If you want a rich and big fantasy world you have to think of everything. One key thing you should be building is the history of your world. However, when you start to build history in your fantasy world, you’ll quickly realise how tricky it is. Where do you even start?
Unless you plan on starting your story right at the beginning of time, you will need to establish your history and key events that have led to the way the world is in the present.
What Can Game of Thrones Teach Us?
I will refer to the A Song of Ice and Fire aka Game of Thrones as an example throughout this post because the world is so vast and rich. Whether you like the series or not, the work that has gone into it is pretty incredible and it can teach us a lot.
The history that George RR Martin created is so ripe with detail. It goes back hundreds of years. He plots out several major events throughout his timeline, all of which are important for the current climate in the world.
Westeros becomes inhabited, invaded several times, species and monsters are wiped out. Kingdoms rise and fall. Great houses are formed, then destroyed. All of this happens way before the books begin but it’s all important.
This is why Martin’s world is so great and also why he takes so bloody long to finish the books. He has a thousand and one things going on at once. I don’t know how he keeps track and doesn’t go insane.
If you want a world that has as much detail as this, then you can’t skimp on the details here. You need to put a lot of effort and time in crafting a world from the ground up.
With my world, I created a big global timeline, highlighting major world events. I also created a few different timelines for each country. What is a huge event in one country might not be in another, so it’s important to know what happens in each part of the world as well as what happened in the world as a whole.
My timeline is absolutely nothing in comparison to Martin’s but I quickly drove myself mad and worked through it as best as I could.
When you start plotting out your history, you’ll probably find yourself inventing characters along the way, key historical figures. I personally wanted to stay away from creating characters while I was still building so I could use the world to shape them rather than the other way round. But I noted everything down and thought I’ll worry about it later. Writing is messy and sometimes you just have to run with it.
As I change my mind often, things I decided in the beginning have now completely changed. This is annoying but probably pretty common. Any changes you make to your world’s history should be carefully considered though because they could affect a whole lot of other things in your world.
How to build history in your fantasy world
Think about creating timelines for your world, no matter how big or small it is. Write out summaries of what happened where, when and how so that you can refer back to it later for reference when you come to write the story.
Remember that history affects everything
Remember that history is not its own entity. Like everything in world building and worlds in general, history affects everything. Everything you’ve ever known from the tea you drink to the policies in government has a history. It’s usually a bloody one too if you back far enough.
Historical events will determine the structure of your government, trade relations, wars and weaponry, law…etc. It’ll affect the clothes your characters wear, their eating habits and everything in between.
History and religion
History bleeds into and shapes religion. Some people will have different ideas on how the world began, what gods did what and whether the gods even exist.
If you’re building a religion or several in your fantasy world, then history will be an important thing to consider when creating it. It will also be important if you want to build religious conflict into your novel.
Not everyone agrees on what happened
In our world, there are many opinions on history. What one person calls fact another will say is fiction. Wars are waged because one country thinks something happened in a different way than the other.
People will always disagree, that seems to be the one consistent thing in any world. So it’s only natural that you use this human trait to plump up your world with conflict. As horrible as the conflict in this world is, it’s important for fiction. Conflict is at the heart of storytelling after all.
Don’t info-dump your readers
One final thought to consider is how you tell history to your readers. You can come up with the most amazing and detailed history of the world but if you throw it all on your reader at once, they won’t appreciate it.
I’ve written about info-dumping before because it’s quite common in fantasy. Lots of people make the mistake of trying to tell the reader as much as possible in the beginning and that’s often where a lot of history gets thrown in. However, it’ll be much more effective if you use this information sparingly and throughout your novel. No one wants to read a history textbook in the first chapter.
I hope this has given some food for thought and ideas on how to build history in your fantasy world.
Onto you, how have you used history to shape your world? How far back/how detailed do you think you have to be on past events? Share your thoughts in the comments!