Geekdom Come, World Building 101

World Building 101- History

There is a term in storytelling called ‘in media res’, it means to start your narrative not at the beginning of your story but in the middle usually in the middle of some tense action. While I can appreciate the idea of starting your tale with a little bit of action in order to hook your audience. I’ve never fully appreciated the term ‘in media res’ because, in my opinion, all stories begin in the middle. There is rarely, if ever, an occasion where your story does not rely at least partially upon events that occurred before your narrative began. This is especially true when your story takes place on a fictional world. It is important that as a writer you have a clear understanding of the events that came before your story starts. A chronological map of the events, inventions, and movements that shaped your world’s current state of affairs. In this edition of Worldbuilding 101, we talk about the importance of History.
History is more than just a collection of dates and names written down in a book, it is a living breathing entity and if you want your audience to truly submerge themselves in your world you need to treat it as such. That means taking the time to think through cause and effect. It’s not enough to know why an event happened in your fictional world you need to understand why it happened. Right now I’m going to invent the “Third War of the Lions”. Sounds cool right, but if your going to just drop it in as a throwaway line in your book you risk tangling yourself up later on when your details don’t quite line up (i.e. Star Wars and its Clone Wars problem). It’s not enough for something to sound cool, it needs to credibly inform your narrative. For instance, as I’ve been working I’ve come up with this. The Third War of The Lions was the third war fought between the nations of Leonas and Abbas whose rulers both claim a lion as their house sigil. The war began when soldiers from Leonas became disoriented and stumbled into an Abbasian encampment. Thinking they were being ambushed, the Abassians opened fire. This is the war’s inciting incident, but it is not its underlying cause. Those causes could be economic, religious, or political in nature. Perhaps they are fighting over territory that contains a scare resource or maybe tensions are being stoked about foreigners in order to distract the populace from problems closer to home. Be sure to ground the causes in a broader societal context that goes beyond the event itself. The history of your fictional world should serve your plot but it should never be obvious that’s what it’s doing.
Also important to remember is that politics and wars are not the sole provinces of history. When constructing your world’s backstory take special care to pepper its past with great thinkers and inventors. Know the history of your worlds technologies, how one innovation led to another. This will give your society a road map of technological advancement which will, in turn, shape the economic and cultural history of your world.
A lot of effort is required to put together such a complex historical profile of your world but it is worth it. Just like creating a compelling backstory adds layers and complexity to your main characters, so too does a well thought out fictional history add depth to your world.

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