1. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    World History

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Melzaar the Almighty, Sep 25, 2010.

    When, if ever, do you think is a good time to give the run-down on the history of a fictional place? I've noticed that in novels which are A: closer to the real world and B: about smaller places tend to reveal pretty much all you need to know except for the plot twists pretty quickly.

    I don't read that much fantasy set in other worlds, though. I'm running off only a few different examples, and one of them is Lord of the Rings, which is probably not the best constructed of things. :p (I think it's an amazing book but should be learned from with extreme caution since only Lord of the Rings can get away with doing most of the stuff in it)

    In some, which felt a bit poorly constructed, they did the same thing of giving at least a basic geography lesson pretty soon off the bat, same for a basic "who is who?" for the recent history of the place. In some examples, usually with no prompting whatsoever, as like a prologue or just as the start to a chapter or something, so the lesson was just presented instead of woven in.

    Others I read, even if history is important, hold off for a long time, and just give hints that it happened, holding it off for ages before a history lesson is required. Some people probably hate not knowing some of these details right away, especially in a new world, so though I think this is probably better, some people might not like running off a name, 2 locations, and a ton of nudging and hinting for 20 pages. :p

    Obviously in fantasy set in the real world, history is taken as a given, and usually it takes a long time for personal history to work its way in, though hints about where things are different are presented usually pretty soon in, just to prove there's an alternate timeline, even if it's secret. Hrm. A lot easier, really.

    Anyway. When would you give the in-depth history of a place in your writing?

    Just asking 'cause after lots of hinting and world-building for the present, I cracked and I'm throwing in a history lesson about 60,000 words into my fantasy novel, when previously about 1 historical name with a mysterious story and 1 solid date/fact was known.
     
  2. stubeard
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    stubeard Active Member

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    Call me old-fashioned, but I, personally, like any history (relevant to the plot, of course) to be taught to a young, naive character by a wise old sage.
     
  3. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    there's no 'best' or 'right' time/place/method... only what's best/right for your story...

    imo, the only 'worst' is to do it in a blatant info dump...
     
  4. Blips
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    Blips Member

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    I like to give hints of past events casually though dialog and other forms of media within the story.

    An example could be having a news anchor relate a current story to a past event but in a casual and brief manner.
     
  5. Lothgar
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    Lothgar Contributing Member

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    Personally, I'd prefer to have the relative portions of the history revealed in the story build up, rather than having to go back and explain it after the fact.

    I can't remember where I read it, but I vaguely remember reading somewhere that the lord of the rings was Tolkien's attempt to write a fictional mythology for Britain (something to do with the Roman invasion of Britain wiping out any sense of history or mythology existing prior to the Roman occupation).
     
  6. Annûniel
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    Annûniel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with mama. Historical events that are relevant to the story should be woven into the narrative without it sounding like a boring history lesson. Info dumps should be avoided. Consider, it you're writing a story that takes place in our own world, you wouldn't sit down and give a history lesson about world war II unless it was important. So why would you mention irrelevant historical facts about a fantasy world?


    I do not remember where I read it either, but I have heard this fact as well.
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Every story has a history that lies outside the story. Bring in only those elements of the history that are relevant to the story you are telling, at a natural point in the story that neither delays nor disrupts the flow.

    Write story, not backstory.
     
  8. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I created The Abbot he is my worlds version of an encyclopedia, I made him verbose and wordy. He is where my characters go when they need to know something.

    I also have my MC be read bedtime stories. There is not a lot of world history in my story but there were two pieces I needed. My MC snuggles down in bed when ill - it gives him chance to reflect on his father and happier times.
     
  9. Vaalthurion
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    Vaalthurion Member

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    I think it depends a lot on how relevant the history is to the overarching plot. If the story can be told without a history behind it, I think the history lessons should be kept to a minimal amount - used only to spice up the read.

    But then again, maybe you can create a setting and characters so compelling that your reader would actually want to know the history, even if it's not directly applicable to the storyline, itself.

    There's an old dead-guy quote somewhere that says, "An engineer knows when he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." I think the same logic applies to writing as well.
     
