Friday, September 27, 2013

Storyworld Building: Creating the History

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

This post now part of the book Storyworld First: Creating A Unique Fantasy World For Your Novel by Jill Williamson.

I enjoy studying history, and our world has a fascinating one. So should yours.

Be careful, though. You only need enough history to tell your story. This is something many fantasy writers overdo when they slip huge sections of history into their book or have a "historical" prologue. I advise against both. It's best to work in your history in ways that fit the story.

CREATE A TIMELINE
When I started my first fantasy novel, I didn't know how to go about creating a history, and I wanted to make it simple. So I wrote a timeline of my land. And, really, it's a timeline of only one group of people (Kinsman), starting when they arrived in the land and ending at the current day of my book.

I started with the year 0 and went up to the year 585, when Prince Gidon would turn sixteen. I used MS Word, and went down in a line and typed a number for every ten years. Then I added kings' birth's, coronations, and deaths, and I also added in some random wars, the discovery of new places, when a certain palace was built---whatever I thought might be worth remembering.

WRITE IT OUT
Click to explore Er'Rets
Another thing I did was write out a brief historical narrative for my land that included key events. It's two pages long. I did this for my own knowledge so that I could better understand the world my characters lived in. You can read it by clicking here. (Keep in mind, I wrote it for me, so I never edited it. *grin*) And if you click on the map, it will take you to the large map where you can click on all my different cities and read stuff about them. Some of it is historical, some of it isn't. But all this came about from my storyworld creation time. And none of this went in my book, at least not the actual histories I wrote.

DON'T USE IT?
That's right. Fight the urge to cut and paste whatever cool histories you may have created. Instead, tell your character's story. The history will come out if and when it needs to. Here are a few of the places I used my history in the actual books:
-Achan learns early on that he is Kinsman, a certain type of people.
-Achan and Vrell meet giants, Poroo people, and wolves, all of which were creatures that I created when I wrote my historical narrative.
-When Achan reaches the memorial tree in Allowntown, he thinks about the murder of the king and queen and the curse of darkness on the land.
-Throughout the book the reader is given different bits and pieces of the story of how the prince came to live with Lord Nathak.
-I have characters talk about the Great War here and there in the book.

The other times are very similar. Short and sweet, mostly. I don't use a lot of the history in the actual book, but without having written it, I wouldn't have had a foundation from which to create.

USE THE FOUNDATION
I already had a map with lots of locations. Now my history and map combined gave me a lot to work with. I had places that meant something. I knew why certain characters lived where they did. I knew where I needed them to go. I knew who would stand in opposition to them. And I knew what surprises might lie in wait as they traveled. If I got stuck, I'd think about where they were on the map and ask myself if there was something I could do with the area or the history of that place. And most of the time, my options were clear.

TIPS FOR CREATING HISTORY
-Start with a timeline
-Write a one to two-page historical narrative
-Consider rulers, changes of regime, wars, and other major world events

Don't spend too long on this! A little goes a long way, and you can always stop writing and create more history if you need to. Remember, you're writing a book, not a historical tomb. Still, who better to consult the art of a historical storyworld than Tolkien? Check out this timeline of Middle Earth. Pretty sweet, huh?

19 comments:

  1. Thanks for the post!
    I think with my current novel, I had little bit of history in my head about it. Probably be a good idea to write it out. :)
    With my last novel, actually the history played a key role towards the end of the book, 'cause without it, things were going to get confusing.

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    1. Nice, Samuel. Sometimes you don't need to write it out. That helped me because I had no history in my head yet.

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  2. There are so many aspects of my story world that I never though about, so thank you! It's a bit hard for me, since I'm writing a very fantasy novel for the first time, but your articles are helping!

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    1. I'm glad, Emma. And remember, these aren't rules. Just ideas. You follow the muse!

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  3. I feel like such a nerd right now but I'm actually really excited to do all of this! I finished my third draft a few months ago and now I want to go back and work more on my story building in the next draft. I wasn't looking forward to it but now I'm dying to start! Thanks for the post! :)

    http://escapingnormal.blogspot.com/

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    1. I'm glad I've got you inspired, Leah. It's so much easier to write when you're excited.

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  4. I love reading history- be it from earth or from a work of fiction! It is just like reading another story, a story that has not yet finished.

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  5. i love reading and writing history. in my current novel, i'm writing about the northwest mounted police and it's been so much fun, so far! thanks for the post!

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    1. Mounted police sound like a lot of fun! Nice!

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  6. I've done a bit with the history thing, but not much. I should probably work on it more because it'll help me sort out some things with the government, probably. Thanks for the tips.

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  7. Thank you so much for these posts on storyworld building, Jill! I'm currently worldbuilding and planning in preparation for NaNoWriMo and these are helping tremendously.

    Some history of my world has a big impact on the story, so I'm currently trying to figure that out. These are some great tips!

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    1. You're welcome, Kate! Good luck with NaNo!

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  8. I'm just curious, is CreateSpace a good publishing company? It says everything is free....

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    1. CreateSpace is a self publishing company. You would be the publisher if you printed your books through them. They do a fine job, but you are the one who needs to do all the hard work of having your book editing, typeset, having a cover designed, then upload the project to CreateSpace, then sell it afterwards. Amazon will list it for you, but people will only find it if they know to look for it. That's your job too.

      Everything is free on their end, until you want to upload changes. But the costs of all the things I mentioned about are yours to figure out before you go to CreateSpace to print, basically.

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    2. Wow, Alea! That's a lot of words. (P.S. I'm the same Jonathan from the critique group, in case you were wondering) Good luck with achieving your goal!

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  9. Great post Jill, thank you! Helping a lot on where to start on the history. As for not using it, I need to tell myself that a lot of times, as I seem to get attached to that writing. But so far I've resisted the urge

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  10. I have some history in my head. In my fantasy, the FMC falls into another world, so she has to be told the history of this world. Hmmm... probably should start writing that down, lol! That Middle-Earth timeline was AWESOME.

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