I would like to preface this digression by, firstly, saying hello to all of you marvelous crafters of fiction at ImpishIdea.com, and secondly, to remind you that NaNoWriMo is fast approaching, and what better way to put your story in context than to create a history of your world? I must confess, this is a difficult article for me to write, simply because there’s so much to cover, and I don’t want anyone lost in the depths of confusion here. So I suppose I will structure this article by enumerating and elaborating on the various factors which contribute to the making of history.

1. Climate and Geography
Literally, when you are building your world and your history, you must start from the ground up. Hopefully this seems rather obvious, but climate and geography are going to affect your history immensely. Mountain ranges, bodies of water, deserts, and other potentially treacherous geographical features serve to separate groups of people, especially people who have not yet developed technologies to safely cross them. Additionally, there are some groups of people who are able to adapt to living in extreme conditions. When people (and animals, too) are separated, they diversify in their development and evolution, many times creating what later come to be known as different races. What happens when they find a way to communicate and interact? Can they find a way to trade, or mutually benefit from their differences, or are their differences irresolvable, putting them on the war path? It’s up to you to decide. Another reminder: climate affects the way in which your people live. This includes their clothes, their buildings, the food they are able to grow/hunt/eat, etc. Climate may also provide your people with the occasional natural disaster. I’m not even going to get into climate change…

2. Religion
Someday, when I am in college, I will write my dissertation on how religion has shaped the history of the world throughout the ages. Actually, not really. Because the resulting dissertation would probably be longer than all the books (including the fourth one) in the Inheritance cycle put together, except (I can only hope) much better written. But that goes to show you that religion is an extremely critical factor in any world’s history. As long as I’ve studied and enjoyed history, I have never heard of a group of people who did not at least start out with some sort of spirituality. I have never heard of a civilization or tribe of atheists. Maybe that’s something you want to pioneer in your story? I don’t know. But if your people are like most people, they seek a connection with some sort of higher power. So how does that shape history? Well, first of all, many religions mandate a set of cultural norms or rules/commandments that people are supposed to follow. Depending on whether the state is separated from the church, there may or may not be consequences for people who choose to flout those rules. Religion, unfortunately, often provides a people with a rationale for going to war with, or attempting to destroy, another people who don’t share the same beliefs. Religion can account for all sorts of things in your society, including the structure of society itself (take the Indian caste system, for example). Temples and other such places of worship can become examples of unique architecture as well as cultural centers, and the priestly class often plays a huge role in the way a society operates. For certain periods during Ancient Egyptian history, the power of the priests of Amun almost surpassed that of the pharaoh. The Catholic Church basically ruled Europe all throughout the Middle Ages and most of the Renaissance; the pope always has been, and still is today, a figure of enormous influence (and in the past, enormous corruption). Remember that religion, especially in large civilizations, often goes beyond mere beliefs and becomes an institution, sometimes wielding far more power than any institution should be allowed to have, in my opinion, at least. I could go on all day, but I’ll quit while I’m ahead so that we can move on. Bet you’re relieved about that.

3. Trade
Living in a world as we do, you are bound to know that different places are blessed with different resources. But we humans are far from being content with what our immediate surroundings have to offer us. Enter the phenomenon of trade. Trade allows many things to happen. Obviously, it allows your various tribes, groups, civilizations, and what have you to import and make use of resources they would not ordinarily have access to. Since trade usually implies that something is being exchanged for something, most cities involved in trade export goods as well, providing another good source of income. Additionally, trade allows ideas a culture to spread and gain influence. It sometimes can be a vehicle for exploration (Columbus didn’t quite make it to India to get those spices, did he?). Luxury goods, usually imported, often underscore class distinctions. But remember, trade is expensive and requires some degree of transportation technology, at least if you’re trading across any substantial distance. Trade, and acquisition of new resources, is a driving force behind the expansion and colonization of many civilizations.

