1. Lea`Brooks
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    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

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    Is world history necessary?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Lea`Brooks, Jun 4, 2015.

    I have an urban fantasy novel set in an undisclosed time in the future. A lot of the cities are going to be rundown or destroyed. The weather is going to be weird, and the sea levels are going to be higher.

    Is it necessary to explain how this happened?

    It isn't central to my plot. There isn't a big war going on or a fight for life or death because of the weather. It's just there. But should I include it anyway for the sake of a backstory?

    Any advice appreciated.
     
  2. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    It doesn't sound necessary. I might throw in some hints as to what might've happened in dialogue or something, mostly to acknowledge that stuff used to be different and to imply that it is in the future of our world rather than like ... an alternate history where the Cold War went off in in a big way or something (I mean, unless that is your backstory, whoops).

    But from the details just in this post I'd assume climate change and past war. If that's correct then I'd say you're fine. Backstory can but fun, but if you wanna keep everything grounded in the present, it can get in the way too.
     
  3. Okon
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    Okon Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think so. Those details sometimes end up sounding like excuses anyway, that can be random enough to interfere with the story's theme.

    For example, if the reader knows resource based wars tormented the planet for decades, then she might try to draw unintended connections between that and what happens in the story. I.E. some characters sharing/fighting over a jug of fuel.
     
  4. Stacy C
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    Stacy C Banned

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    It could be better if you didn't mention any backstory. Might add a little mystery to the story.
     
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  5. Lea`Brooks
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    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

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    Whew. Thanks. :)

    Yes, it's just basically war and global warming. But the past isn't important to the story. I was just worried readers would be upset if I didn't include a backstory. But I was more worried that, because my backstory is so common now (war devastating a country), it would just be seen as the same ol', same ol'.

    I think I'll plan on mentioning what the world used to be like (and places that used to exist) but I won't go into detail. No point in expanding on it if it isn't relevant, right? :)

    Thanks all!
     
  6. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wouldn't bother. Like you said, this setting is so common nowadays that you can just take everything for granted- that includes back story and telling us what the world used to be like, especially because the readers are living in that world right now and already know. Rather than going backwards, I would start with your post apocalyptic setting as the basis for your world building, and build forward (that means, what is happening in the future) and completely the ignore the past. That way you can focus entirely on distinguishing your setting and story from others, rather than trying to connect it to all those other plots by showing us how we got from our real modern day world to ours. By now, there's a million accepted ways as to how a post apocalyptic world could come about, so take advantage of that and don't rebuild or even show the wheel, just assume its there.
     
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  7. ManOrAstroMan
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    ManOrAstroMan Magical Space Detective Contributor

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    You wouldn't need an infodump, but I would at least mention why the world is different. Like :
    I wondered what the shoreline looked like before the melting ice caps raised the sea.
    Or :
    I wish I could have seen the Manhattan skyline in my grandad's day, before so much of it was demolished in the war.
     
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  8. Lea`Brooks
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    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thanks guys! Those are both great suggestions. No info dump for me!

    My MC is going to drive through Florida so I planned on having her see a broken mouse shaped sign or power line or something. Just a little hint at Disneyworld. :p

    But yeah. There's not much other than that. I may add some other small things just for nostalgia's sake though.

    Glad to know I was on the right track! :)
     
  9. TJtheWildChild
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    TJtheWildChild New Member

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    I agree with everyone else that it isn't necessary and perhaps would even be a bit MORE interesting without. (I'm picturing the scene you mentioned above with the Disneyworld hint and I like it!) The only thing is make sure you know well enough what happened in the past so that everything is consistent. You don't want one thing you say about the setting to contradict with some detail you mention later that then leaves your readers more stuck on those little details than the story.
     
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  10. EmptySoul
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    EmptySoul Active Member

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    As a reader who enjoys SF and post apocalyptic fiction, I beg you not to explain why ... I tend to skip such "history lessons" and I suspect, I'm not the only one.

    ~ES
     
  11. Lea`Brooks
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    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

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    Y'all are making me feel so much better. lol I'm glad I decided to ask this, otherwise I would've included it in the story just to have to throw it out later.

    Every time I think about adding the backstory, I hear the introduction to the Divergent movie...

    "They say the war was terrible..."

    ...and it makes me cringe.
     
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  12. J_Downloading
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    J_Downloading Member

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    You shouldn't include it for the sake of backstory but because it fleshes out the world. That's not to say you need some huge exposition telling the reader what happened. It's always useful for a writer to know as much about the world they're writing in as they can. It makes it seem much more real. For example, one of the character may make a passing remark abot how they remember cowering in the tornado shelters with their mother. It's interesting, lets the reader know why the world became like this in vague terms and most importantly how it effected the characters. It's hard for vaguely defined events to influence characters in a meaningful way.
     
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  13. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd say no. If you were depicting a disaster that no one has ever thought of, like an invasion of rabid tribbles, you might need a little bit--or you still might not. But climate change and high sea levels, and chaos associated with them, explain themselves. Even if the obvious explanation isn't the actual explanation.
     
  14. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with the other posters that you don't need to explain how the world got from now to then.

    BUT what nobody else seems to have touched on is that I think that YOU need to know.

