Previously I talked to you about keeping notes on your characters so that you can make quick reference if need be, today I want to talk about a part of writing that I love: creating history. I have worked on several pieces (both print and screenplay) that have been rewarding and they have a certain cohesion to them that was found because I actually took the time to create a history. Some of you are probably thinking this is crazy, but I assure you it’s the most fun I’ve had on several stories. The key is knowing what history to write, do you need to trace the entire history of the race of man? Not necessarily, it depends on the story. I’ll share with you the items that I’ve created a history for and I hope you’ll be able to use it and enjoy creating it as much as I have.
Organizations are a big one for me. Regardless of if they are government parties, secret societies, or certain battalions of soldiers, or any other group of individuals. You don’t have to know the exact moment and date of every minute event. For most of my organizational histories, I prefer to start with years and not necessarily nail down a specific date in time unless the organization is new. The trick to this is make sure that you aren’t contradicting reality (unless you knowingly are doing so). Do not set a story during the Spanish Inquisition and date it at 950 AD, this is not the time that the Spanish Inquisition occurred. I try to stay away from too many organizations whose history will be so grandiose that they have been major players in every world event since Galileo. If you can do it that’s awesome, but it’ll require some research on your part.
Places are also histories that can play vital parts in your story. Ghost stories in particular or stories dealing with fairy tale events make use out of the history of a place. Again you don’t have to know every inch of the history, unless you feel it vital to create so exact a history. History can enrich a location and cause more of a resonating personality. The castle on the cliffs can become a romantic hideaway because of two lost lovers or perhaps its a place to avoid because evil set up shop there. It’s your call to make, but you will need to know so that you can make the call. Even if you don’t know the specifics, a group of tourists vanished from there or young lovers are known to elope there. These are things that decide the mood of an environment, but you have to find interesting ways to insert them into the story without turning into too much of a history lesson.
Personal histories are the most common histories someone creates. This being an extension of the early post, I do not feel the need to completely rehash this point. So I will merely say that personal history will make a character more rounded and believable. For more on personal histories see my last post.
These are the three histories I most often find myself creating, it is always a fun and exhilarating exercise. So I encourage you to come up with histories for your needs and see if it doesn’t help you come up with a guided character/group/place. Good luck and happy writing.