A massive fantasy world can have all the cool places imaginable, the most creative magic system to have ever come into existence, and a geography that leaves us stunned whenever we look at its map, but without a history to back this up, it has the potential to remain shallow. History is arguably the most important thing when it comes to world-building, because it adds the effects of the human “element” after generations have passed in your world.
A forest in the hillside can be unremarkable when left on its own, but the second you’re told that a decisive battle took place there, is the same second that the forest takes in a sprinkling of magic to it. Your mind begins to wander to a long
forgotten past and you place yourself in the boots of one of the soldiers. You can smell the metallic aroma of dried blood on the corpses of both your companions and enemies, you can see a horse trampling over undergrowth during a charge, and you can hear the clangor of steel swords being swung at one another.
Soon enough, you’re no longer in just a forest. You’re in a battlefield in a struggle to
protect your homeland.
History can sculpt a part of your secondary world until it has endless layers of depth to it. And most settings that include a detailed history have done a decent job of using it to its fullest advantage, so I’m not saying that authors are not using their history, because there are countless books in which they are. But I think that there’s an important aspect of history that they keep on forgetting.
History has been a purely human art since its very inception. Chroniclers of ages past have been the novelists that tell the grand epic story of all that has occurred in our big blue earth. They devote their lives to telling the solely human experiences that have happened all over the globe. Yet it is this same Human Element that lends History as a discipline to have a certain nuance to it. This is the simple fact that, like all stories, History changes depending on whom is telling it.
There is a quote along the lines of: History is written by the winners. And while I personally don’t agree entirely with this quote, it can help summarize what I’m trying to get across.
History is not an exact science. This means that it is very susceptible to modification,
interpretation, deception, and embellishment. And while this leads to a slew of headaches for historians and archeologists, it might just be the key to adding some much-needed personality and mystery to the settings of our stories.
Humans, being the pesky mongrels that we are, have a habit of conflating and adding on to the things we see occurring in our every day life. This is not something bad as it is natural and reflective of the type of people that we are. Yet in many cases, where groups of various people experience an event, this can lead to tension between individuals whose ideas keep butting heads with one another. And these conflicts can lead to effects that can alter the world’s landscape in permanent ways.
King Kalan could start a war with another kingdom because he believes that his family has an ancient birthright on the lands of the foreign monarch. In the eyes of that king’s dynasty, his claim to the other throne is justified and verifiable in every sense of the word. Everyone in his kingdom might acknowledge those documents that proclaim his as king, but the opposing monarch, King Cadwell, might have a different understanding of the events that took place.
King Cadwell was informed by his family historian that Kalan’s documents were forged by a rebellious vassal that defected to Kalan’s kingdom. In the eyes of Cadwell, those documents are utter rubbish and a poorly planned excuse to wage a war on his people. Due to this historical discrepancy, we’re awarded with two sides that have radically differing notions of what the document means. Kalan’s people believe him to be a hero that wishes to reclaim his traditional lands, while Cadwell’s people believe Kalan to be a power-hungry monarch that wishes to invade them. This mere difference of opinion with regard to a historical events ended up sparking one of the most destructive wars in the history of Phantasialand.
Sound familiar? Well this because there was an actual event in history very similar to this one. The Hundred Years War was started by one of English kings having an old claim to the french throne by being the nephew of a previous ruler. Obviously, the french nobility would not want to be ruled by a filthy Englishmen, so we got a war. It doesn’t matter whether or not the king’s ties to the previous monarch (or in the case of Phantasialand, the
documents) were enough to merit obtaining the throne. What matters is that this creates a difference of opinions. Which is enough to start a…wait for it…
Yes, the WHOLE conflict in your story can revolve around what might be a little fluke in history. But it doesn’t necessarily have to become the plot of the story either. Maybe you just want your background history to have a tinge more substance to it, and that works too!
The conquest of a certain region of your world might be related differently in the eyes of the conqueror than it would in the eyes of those being invaded. A politician’s time in office might be viewed as being one of the best administrations in the country, or one of the most deceitful and corrupt ones in all of history. The industrialization of an economy might be seen as an opportunity from the perspective of an ambitious business man or might be viewed as the death of one’s livelihood from the perspective of a farmer. It all literally depends on whom you ask.
If you plan on creating a fantasy world with a smattering of cultures and Peoples roaming the whole of the land, then this is something that you should consider adding to your world. Aside from creating different traditions for each culture, another way to make the peoples of your land diverse is to give them different ways of viewing well-known historical events. Not only can it lead to a richer world, but it might even be that extra bit of fuel that you need for that plot point that’s been brewing inside of your head since forever.
So I’d propose a challenge to those of you that are be creating a manuscript as we speak. Is there a history in your world? If so, I would encourage you to examine it and find ways, even subtle ones, to change the manners in which different people look at the same events and figures. If you’ve enjoyed this, feel free to spread your love with a touch of the like button and get back to your novel!
As always, this has been the QuestingAuthor. Keep writing, my friends.