Questions 3: Filling in the Lost History of The World

Poneglyph from One Piece

In the manga/anime of ‘One Piece’, there’s a character named Nico Robin.  Her goal is to find these large blocks of stone called Poneglyphs.  They tell a variety of things, but there’s one that is supposed to hold a span of lost history.  It covers what’s called the Void Century or Blank Period, which nobody knows anything about.  This is a really cool subplot, which doesn’t get nearly enough attention.  It also got me thinking.

Robin’s quest is much like world-building.  You have your starting point, but a lot of gaps to fill in as you go along.  Every story adds to the world.  Not only in locations, but the past of those areas and the surrounding lands.  You learn about ancient wars, great heroes, old villains, and other colorful additions that make your world feel alive.  Thankfully, it’s much easier to find your world’s Poneglyphs when you’re the one creating them as they’re needed.  Personally, I think this is one of the most entertaining parts about world building, especially in fantasy.

Huh . . . This post was supposed to be longer, but that point was pretty clear.  Guess I’ll switch a few things around and make this a Questions 3 post.

  1. How much of your world’s history do you design before writing?
  2. Do you think minor details (local tales for color) are important or should be left out?
  3. What is one piece of advice you’d give your younger self or a new author in regards to writing a history for their world?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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13 Responses to Questions 3: Filling in the Lost History of The World

  1. L. Marie says:

    1. Only a small slice of it, depending on the characters involved. If a character is 300 years old, I need to go back at least have some details planned that span 400 years. But there are some aspects I don’t know at the start. I also add to the map as I go, which inspires me to add to the lore. If I start with characters in a village, I usually map the houses and think about what happened in the village the last 50 years. But I don’t add too many details, because I have a tendency to get lost in the details.
    2. It depends on the plot. Local tales add depth. But if they don’t advance the plot, I leave them out. (Just my opinion.)
    3. What is one piece of advice you’d give your younger self or a new author in regards to writing a history for their world? Take time to give some thought to the history of the world. Don’t just think about how a place looks or (if you are a fantasy author) what cool magical things your characters can do. What wars shaped the land they occupy?

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    • 1. I’ve always been bad at maps. I can see how those would help out. A more visual trigger for world building.

      2. It’s a tough one. We’re told to avoid anything that doesn’t advance the plot. Yet this could also make the overall world feel thin if you aren’t careful. Think another factor would be if the world will be used again.

      3. Good point on the wars. Always seems to be a handful of those.

      Liked by 1 person

      • L. Marie says:

        I know what you mean about a thin world. What I meant was though I might know of some local lore and have it listed in my overall story bible, I don’t tend to add it to the story if the lore has nothing to do with the story. That doesn’t mean that the local lore will never be added. It might be added in another book.

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      • Got it. It is difficult to leave those things out when they sound so good. Maybe they can turn into a smaller story.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t know that I have three answers, but I usually don’t know a lot about my environments when I start out. They kind of grow as the story does. I like local color, and think it belongs, particularly in longer fantasy works.

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  3. Victoria Zigler says:

    1. None of it. I make notes of things as I figure them out during my writing, but when I first sit down to write I have little to no idea what the world will be like unless it’s our world, and anything I have figured out is just random thoughts in my head when I start writing.

    2. It depends both on the story and on the tales in question. If they add something to the story – no matter how small – they should be included. Otherwise they don’tneed to be added. Though you could always write a companion book to tell those tales at a later date, since some readers would enjoy reading them, but including them in the main story when they add nothing to it could potentially pull your reader out of the story.

    3. Just because it happened in your world, and matters for how things are in your world today, and – in some cases – how certain people might behave, act towards people from certain other parts of your world, etc, doesn’t mean you have to add it to the story. See answer to question two.

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    • 1. That’s a skill I’ve never mastered. I need a plan of some kind to keep myself in check.

      2. I’ve seen companion books. Sometimes they come off strained to me. Like the author had an anecdote or piece of lore, but tried to flush it out to something too big. This is why I wonder about tiny bits of lore flavoring. It doesn’t push the plot, but it enhances the world.

      3. Interesting advice.

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      • Victoria Zigler says:

        1. Different methods work for different people.

        2. Little bits and pieces that would enhance the world would, in my opinion, count as contributing to the story. And, in some cases, even including the whole legend would be a good thing for the story in question. The trick is knowing whether the addition of the legend – or part of it – would actually benifit or enhance the story, or is only being done so the author can share the whole story with the reader. If the former, go ahead and add it. If the latter, that’s when you want to do a companion book.

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  4. Chel Owens says:

    1. I don’t write a much as you, so am not certain how useful or accurate my approach is. I think I’d love to write out a history of my world, but also know (in answer to #3) wannabe authors who get too caught up in world-building and history.

    2. I love little stories. I also skip them if they’re too long and if the author says someone is singing them… The problem is that I read some books aloud to my children and feel self-conscious making up a tune. 🙂

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    • You’re right. I’d say most new fantasy authors get caught up in the history. Many never make it out of that area, so I’d say it’s a siren song of the genre.

      I never know how to do stories that are being sung. I note it, but I’m tone deaf so no actual song writing.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Chel Owens says:

        Most of it’s garbage, like much of the poetry authors will do as well. I always wonder if the writer had a literal tune in his head or just wrote it out like a poem.

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      • I think it used to be done like poems. All I can think of is Tolkien and I remember those not being bad. They flowed like poetry even though you knew they were singing. Guess people keep trying to copy him.

        Liked by 1 person

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