Worldbuilding: Create a Historical Background

currently playing on my laptop: Cruel World by Phantogram

Recently, Tehlor Kinney (@tehlorkay) tweeted about the importance of worldbuilding with careful consideration to the background on such cultural topics as food, clothing, and so forth. It was a great thread and you should definitely check it out.

Last week, I posted a pdf to help you shape your fantasy worldWorldbuilding Info Sheet I’d like to go deeper now. Wikipedia has a bad rep for being unreliable because anyone can jot anything into the entries, but it is a format we all know and so I’m going to use it. Take a look at this lil screenshot.

Screen Shot 2016-08-21 at 12.04.16 PM

(Stop fretting about how many things I have open, you control freaks.)

This is Algeria’s page. Some fifth graders I taught this week studied this country during an Olympics project. We had fascinating discussions on the majority versus individuals within a culture. Very fun stuff. So, Algeria. Do you see the ancient Roman ruins? The street and the arch? The theatre? I love imagining modern Algerians speaking Berber and walking these ruins from another culture entirely. This is complicated. This is layered. This is a real place and a real people with a real culture. Some of those modern Algerians would be speaking Arabic, others French. Do they know much about their ancestors, many of whom (if the entry is accurate) exported cereals or were some of the world’s most famous scholars? I’m not sure. I only know one person from Algeria.

But remember, you aren’t writing a history paper when you worldbuild for fantasy. You are crafting your own place with its unique history of conquerors and scholars and saints and ruins and languages. You don’t have to follow history. You do have to think about the timeline and the people though. Here are a few questions to ask yourself.

  1. Why would a people identify with one of the many groups that have inhabited their homeland and not with another?
  2. Why do they speak the language they do? Does it have to do with religion? Or politics? Or both?
  3. How are they with religion? Tolerant? Not so much? What happened in their history to make them this way?
  4. What foods, clothing, colors do they embrace or consider taboo and what happened to make this so?
  5. Are there ruins in the area? Are they from a people who have descendants in the country or did they die off or leave? Do the modern inhabitants use the ruins? Is there any tourism tied to these ruins?
  6. Has the way your fantasy people make money changed? Why and what does the place look like since the change?
  7. What about actual money—coins and the like? Do they show some of the area’s history like Lincoln on an American penny or what have you?

Everything about a culture has a backstory. The details don’t have to be in your story, but you as the author needs to know them so your world works like the real world in most ways. So it’s authentic and respectful to the cultures that inspire you. If you alter something in an existing culture, know why it’s different and address that, even if it doesn’t end up on the page.

I wish you luck and hope to see your world come to life in an authentic way someday soon!

This entry was posted in history, research, twisting history and why I love it, writing and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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