  10. Auskar
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    Auskar Member

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    I think I would like to know whatever history is necessary for me to understand the plot and characters, but not a lot more.
     
  11. Beckahrah
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    Beckahrah Member

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    I've found that backstory is useful in the way that descriptions are useful; when you want to spread out some time between action scenes or stretch out a moment into a more accurate 'feeling' time frame. If it's not relevant to the story, however, you might consider just putting it in as a prologue. Backstory can get tedious if done incorrectly.
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Do NOT write a backstory prologue! Infodumps are deadly.
     
  13. Daisy215
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    Daisy215 Member

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    I think it can be done a lot of ways successfully, maybe its better one way in some stories and in another way in some stories.
    I will reference to a fantasy book I particularly liked. In this book as the story goes on and the character reaches certain destinations she gives a brief background history. Then in dialogue the characters talk about the upcoming locations so you become familiar with the names of people and places there. Then by the climax begins all the history has fallen into place and you are absorbed in the story.
     
  14. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    See, that's kinda what I was wondering in the original post - often if some more background information is needed I have seen it introduced sometimes almost in the same way people would write an info dump prologue, just later in the story. I was wondering how much trust you feel needs to be built with the reader so that they'll keep on reading even when they encounter a history lesson.
     
  15. Daisy215
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    Daisy215 Member

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    It depends on the length of the dump. I can take a page at the most before I need the story to keep going.
     
  16. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, you will see infodump prologues, but that does not mean they are a good idea. Don't do it. Really.

    Write story, and get straight into it. Don't write backstory at all. If elements of the backstory are relevant, inject them into the story as revelations, answers to questions the reader has been looking for over quite some time. Make the discovery of backstory data an event in the story.
     
  17. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    To be honest after feedback on my story I have taken over 7,000 words of legends out. I am creating a collection of short stories which i am putting on a website - people like myself who enjoy good backstory still get to read it and be more enriched when we read the main story. Those that can't be bothered with it still get to enjoy the story.

    Personally I am glad I wrote so much backstory in my early drafts it allowed for story ideas to be developed etc
     
  18. Beckahrah
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    Beckahrah Member

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    I didn't mean a long, drawn out prologue...I was thinking more like 1 page, a kind of "In the beginning" style kind of thing. Short, interesting, possibly told in a different style than the rest of the book. I've seen lots of those before, and I don't think they kill the story or make the reader lose interest, as long as it's not a whole long chapter in and of itself (Paolini style...no thank you).
     
  19. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I hate prologues for this very reason - they're so often just info-dumps. If I pick up a book in the store and there's a prologue, that's one strike against it. I skip it and look at Chapter 1, and if the first paragraph or two doesn't interest me, back it goes.
     
  20. Lee Shelly
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    Lee Shelly Member

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    I'm very much in agreement with whoever said, 'start as close to the end as possible'. Prologues are just extra information, and they usually mean that we're not getting to the point fast enough. In the creation of my novel I wrote dozens of pages of notes: wars, invasions, world catastrophes, and other things, but I barely mention them in my manuscript. It's enough that I know they happened, and if a character happens to bring them up (only for a very good reason, of course, or to progress the story) it adds depth to the story and to my fantasy history.
     
  21. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    One who does thiis really well is JK Rowling. She masterful at this.

    But me personally prefer to carefully not to give explanations, as far as possible. And that is really far.

    For example you should just be able to read a few sentensec about city life to understand there was a war raging last week, or a few paragraf if the war was a few years back, or a few pages if the war was decades ago. People will still be affected by the war and sign of it will show up in every day life, habits, surroundings, architecture and dialogue (just think about how often we make references to WW2).

    Just the same way you never have to write that someone was talking about their ex girlfriend, and how their relationship ended since it should show and be able to understood how the character acts around each other alone. The reletionship and brakeup still effects them and will show.

    And anything that doesn't still effect people isn't central to the story. The boxer rebellion might still effect some parts of china, but in a story about a modern westerner it probably wont effect neither the character or the story and hence be irrelevant.

    In this method: Just write, be consistent and trust you readers. They will connect the dots you show them.
     

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