Dark Fantasy World Building: History

According to Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, when mapping out the history of your Fantasy world you should think about:
  1. "How far back are there records or tales of historical events? How widely known are these stories?
  2. Do average people believe old tales, or do they dismiss some that have a basis in fact (e.g., Troy)?
  3. How long have there been people on this world? Did they evolve, were they created by the gods, or did they migrate from somewhere else? If there are non-humans, how long have they been around and where did they come from?
  4. How similar is the history and culture of an alternate earth to real history and culture? Why is it similar/different?
  5. Where did civilization begin? What directions did it spread? How was its development affected by the presence of magic? The presence of non-human races, if any? The actions or direct interventions of the gods?
  6. Which peoples/countries/races have traditionally fought, allied, traded, or been rivals? Where are there still hard feelings about old events?
  7. Which peoples/countries/races have been in conflict in the recentpast? Why? When and why was the most recent war? Who won?
  8. Which peoples/etc. are considered the most civilized? Which are most technologically advanced? Which are most magically advanced? Least advanced? Why?
  9. Is there a single, generally accepted calendar (including time measurements), or do different countries or peoples or races have different ones?
  10. How many languages are there? Which ones are related (e.g., the Romance languages) and why? Which languages borrow words or phrases from other languages? Which is likely to be most widely spoken?
  11. Is there a “trade language” that facilitates commerce between countries that don’t speak the same tongue? Is there a “universal language” spoken by educated or noble persons, as Latin was in the Middle Ages?"
You gotta know where the world and your characters came from. So simple but I didn't start thinking intensely about this until I got stuck in my second novel. So, in a small journal, I'm writing out the basic backstory of all my characters.  

I'm not halfway through and I'm tired but doing this is useful in seeing your characters' personalities and how and why they relate to each other. For one character, writing out his backstory meant completely changing how I thought of his personality. I'm not doing extensive history, like year by year mapping out, what schools they attended, what their neighborhood was like growing up- not unless it's super important to how the characters are in the story. 

Then, there's the history of the race as a whole. I know basically where they came from. Now, I need to flesh it out more because several difference types of creatures developed from just a couple. So, I'm mapping out how that happened in order to visualize what makes them different. Some species stemmed from an experiment. The history of those would include why the person or people experimented on them, what their purpose was intended to be and how they felt about that purpose. Maybe, who they were before they were experimented on, if that's relevant. 

Another aspect I need to write out is how the different species know about their history- they don't write books that travel and they don't pass the stories orally to the next generation. Most of them don't know where they came from-it's not something the original creatures talk about often. Also, how did different societies interact. If they kept to themselves and why but that's more society and culture then history. Well...it straddles the line. 

Since this novel centers on a secret world slowly taking over the world as we know it, I'm figuring out how they kept themselves a secret until now and how they survived off the grid. I didn't need to do this as extensively for my first novel because it was set in pretty much one location. For this one, I'm including many more villages which means, I need to name them all. As if creating character names wasn't hard enough. I can't just throw any word out there and stamp it on a place. It has to fit the story and the genre. 

To do all I've mentioned, I have a World Building Journal, a character journal and pin board on my wall dividing different aspects of my world into categories like occupation, how the race related to humans when they needed to, the first society. I've also included pictures to give me an idea of what their power looks when expelled, the types of buildings in each village, and how each village is arranged. 


Kelly Hashway said…
These are great things to consider. I haven't (as of yet) created a world from scratch. I tend to write urban fantasy so it's more like a world within ours, but this is great info. I'm definitely going to hang on to it.
Ashley Chappell said…
A world building journal is a great idea! It seems like that would be a tool to help you develop amazing and rich histories/cultures. Cool post!