The History Notebook

When I initiated my fantasy novel late in 1999 my imagination opened wide and ideas descended faster than flying monkeys scooping up Dorothy. Yes, I’m talking about writing fiction and world building. My first world building project that required writing (yes, there are other kinds) was the world’s history and over the years I’ve added to it until it’s at least 150 pages long.Photo on 2013-05-02 at 08.08

There’s a moderately detailed history spanning the Old Empire period, which covers over 3000 years. It includes the Emprensen Empire’s rise, height, and fall. Also included are the kingdoms and nations it eventually defeated, the groups that rose up to oppose it, magic discoveries during the period, and notable figures. After the Old Empire’s collapse the only sizable civilizations remaining were Hartise, which once was considered an Empire “backwater” province, and Forstava, the ora’ean homeland. All the other Empire provinces collapsed.

The next history I created was for Hartise. It spanned the roughly 1000 years following the Empire’s fall. It contains more detail and includes the former province’s struggles to survive. Hartise is located near the continent’s center, but natural barriers and a few other factors aided its survival. There are other small specialty histories, too.

It’s my belief that understanding the past helps with understanding the present. Too, knowing what came before helps me visualize what remains. Those ruins over there? Oh yeah, that was an Old Empire outpost. That abandoned structure? That was one of the colleges that taught magic to those possessing the gift. To me, it’s exciting and since Hartise constitutes less than 5% of the continent, Ontyre, there are many cultures and ruins awaiting exploration and discovery.

A fringe benefit is that the history aids idea generation (quite a twist given that it was idea generation that created it in the first place). It’s also a tremendous reference tool. For the reader, history equals mystery (catchy saying!) if it’s revealed with a careful hand that well understands that history. For the world builder who writes fantasy fiction it’s important to write that history, for with the writing comes the understanding.

As anyone else written a history, big or small? I’d love to hear about other experiences.

6 Replies to “The History Notebook”

  1. Sometimes I have to consciously force myself to STOP writing the history of my fictional world(s). I’ll approach something in the story and think, “I could inject a bit of background information here.” I open my notebook document, start typing out the history of a new culture… and hours later, the story has not progressed. It’s fun to get immersed in your own imagination!

    • Oh how I sympathize…such are the guilty pleasures that are easily justified. The history is crucial, but it can often operate as the perfect excuse for procrastination. On the other hand, it’s a productive counterpoint to writing the novel, for it’s a different creative beast. In the end, though, I’m sure your story is all the better for those hours spent slaving over one of those glues needed to hold the story together. Great comment and thanks for taking the time to leave one! I certainly feel less alone in my endeavors.

    • You’re welcome. If it helps you in any way I’m pleased. I was looking at the six notebooks I’ve filled with various information and I thought, “There’s a story here.” More to come.

  2. The history of my world is not nearly so extensive – but it is fun to add little flourishes of mythology and culture which can add to something great. Most of my world’s history is written in quick outlines and notes that evoke the rich story it could be.

    • The history, though the reader rarely sees it, adds great depth to the world created and I can sense that growing depth in yours when reading your comment. It grows over time and each addition you make will only enrich it and your book. If you look closely at mine you’ll see all the red ink and pages inserted. It grows that way…it’s messy and reveals in your pages as it often reveals in real life. Thank you so much for the comment.

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