Monday, February 21, 2011

History prevails

I went to the library yesterday to do some research for my WIP, but in the midst of my research I realized that I need to write a paragraph/page/few pages on the history of the story. Now, I’m not talking about a character sketch—also helpful. I’m talking about a full out history of my world PRIOR to the start of my story.
Talk about eye opening.

See here’s the thing, stories need depth, and the only way you’re going to create depth is to have a history. This doesn’t mean you need to drop in loads of back-story. There’s no reason to detail the history during the story’s progression, that’s not the point. You want your characters round, the world vivid, and the circumstances exciting and intense. You won’t get there without a detailed past.

Example time:

Let’s say your story takes place on another planet. The entire story is on that one planet so you may think that’s all you need. Who cares how they arrived there, right? Wrong, wrong, wrong. You have to know how humans arrived on this other planet. Do you have to go into that during the story? No. Not in my opinion. Not in full detail, anyway. But I do think drops of info here and there will offer believability to your story. You can’t drop bits of info if you, as the writer, do not know the history.

So take a peek at your WIP. Do you know the history? Do you know why things are the way they are? Do you know why the leaders are leaders? The rich, rich? The poor, poor? Why do certain people have powers, while others don’t? Why did your civilization fall?

Knowing these things will only strengthen your story. Need an example of an expert on world-building and history? Tolkien, of course!




    If you're writing fantasy you need to detail its history prior to the current events. This, of itself, is history, really, 'cause all the greats--Tolkiein, Rowling, Lewis...--have done it, and with staggering results.

    I can't believe I'm not the only one who does this. :D

    I pride myself a fantasy master, and it really irks me when people don't outline the history of their world. Neglecting this could lead to hazards later on, should you have a series, where a new concept counteracts one from the first book. This not only creates a plot hole, but also destroys the credibility of your world.

    Thanks for posting this Melissa. And dare I say, you're very pretty.

  2. Well, that's a hard comment to follow haha! Although, I agree you're very pretty ;-)

    Perfectly timed post! I've spent the past three hours on Wikipedia in the name of research! It's still hard to imagine how Yeomen, the Ceremony of the Keys, and Smithfield Meat Market will make their exact mark in my book, but I'm getting such a vivid feel of 1836 London. I love books where the setting is also a character (like, NYC in Sex and the City for lack of a better example), and that's what I'm aspiring to.

  3. LOL at Lo.

    And DAMN! My dear, you are beyond a blond bombshell! You are god-like!

    I need a shower. :)

  4. Ooh, you had me when you put a map of Middle Earth on your post. Ha.

    Lots of people think you only need history for fantasy world-building and this is SO not true. You need to know the history for all kinds of stories.

  5. Tyson - I'm with you on the history thing for sure. All SFF writers should for sure build a history, but I'd go as far to say all stories--even contemp--should have a history firmly in place. And I assure you, I'm secretly half witch--green skin, long nails, all that--not pretty at all. :)

    Laura - Wiki is why I finally had to head to the library! DH was like "why are you going to the library, just google it?" And I'm like, dude, my story is about aliens I'm getting all sorts of freaky sites when I google that, I need FACTUAL stuff.

    And yes, Laura is Aphrodite. :)

  6. LOL, Karen. We just posted the same thing!