We've covered how to create history, but nothing beats an example to help illustrate my points. If you haven't read the guide itself you can check it out by clicking right here.
For the purpose of this guide I'll use a love story with elements of war. It's no real story in particular, but the elements should be familiar enough to make it easy to follow. The biggest point is to do everything in steps anyway, so it should be easy to follow no matter how familiar you are with story creation.
Let's first set the stage for the story itself. It'll help with figuring out what parts of history I really need and also with how I can interweave them into the story.
As mentioned the story is about love, love between two people (let's say a boy and a girl) from different cultures to be precise. But I don't want these two cultures to be at war, in fact I want them to be allies. So I make a note of this in a list of things I probably want to cover in my history creation no matter if it ends up in the story or not.
But I do want war to be part of it, for reasons I delve into later, so there's obviously a third nation and thus another note on my list to explain how the war started.
What else? Well, I know the two allied cultures are very different from each other. The lovers in my story are from 2 different backgrounds and this comes into play a lot as they get to know each other, grow their relationship and have to deal with differences in their cultures the other doesn't know or realize yet. So another note to make sure I can explain how each culture is different and how each formed.
After keeping this up for more plot points in my story I end up with a long list of all sorts of elements I want to cover. Not all of them will make it into the story, but knowing everything myself will help with keeping things consistent and it's also just something I enjoy doing. So what does the list look like so far? Well, here's a small snippet:
- Allied culture relationship
- Ordinariness of lovers' relationship
- War origin
- Origin of each culture
- War-related traditions -> Separates lovers
- Tradition vs. progress?
- War-related traditions -> Reunites lovers?
- Roles in society?
So just looking at these few points there's already a whole lot to cover. Some points also have a question mark indicating I'm not 100% sure I want this element in my story or perhaps not in this exact form. For example, 'tradition vs. progress' is a common theme in stories and often used as social commentary, but it could make the story too heavy and this is something I might not want. It's still a good idea to think about it though, hence why I wrote it down, but it will have to be balanced against all the other points.
Now let's delve deeper into one specific point. "War-related traditions -> Separates lovers", what do I mean by this? Well, I know I want to separate the two lovers in my story as it's not going to be all rainbows and sunshine. I also know I want war to be what separates them, but it has to do so in a way that makes sense and I want it to be in a way that allows me to foreshadow this event. This is where history comes into play.
So let's do a little simplified brainstorming. What would definitely break the lovers apart in a war? Destruction and thus having to flee, mandatory military service and regular military service to name just a few.
I mentioned I wanted to foreshadow the separation and I think mandatory military service will be the perfect way to do it. Now all I need to figure out is how I can interweave this smoothly into both the story and the history.
So I get thinking and figure out the following I want to be part of the story:
The boy is part of a culture that holds traditions in high regard. Traditions and old values are what helped their society thrive in the old days and the people are proud and rigid, unwilling to change their ways out of both fear of the unknown and a determination of knowing their way of life is the right one.
One of their traditions is mandatory military service at the age of 18. This system is meant to make sure all men know how to defend their country as well as teach them independence and make them stronger overall. Flawed or not, this is the system that has been used for generations upon generations and is the one that affects our boy.
The boy is 17, we learn this early on in the story. We also learn a war is being fought, but both the boy and the girl are in no danger at the moment.
Since the boy's culture is so dedicated to traditions ceremonies are held every now and then to either welcome those who completed their military service into society as 'real men' or to initiate those who turned 18 this month (or quarter, etc.) into the military service. The specifics on this can be vague at this point, the important part is that turning 18 means you have to serve.
Eventually the boy and girl go on a date and have the time of their life, but soon find themselves witnessing one of those ceremonies. They both now realize how limited their time may be. Once the boy turns 18 he too will have to serve the military and with a nation that is at war this is a terrible prospect for the future.
Now the story has a ticking clock in the form of the boy. The pressure of time adds all sorts of elements I want to use in my story, but the important part right now is that I've not only figured out elements of my story, I've also added elements of the history of my story universe and thus made the overall universe richer and more engaging.
Not every detail of what I wrote will necessarily make it into the story, but a lot definitely will.
Now compare the example to the same story but without those elements and it's easy to see why adding history enriches everything. In many ways it helps make your story more unique, even if the overall plot is the very similar to countless other stories.
Now I do the same with the other points on my list. I could have the girl enlist in the military as well in order to be reunited with her love. Perhaps her culture allows women to enlist, maybe she enlists in the boy's culture, but is only able to do so as a nurse. All this steps on social commentary ground, which again may become too heavy handed when there's too much of it so I will have to change things if needed.
Many story elements will change over time, especially when more and more of the other points are developed and new ideas emerge. This isn't too different from just regular story planning and will likewise go through many iterations. The only main difference, for me, is that planning the history often comes slightly later than story planning. Some parts are done at the same time, but I personally find it easier to work out the exact details of the story universe's history after I know what plot points I have in my story, rather than doing it all at once.
But like I said, everybody has different methods of working. Some might find it easier to do everything simultaneously, others might prefer to cover the history first. If you're new to the story creation process I'd recommend just experimenting. Try out each method on some short stories and see what works best for you. But no matter which order you pick it's usually still best to turn everything into easily digestible points and work on one point at a time.