4. Language
Like many geographical features, language can be a barrier between cultures. But language, when shared, is a powerful thing. It allows communication (bet you didn’t know that!). Really, though, I’m only stating the obvious because communication is so important. It’s central to… well, development! We wouldn’t be sentient beings without it! Speaking of history, language (esp. written language) allows your people to create a history and cultural identity for themselves. It allows them to create a government and all the wonderful institutions that go along with civilization. Different dialects of the same language allow people to have a local identity. Bottom line: language is important and allows your people to interact/communicate with one another, and can occasionally determine how they do this. You need language. Unless you’re writing a story about Neanderthals, which, frankly, would be pretty boring.

5. Education
Again, here is another topic that I could just go on and on about. But I will try not to. I will really try. So anyway, education is crucial. The way in which your society functions depends on how educated your people are. If you have a society in which education is limited to the elite, chances are the lower classes are doing the drudge work that requires little to no specialized knowledge. The somewhat educated form the middle class of merchants and tradesman. Usually the priests are a little more educated, in order to read extensive religious texts and interact with the higher-ups. And the nobility, aristocrats, etc. along with the rulers are hopefully the most educated. That’s a basic class structure as it relates to education. Of course, not all societies are structured thus. But anyway, my point is, if your society is not the USA or based on the USA, where people with abysmal intellects are hero-worshipped by the masses, the highest classes are the ones who have received the best education. Remember, too, that people with little or no education are easily manipulated and persuaded to follow power-hungry “revolutionaries” who simply want to replace the current regime with their own. If you want your society to undergo a revolution, the best thing for you to do would be to make sure the lowest class and largest percentage of the population is not educated. Knowledge is power. Denying or granting the privilege of education is a method of control.

Okay, everybody, I feel as though I’ve rambled on long enough. It’s high time for me to cut my losses and hope you at least learned something or were helped in some way. Actually, I probably should have stopped about a page ago. But that’s beside the point. My final remarks to you are as follows:
There is no such thing as an isolated incident in history. History is about cause and effect. Every little thing that happens affects something else in some way. Remember that.
Once again, the Inheritance cycle has provided us with a textbook example of what not to do. If you want to see an example of a badly written history, check this out and be enlightened.
Thank you all so much for putting up with me! Happy writing!

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  1. Virgil on 3 October 2008, 16:00 said:

    A very good article, and a good foundation for a civilization and its past. I’m putting together a new world for my NaNoWriMo, and you reminded me of some stuff I forgot about.

  2. Virgil on 3 October 2008, 16:03 said:

    And, wow. That Alagaesian history sucked. Every sentence screams cookie-cutter.

  3. Amelie on 3 October 2008, 18:47 said:

    Virgil- thanks so much! I’m so happy to hear that I was able to help somebody! And yes, that history was terrible. It was like the text of a children’s picture book, except without the pictures… and not as well written. Just make sure your history doesn’t sound like that, and you’ll be fine =)

  4. Snow White Queen on 6 October 2008, 00:09 said:

    This was a great article.

    I had actually forgotten all about religion when creating my world (coincidentally for nanowrimo as well) which would have been a painful mistake.

    As a fourteen year old (aspiring) writer, I am trying desperately hard not to be the next christopher paolini, and actually write something worth reading.

    Anyways, thanks for reminding me about the importance of faith in even a fantasy world. Now I have to actually go and create a plausible religion…

  5. Amelie on 6 October 2008, 23:34 said:

    Again, glad my article was helpful. Hahaha, the only good thing about CP is that he sets the golden standard for writers everywhere NOT to follow. And the horrors of CP’s writing abilities (or lack thereof) are a tough act to follow. Therefore, I’m sure you cannot be nearly as bad as he is. ;) Good luck!

  6. Morvius on 18 October 2008, 08:46 said:

    I have been planning out a rough sketch of my world’s history in books also. This is very good advice! Now all that is needed is fo someone to explain about Peerage.

    But one issue for me is that…since I don’t study geography, it is tough for me to describe land mass changes since I fear I would get it wrong.

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