Due to unpopular demand, I have returned to spread more of my opinion about what makes for good world building. I do acknowledge that I’m extremely biased. I could definitely read and enjoy a world that doesn’t have half of the overthinking I put in. But that’s also what I’m here to discuss today. Bias
Let’s Talk About Historical Bias
Remember my first post? Remember when I talked about giving a world a history because it’ll help make the world feel lived in? Don’t give your characters a newly built home fresh off the presses, give them worn stones and chipping wood that generations have touched before. That’s all good and dandy. Your characters live in a town that’s switched borders a hundred times, has interesting festivals, a rich culture, they speak a unique dialect, and they worship sky demons. I’m so proud. But we need to discuss the renovations of this house.
Basically, we all know what historical bias is even if we don’t always think about it. It’s the whole “history is written by the victors” thing. It’s the large gaps in written records that make us think before anything significant happened people meandered in the dark . It’s our ignorance to assume one country’s “dark” age means that another’s glory didn’t happen. Or for one place to fall and crumble to mean that the entire world felt the blow and was not quick to recover. The obsession with certain periods of history to mean that others pale in comparison. Historical bias is basically the idea that we ingest one historical narrative and pack up all the others and shove them in the attic, never to be seen again. And while it WOULD be fun for me to go into how we’ve done the dark ages a disservice by calling them that or much of the Western world’s complete disregard for non-European history, or just how some of us ignore whole societal complexities and sophisticated cultures just because they had no written language at the time of their existence. The real world has a whole lot of historical bias. The way history is told is probably a constant conversation in my own household.
But, June, you say, what does this have to do with fantasy.
Take Your History, And Lie About It
Okay, maybe not lie. But add a bias flare to it. Certain people are gonna tell historical events differently. How does this play out in your story? In the current state of your world? Are there links missing? Convenient gaps that would dearly help your characters if only someone a hundred years ago bothered to write it down or if someone thought to teach it properly? In my own stories I find I love playing around with the histories written by the victors and revealing what they’ve left out or touching on how often we like to see ourselves on the sides of the winners even if, maybe, they shouldn’t have won at all or it would have been better if they haven’t. Or the idealization of certain ancient cultures and histories that have actually nothing to do with a character’s modern country, but they’ve swallowed it even if their ancient ancestors would have been enemies. Or a modern rewriting of history to make certain people or events look better that changes the current attitude towards where characters are from or what their nation is doing. Or to even justify certain things. Have certain countries or territories just vanished or have been claimed and reclaimed by other places?
It’s probably more interesting for the story if a character’s history and what they know about their world isn’t always truthful or has just been straight up lost because of conflicting or missing records. Or if everything they know about a period actually comes from stuff written down 300 years after it took place.
All this to piggyback off another post of mine to say if our history isn’t perfectly linear and easy to follow, your character’s shouldn’t either.