Thursday, September 23, 2004

Creating a Mythology Part 1: Ancient History

This is related to my worldbuilding posts but also crosses over into plain storytelling, so I'm giving this series of blogs a new title "Creating a Mythology". With a project the size of Shaman and Diona you have to build a background for everything that happens. This means at least a little bit of world history, local history, character background and so.

I could have called this "Creating History" but in a fictional world filled with magic the word history didn't seem to fit but one definition of mythology is "a body or collection of myths belonging to a people and addressing their origin, history, deities, ancestors, and heroes" which seems to describe filling in the background of a fantasy world pretty well.

So the logical place to start in this is from the distant past and work up (of course I didn't start logically I did character backgrounds first). A tried and true method of creating a fantasy history is to study real history and adapt parts of it to what you need. As the famous quote goes "There is nothing new under the sun." now while this might not be true in an absolutely literal sense, if you take a look at history things do tend to happen over and over (I think because no matter how technologically advanced we become people are still driven by the same motivations), so history is a great source of inspiration. Just to name a few instances of where history has been used to good effect: in Star Wars the republic then rise of the empire and resistance to it's expansion parallels Roman history quite a bit, in The Belgariad and Mallorean by David Eddings the peoples of the world are strongly influenced by real people from history like the Romans, the Vikings, Medieval England, etc

The best way to do this I believe is to borrow from history loosely, following history too closely is going to be very obvious to any of your readers who have paid attention in history class. For example if you want say a large empire that influences most of the known world Rome is a great historical example but I wouldn't go so far as to give them Latin sounding names, put them in togas, and hold massive gladitorial games. In other words if you use big events make the details your own.

So how have I used this in my world? Well I decided that I didn't want any empires on Noadi's continent (the others don't come in to play often so I could have one there if I wanted) but fallen empires are great. They give a rich history of why things are the way they are, they set up an environment where while the empire is gone the people have become used to large scale trade and contact with others, they explain why some areas have more technology ( or magical knowledge) than you would expect in a small kingdom. Really the basis of the middle ages was the ruin of the Roman Empire.

So in the distant past about 1400 years ago (based on Noadi's time) a large empire that stretched over most of the continent crumbled. Not unlike the Romans this empire started collapsing due to internal problems, the peasants were unhappy because of food shortages caused by the negligence of the nobility, the nobility were to absorbed in it's own squabbles to see outside problems, and in the conquered areas the people were revolting against oppressive regional governments. Now the empire might have recovered from that if it were for a plague that swept over the land at about that time, wiping out huge segments of the population and so quickly that those mages who didn't succumb to it themselves didn't have the time to come up with a cure before it had already done it's worst. The empire crumbled from all the stress.

It's a simple outline, but it's also distant history. It doesn't need to be incredibly in depth except for areas where it's vital to your story to have a little more information. You just need to know how and why this history effects your characters and story.
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