Last week I got stuck on my rewrite of King's Folly. I realized there was too much history that I didn't know. I found inconsistencies when I talked about when a certain character had been in the war, when his wife had died, and how old he was as a teenager.
I knew the problem. I needed a historical timeline for my book. So I made one. Today, I'm going to start by giving you this excerpt from Storyworld First on creating a timeline, then I'll add in at the bottom how I went about creating one in a hurry for King's Folly.
From Storyworld First:
CREATE A TIMELINE
When I started my first fantasy novel, I didn’t know how to go about creating a history. I wanted to make it simple, so I wrote a timeline of my land. Really, it’s a timeline of only one group of people, starting when they arrived in the land and ending at the time when my book began.
I started with the year zero, when the first king came to the land on a ship, and I went up to the year 585, when my main character would turn sixteen. I used Microsoft Word and typed a number and a hyphen for every ten years in a long, long line. Then I added to my timeline which kings ruled when, important births and deaths, wars, exploration and discoveries, when certain cities or landmarks were built—anything I thought might be worth remembering.
All this gave my land character. For example, I knew why the people from Cherem hated the people from Magos. They’d been battling for years. If a Cheremite and a Magosian were to meet in my book, it might get ugly.
And ugly is good because ugly means conflict.
WRITE IT OUT
I highly recommend writing out a history of your land. Go back as far as you want. For inspiration, Google the history of our world. Look at the different eras and see how we’ve advanced over the years.
I wrote a historical narrative for the land of Er’Rets from my Blood of Kings trilogy and little blurbs on each city. I did this for my own knowledge so that I could better understand the world my characters lived in. You can read A History of Er’Rets in the Extras section of this book. Keep in mind, I wrote it for me, so it’s not perfect. And if you click on the link under the map after the history, it will take you to an online version of the map where you can click on different cities and read about them. This was all pre-writing I did while building my storyworld. None of this went in my book as is. It was for me to know so that I could better understand the world my characters lived in. I hope this serves as an illustration of what you could do and inspires some ideas for your own worldbuilding.
Don’t spend forever on this! A little goes a long way, and you can always stop writing and create more history if needed. Remember, you’re writing a novel, not a history textbook. Only take this as far as you need to. Then stop and get back to writing.
When you have different cultures, you have different ways of looking at things. How do other cultures remember the historical events differently? There’s often more than one reason for a war. See if you can find ways to put conflict into your world’s history.
DON’T USE IT?
That’s right. Fight the urge to cut and paste whatever cool histories you may have written. 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 my Blood of Kings books:
•Achan learns early on that he’s of Kinsman descent.
•Achan and Vrell meet giants, Poroo people, and wolves, all of which 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, both of which are on my timeline.
•Throughout the book the reader is given different bits and pieces of the story of how the prince came to live with Lord Nathak.
•Characters talk about the Great War, which happened a long time ago.
I didn’t use a lot of the history in the actual books, but without having written it, I wouldn’t have had a foundation from which to create.
End of excerpt.
End of excerpt.
Now, since I was crunched for time on King's Folly, here's what I did.
•I wrote down key dates mentioned in my story.
•I created a timeline starting with the oldest year mentioned in the book and ending with the current year of my story.
•I went in and added deaths of kings, coronations, marriages, and birthdates of royalty and other important characters.
•I shifted around the birthdays and such to make sure that the ages worked out right and that people I said "grew up together" were actually children at the same time.
•I looked up a timeline of England's kings to give me inspiration as to length of rule, deaths, and successions, etc.
•I also looked up a timeline for the War of the Roses, which gave me some ideas as to what people might be fighting about.
•I filled in dates for my recent war, an important treaty, and some prophecies. All the dates mentioned in my book.
And that was it. That was all I really needed. I didn't write out a long history of the world. This is sort of a cheat sheet to refer to as I edit, to help me get my dates right and my facts straight. It's truly an invaluable tool that will save me a lot of stress and mistakes.
Have you ever written a timeline for a book? Do you find them helpful? Any tips or questions?