of Varitoth and reached into Arimoth and sundered the arcane energies. Zarkus was caught off guard and Aeren was struck by the blast of the dispelled might and she fell dead.
The rest of the Ari sensing the blast immediately arrived at the Golden Halls of Doran and saw Aeren on the marble floor the light of the Ari gone from her countenance. In the briefest of moments, all the might of the Ari was unleashed upon themselves. The battle lasted for far longer than any can imagine. There were truces, betrayals and in the end, the fall of the Ari who sided with Zarkus. They named themselves the Vanimor for they sought to supplant their kin and their father and take ownership of Varitoth. Orimar tired of his children’s quarreling and the destruction of so much of their wondrous works, he once again, stood before his throne and sundered Arimoth into two parts banishing the rebellion to their doom separated from him for eternity. He named their prison Oromos, and set between it and Arimoth the Astral and Ethereal seas to isolate and punish his rebellious children.
He chose to renew his creative efforts and set about crafting his greatest creation: The Middle Realms and their keepers.
The Middle Realms are a complex weaving of planes of existence, some in parallel to each other, while others surround and bolster others. There are two main categories of the middle realms: the Mirror Realms and the Elemental Realms.
Orimar set his mind to their creation and laid the foundations of the Middle Realms with the establishment of the outlying Elemental Realms: Earth, Fire, Wind, and Water. Each realm distinct in its own way, they each incorporate elements of the other while establishing the cosmological focus for the elements needed to build the Mirror Realms.
With the Elemental Realms in place, Orimar again turned his mind to his creative will and from it came forth the Mirror Realms: Stratefell, Morrofel, and Wylderfell. In the center of all sits the Stratefell, though it is known mostly as Revelod by its occupants, and around it sits Morrofell: the realm of Death, and Wylderfell: the realm of Life.
When Orimar saw his creation was complete he took it in his mind to populate the realms with their caretakers, each realm to be watched, guarded, and tended to by the free people’s of Orimar. Little did any know, that there was a greater purpose and plan set before the Middle Realms in the War between the Firstborn and Betrayers of Orimar.
As you can see, even just these few paragraphs can give you a vast array of material to draw on when it comes to writing your story and creating your characters. Do your characters believe this version of the creation story? Do they not? Why or why not? What do they believe? How does this affect their decisions throughout the story? How does it affect the way they interact with other characters? So many potential points of character development are opened up to you just from having a creation myth of some kind for your world. That doesn’t mean that all of this information will end up in any of the books set in this world. Perhaps none of this information will pertain to the stories written within this world. But I often find it helpful as the author to know these sorts of details.
Beyond the creation myth, there is also some basic history plotted out for this world already.
- Orimar creates Veritoth and the Ari
- Fall and imprisonment of the Vanimor and the sundering of the Celestial Realms
- Orimar creates the middle realms and peoples
- Migration of the middle races across the world’s 4 continents (Humans, Dwarves, & Elves)
- Gibaldor (Tundaran Empire & Seyberon)
- Falkendor (Falkendale Formation)
- Amerant (Sovereign Lands)
- Light War and the first breaking of Oromos (Vanimor Prison)
- Begins with a the Vanimor forcing a gateway to the middle realms of Falkendor
- Ends with the gate being sealed by the Ari and the creation of Sovereign Stones.
- Sovereign Stones power the arcane era to come providing magical energy sources for spells greater than normal arcane capability.
- Rise of the Draconic Rule in Gibaldor (Tundaran Empire & Seyberon)
- Sacking of the Seven Kingdoms
- Dragon Invasion from Gibaldor to Eldoran.
- Amerant Invasion of Eldoran
- Falkendor Invasion of Eldoran
- Amerant sees an uprising of mysterious strife amongst the free people’s and new monstrous creatures
- Gate of Oromos is breached by an enclave on Falkendor. Vanimor are allowed to walk among the Middle Planes.
- The quiet after the storm
- Treaty of Falkendale
But what if you don’t need a creation story? What if you don’t need thousands of years of history and knowledge of various wars and treaties for your world and story? What if your story doesn’t require it, or you don’t have enough time in the story to get into any of those details? How much history do you really need to know?
Again, it depends on your story. Maybe you just need a sentence or two. In a short fairy tale novel I recently finished, my origin story is simple: a fictional island set nearish our own Scotland. With that brief sentence, I don’t need to come up with anything more, because the history of my characters’ world is the same as that of my own. There may be some differences (for example: the fae are real in that story… so if I expand the world into more than one book, I may have to come up with some more history and information on them, but a lot of the world building is already done, at least, when it comes to history).
And sometimes you just don’t know how much history you’re going to need until you start writing. There are plenty of stories I’ve written where the history has come together after the majority of the story was written.
If you want to bring it in a bit tighter, keeping your scope small… then there are a few things that could be helpful to know:
1. Your character’s age.
This doesn’t mean you have to know their exact birthday, though it can be extremely helpful to know that, especially if your story spans multiple years. If your character is 14 at the beginning of a 4 book series that spans 4 years and then you mention that they are 16 or 20 at the end of the series… your readers will notice. So knowing your character’s age and having an approximate idea of where their birthday falls is a great starting point. For my Turrim Archive books, I gave each of my main characters specific birthdays, even though their calendar doesn’t match up with our own.
2. Your character’s recent history.
What has happened in this character’s life? Especially right before the story starts? And what has their life been like so far? I’m not saying you have to write an entire backstory for your character, but a basic timeline of their life isn’t a bad idea.
3. A timeline for the story itself.
This is where you keep track of things like what time of year the story starts, how much time passes in your story, and what time of year the story ends. If you begin your story at the end of autumn, have a story that spans 3 weeks of time, and end the story as flowers are bursting into bloom… then either you weren’t paying attention, or seasons work very differently in your world and you should make sure your reader knows that (we’ll get into things like seasons in a later post).
Again… you can definitely write stories where you don’t need all or any of this information. These are just a few questions and ideas that are hopefully helpful things to consider as you get started in your own world building.
What fantasy stories have you read where you felt the author did a good job giving the world a historical depth? What are some stories where a little bit of history might have made the story better? Authors: Do you create timelines as you write? Do you know your characters’ birthdays?
Today’s topic leads super neatly into Monday’s discussion, when we’ll come back here to talk about creating a Cosmology for your world, so that will definitely be interesting!