Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Know Your History!

Something fantasy and science fiction writers struggle with more than writers of other genre's is their history.  The history of a race.  The history of a world-or a galaxy for sci-fi.  The history of a person.  There's just a lot of history that goes into these two genres.
But what about one of the biggest rules of writing?  Show, don't tell-though I myself think rule, like all in writing, is meant to be broken.  We can't quite show the history can we?  Without doing flashbacks or just making our characters read a history book from the library, no, not really.  And both of these are, in themselves telling--tip #45--though they don't sound like it at first.
There is also the dummy approach in which you pretty much have your protagonist or another character be a dummy and have another character inform them on the history of something.  This can be used for explaining pretty much everything you deem that the reader needs to know.  But you have to be careful, too much of this at one time can lead to telling by itself.
However, often you don't even need to tell your readers the history.  This is where knowing your history comes in.
Many times, when you write the history of something in your novel your doing it for yourself.  You want to know what happened before your story takes place.  As well you should.  But don't put it in your book.  I would urge you to write the history in a notebook or on another file.  It might be helpful to just flatout tell the history like a history book would.  But don't publish it in your book.  If you know your history then it will come out gradually in your story.
That notebook or that file with the history may even some day become published depending on how well your first novels went.  Consider the Silmarillion by Tolkien.  Granted, he wrote the Silmarillion after the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings because his fans demanded it.  But the history wasn't in the novels.  One of the great things about Tolkien's books was the history.  But if you think about it, it wasn't in his main novels such as LotR and the Hobbit.  It was a side note, for people wanting to get even more of the background knowledge of his world.  And if you've read the Silmarillion you know that it's as boring as anything.  But it wasn't meant to be a page turner, it was meant to explain the background of everything.  I haven't had the chance to read the Histories of Middle Earth, but those are, I believe, about seven volumes of the little details, even more historically written then the Silmarillion. 
Anyway, back on topic.  Know your history.  When you know your history and can look at it, it comes out naturally.  It doesn't seem forceful, like your shoving it down your readers throat.  It comes out gradually and your readers don't even notice they're learning about it.  You don't force it down them because you already know it, and part of the reason you write the history forcefully is because you want to know about it.

11 comments:

Jake said...

I agree. I found the Silmarillion fascinating.

Myself, I find it helps to have a (partially, at least) complete history of the land/people. I did this in one of my novels, and it seems like all the little details from the history find their way into the story. :D

Chris said...

I only got a couple chapters into the Silmarillion, I should probably take another crack at it though

Seth said...

@Jake, Exactly. If it is something we already have knowledge of, it will creep itself into the story.

@Chris, It was awesome. So many great tales are in it that give such a great appreciation for Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit.

Scott Appleton said...

Interesting topic, Nathan. Did you think about this after I mentioned this concerning TGT? (-:

I have a few thousand pages worth of material for "The Sword of the Dragon" series. So, yes! Know your history! And it helps a lot in the creation and writing process.

Seth said...

Sweet! A few thousand pages? That's awesome.
This is actually The Narrowing Road though. Don't worry though ;)

*Is curious about what's going on with TGT*

Noah said...

I awarded you on my blog here: http://noahsreads.blogspot.com/2010/05/my-first-award.html!

Galadriel said...

As self-proclaimed Lady of Lothlorien, I feel a duty to correct your thoughts on the Silmarillion. The Silmarillion, in its earliest form (The Lost Tales) actually predates LotR and the Hobbit, parts of it written as early as WWI. The writing you're refering to is the rewriting Tolkien did before submiting the Silmarillion for publication. Actually, he originally wanted the Silmarillion and LotR published togeth, but the publishers wouldn't accept that.
As for the History of Middle-Earth series, that is twelve volumes going through manuscript changes of Tolkien's work.
But your points remain valid.

Seth said...

@Galadriel, I realize all that you just said, but, to keep the details of Tolkien's work to a minimum I didn't go into that. I could write five posts worth of content on Tolkien's history of his writing, let alone the actual books he wrote, but it would be quite boring for some of my readers. Still, maybe some day.

Madeline said...

I awarded you, Seth. (!)

http://thestuffundermybed.blogspot.com/2010/05/ive-been-awarded.html

Amber said...

The Histories of Middle Earth are actually Tolkien's notes and thought process as he wrote each book. They go through his first, second, third, twelfth, etc. draft and show pretty much all his notes, not necessarily accurate Middle Earth history. They're really interesting, especially if you are an aspiring author. I found them quite helpful for my own writing.

And actually, being a mythology junkie, I found the Silmarillion to be quite fascinating. I wasn't bored. But then again, I'm kind of a nerd... :)

Seth said...

Yes, but they were collected and edited by Christopher Tolkien to create a better understanding of the detail and background information of Tolkien's work, more so then the Silmarillion. The Silmarillion isn't boring per se, it's thick-dense, it takes someone who really enjoys it to read it. And I'm one of those people lol.