Saturday, April 9, 2011

Worldbuilding A to Z: H is for History

Even Secondary Worlds need a history. If you want your readers to feel like the world is genuine, if you want to inspire, as Tolkien called it, Secodary Belief, then nothing is quite so effective as the impression that thousands of years of history precedes your story. Make your readers feel the weight of it, pressing on the present, even if you don't divulge the details.

Akhet, like Egypt, is an ancient land, though the story of my current WIP happens relatively early in their history. I would equate it with Egypt's Old Kingdom period. I plan on writing further stories that take place both before and after this one. Like Egypt, Akhet's stable climate and government make them ideal for preserving historical knowledge. Akhet will be a sort of repository of all the world's knowledge. They will remember things that other lands do not.

Once, long ago, it was uninhabited. But a group of people, fleeing from an evil presence, made the almost impossible journey across the desert between the eastern mountain ranges and the river they would later take as their home. The leader of that expedition became the first King of Akhet. His dynasty was long and successful, lasting until the time of my WIP. The events of my WIP and the chaos that they bring can be associated with Egypt's First Intermediate Period, when the government broke down for the first time. In reality, it wasn't that bad, but the literature of the time stylizes its horrors and provides plenty of fodder for the imagination. In my story it IS that bad, even worse. Civilization will pretty much break down and when it's all over, Akhet will need a new start. Thus Akhet's version of the Middle Kingdom will begin.

Other lands will have their history as well. Though only the land of origin will be more ancient and only Akhet will remember and have records of all the world's history. There is potential, in this world of mine, for stories in many times and places. Developing a rich history will help me to find them. At the center of it all will always be Akhet.


  1. Very true, however I also think its important to consider who pre-modern peoples viewed history. Having a degree of competing stories, legend, and outright falsehood thrown in there only increases the feeling of versimilitude I think. In a pre-modern setting a lot of history can be terra incognita labelled "here be dragons."

  2. Or rather "how" pre-modern peoples viewed history. ;)

  3. Oh, I think you're so right about this. Creating a sense of history makes a story so much richer. I'm not sure I'm very good at doing it in my own writing, but I love it when others pull it off. Tolkien was a master at it, but then again he spent, what, twelve years writing LOTR? I don't think I want to spend that long on my novel. :)

  4. Worldbuilding is something I'm really working on!

  5. I knew you'd grab 'History' today! (That's why I love your blog, btw.) Great graph/picture of a world building model. I save it to my computer for future study!


  6. Trey, I agree that as important as the history its self is how people in other times viewed their own history. That's what makes Egypt so interesting. They remained a stable culture for about 5000 years and its interesting to see how they looked at their own history. For instance, as I mentioned, the writings of the time make the first intermediate period sound much worse that it actually was. For this reason I love Jan Assmann's books about Egypt. They focus less on events and more on what the events meant to the Egyptians, how they viewed their world.

    L.G., Tolkien was THE master. I can only aspire toward what he accomplished.

    Alex, worldbuilding isn't work, it's play! ;)

    E.J., that graph is actually just a visual representation of the different periods of Egyptian history and some of the most well known Pharaohs. But the interesting pattern of stable periods divided by chaotic intermediate periods partly inspired me to base my fantasy world on Egypt. It's perfect fodder for the type of world shattering events you typically find in epic fantasy.

  7. Nice to meet you through the A-Z challenge! Hope to see you around!

    I also enjoy Tolkien a lot!

  8. Excellent worldbuilding post. History is one I haven't worked with yet but I'm at the beginning of my worldbuilding project. Thanks for the insight on the subject of history.

    Dawn's Writing Blog

  9. Great advice, Sarah, except for procrastinators like myself who can spend months on the history, legends, dialects and everything, and never actually start the book...(looks accusingly at overflowing filing cabinets). One day!

  10. I love your site and as I browsed your blog I decided to award you the Creative Blog Award.
    Go to and pick up your award.

  11. Great post! I just worked through a plot problem by digging deeper into the history of one of the place. It can be very valuable.

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

  12. Wow, great post on history! I always struggled to root my characters..until I learnt to play with history and settle on a place that meant something to them..

    Following you from A-Z challenge!

  13. history or backstory--these things add great depth to any plot. wonderful post! glad to have met you through the a-z


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