    The reader doesn't, but it would help inform how you move the story forward.
     
  15. Lea`Brooks
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    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

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    Right, right. :)

    I know what happened. It was basically a civil war, which is why most of the country is tore up. I had even put a little snippet of the backstory in what I've written so far. But it seemed odd to include, which is why I came to y'all.

    My only problem is, I don't know how long it would take the country to rebuild itself, so I'm a little stuck on the timeline still. But I'll figure it out. :p
     
  16. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    no
     
  17. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Two factors:

    How bad is the damage?
    Sub-question: Were they first-world, like America, or third-world, like Indonesia? That will affect how bad the damage can be...was major infrastructure, such as a national power grid, or rail network, damaged, or was such infrastructure minimal?

    How much outside help will they get?
    Sub-question: Were they first-world, like America, or third-world, like Indonesia? That will affect how much the rest of the world can afford to help. e.g., if it were America that got hit that's 300 million wealthy (in world income terms) pockets that won't be able to contribute.
     
  18. Lea`Brooks
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    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

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    America. Damage was bad.

    A lot of major cities were hit, and while they weren't levelled, many of the buildings need to be torn down (because they aren't structurally sound) and rebuilt. Most people just moved to surrounding small towns and let the larger cities rot.
     
  19. Mocheo Timo
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    Mocheo Timo Active Member

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    I say you should add a backstory, but keeping it as relevant as possible. Also, as some people already mentioned, no infodump.

    If you do have the whole story formulated in your head, then I say explore it bit by bit through your MC.

    I also suggest not to avoid touching on it. As cliche as it may sound, it can seem great depending on how you introduce it to the reader. The reason why you think the snippet of the backstory sounds "odd" to you, might be because you haven't found the best way to introduce it to the reader yet.
     
  20. RachHP
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    RachHP Contributing Member

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    The book 'the Exodus' (J Bertagna) has a similar kind of world but only mentions the fact waters are rising, never why. If it's pertinent to the story, let rip, if not don't worry - we'll be too concerned reading to stop and ask questions :)
     
  21. terobi
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    terobi Contributing Member

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    Blimey, you mean the film has just as awful, clichéd an opening as the book - and yet they managed to have a completely different opening and grab new clichés from the new format? Blimey...

    To answer your question, no, you don't need to explain how it happened (hell, if your character doesn't know, there's very few ways you CAN explain how it happened) - but it's important that you, the writer, know how it happened. If there was a war, who were the combatants? What weapons did they use? Who was most badly affected and by what? (For example: if the UK and Russia went to war using nuclear weapons and brought on some severe global effects, a story set in South Africa shouldn't show any bomb or fallout damage, even if the resultant environmental effects were devastating. If aliens invaded, did we shoot down any of their craft? Are there fragments of alien technologies scattered around waiting to be scavenged?).

    Even if nobody in your world knows what happened, you need to, to preserve the internal logic and consistency of your world. One of the biggest failings of Divergent (the book, since I've not seen the film) was that that society never made a drop of sense. Nobody in their right mind would have thought that was a good way to operate a society (even the "original" version of the society that gets explained to us later), and there's not a single logical reason why things should operate that way, nor a consistent ideology underpinning it.
     
  22. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi is a good example where the "changed world" is central to the story, and still the author doesn't indulge in infodumping how the world came to be as it is today at the reader.

    In that story, three main environmental things are in play as stressors on the actors in the story. Climate change, drastically reduced flora diversity, synthetic humans (and other creatures). The actors deal with the now of the story, just as you would if it were happening to you. No one in the story (and definitely not the 3rd person narrator) indulges in a little history lesson for the reader. Things are clearly different, the fallout is everywhere around them, they deal. The author assumes the reader savvy enough to know what climate change net-end-effect looks like when it's described. No need to talk about 19th and 20th century carbon emissions. The author assumes the reader savvy enough to put together - from bits and pieces of current events within the story - that something happened in the recent past, probably purposeful and clearly man-made, that took a giant bite out of consumable (edible) flora. The synthetic creatures and people are described in ways that make you know these are artificially created things. There is no in the 20th century we started playing god with genetically modified organisms terrible infodumpy dialogue or narrative, because the actors in the story would never indulge in such pretentious musings.
     
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  23. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would say include stuff that's integral to the plot, and don't include stuff that isn't. If you do think that your book needs the information to work properly, wink and nod at it rather than taking too much time.
     
  24. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think not. AND if people weren't there before the change took place they wouldn't even know there's been a change and that things haven't always been the way it is now. Maybe scientists (or the equivalent) would know, depending on how much knowledge they're supposed to have about the earths past conditions, but most people probably not. I think putting it into dialogue would probably just sound too On the nose-y.
     
  25. kiedisticelixer
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    kiedisticelixer New Member

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    I will break the general opinion and say it would be great to have it explained. Don't need to spend pages on it, but maybe the characters can talk about it, or there can be environment elements that let you know a bit of it (videogame Fallout might be a good idea of what I'm trying to say with "environment"). Maybe the characters discuss about it, like the characters in The Walking Dead do, for instance.

    Post n1 by the way! Hello World!
     

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