History is a foundation for the present. Without history, we wouldn’t be close to where we are today, and the same is true of your fictional world; all of the events in your world’s history have led up to where it is now, which is why it’s important to know that history and know how everything came to be the way it is. Let’s dive into a few things to think about when considering fantasy history.
Remember the Real Truth, and the Perfected Truth
As Kate mentioned in her guest post last week, we often remember ourselves—as individuals, as a culture, and even as a world—better than we really were/are. We sugar-coat the truth and conveniently blot out the ugly parts of our history because we don’t want to face them. As an author, you have to know the good, the bad, and the ugly of your world. Don’t stop when you reach the cool parts of your fantasy history, but dig deeper and find out if that’s what really happened or if the people in your world have sugar-coated that part of their history.
Who Are the Heroes in Your Fantasy History?
What historical figures are lauded for their exploits, looked up to, and emulated? What did they do to earn heroic status? Have they really earned the title of ‘hero,’ or are they remembered better than they were? (Take Kate’s list as an example.) Are they viewed as heroes everywhere, or are they seen as heroes to one culture and villains to another? Are there even disagreements on their status within a single culture?
Who Are the Villains?
What historical figures are viewed as evil, corrupt, or just incompetent? What did they do to earn such descriptors? Are they fully deserved? Are these figures universally viewed as evil (similar to Hitler), or are they viewed as villains to some and heroes to others? If they were viewed as evil when they lived, did that description stand after they died or was it realized that they were better than others had believed? What about vice versa?
Where Did Disputes Begin?
If you have two countries at war (or who just really don’t like each other), what started their issues? Is it simply a difference in values? Where did those values originate, and how long have these nations valued these things? Is it a squabble over land? Is this a longstanding argument, or one that’s just come up?
What Events in Your Fantasy History Determined Borders?
Why are the borders between nations where they are? What trade was involved? How much do natural borders make a difference? Have armed conflicts shifted borders or broken up nations?
I’m going to use an event from my fictional region, Kersir, as an example. A long time ago (I don’t have a timeline yet), a nation from across the eastern sea invaded Kersir and the two nations that were there split into six. Alger split into an unnamed country, Alger, and Osanar; Eilis split into Veldan, Eilis, and Rasell. I don’t know yet why all of them broke off, but Veldan was formed in the chaos of the invasion, when Eilis’s slaves (most of whom were imported from outside the valley of Kersir) decided to claim a small portion of Eilis for themselves. Eilis, occupied with the invaders, didn’t have the manpower to deal with both issues, so they defended themselves and lost hold of many of their Veldani slaves.
During this same invasion Alger, which had valued entertainment and skilled craftsmanship, shifted its focus to military might and physical strength, aspiring for the same power as their invaders.
Following the invasion, a small handful of easterners took up residence in Kersir, but Eilis drove off the bulk of the force and most of the invaders returned to their homeland. (A homeland which clearly needs to be developed further.)
What’s one key event (or just one you think is cool) in your fantasy history? How did it impact things in the “present day”? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!