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8 Tips for Plotting the Timeline of Your Fictional World
Anybody Can Write a Novel
Chapter 1 “World-building” – Section 2 “World History”
With Links to Supplementary Material
Once you have established what Type of Story you want to write, you have created the cornerstone of your story—an idea or a blank page of the exact size and shape and color that you want. The next step is to start the sketch by creating a historical foundation for your story. Now, I've already discussed why You Should Use a Wold Creation Sheet, and provided links for some good ones, so now I will go into detail on the first part of that—establishing the History of your fictional world.
Tip 1: Take note of the specifics that you need for the world of your story.
Chances are, you already have some unique and specific ideas for your fictional world. Take “Maze Runner” for an example. Chances are that a justification for the maze was the key feature for which the entire history of the fictional world was built. So write down all of the particulars you need for your fictional world.
Tip 2: Remember that everything in your novel must ascribe to reason or insanity.
Once you have written down the particulars, whether that be magical, technological, cultural, or otherwise (anything that is different from the world we live in real life), you must come up with a valid reason that it exists. For example, why do you need a city-sized maze, when a small room will do the same job while expending fewer resources? Many people, myself included, mix sci-fi with fantasy. You must give a realistic reason for technological advancements being pursued at all, if magic is so much easier. Remember that unless humans live in extreme luxury, their solutions to problems will be the most practical. If this is not the case, there must be a believable insanity behind the particulars in your world.
Tip 3: Decide if you are writing about Earth, Alternate Earth, or a New World.
It is important to note what sort of world you are creating, as well as to create a timeline regardless of which you choose (though choosing Earth will give you considerably less work). I advise to take the path of least resistance—that which will most easily be adapted to your plot idea. The reason is that even though making a new world is fun, it leaves much more room for plot-holes, nonsensical history, and breaks with realism. And remember that all you create must exist to further the plot. If it does not do this, it must be cut—no matter how good or creative it may be. Otherwise, it simply serves as a distraction, and your reader will be annoyed at the irrelevance.
Tip 4: Always start at the very beginning of the cosmos.
In order to create a realistic and uniform world, you must decide what cosmic forces are at work in your world. Are gods frivolous and reward those who are most subservient? Is there a singular deity that rewards good and punishes bad (karmic)? Or is the world free of magic, and the only rewards and punishments coming from the natural consequences of one's actions. This is also important for writing in a realistic Earth, though a bit more tricky; for it, you must establish what forces, if any, control the cosmos as a basis for justifying what happens to your characters through the course of the story.
Tips 5: Always remember that a good fictional world is subject to realism.
This does not mean that you can't create magical or absurd worlds, only that it will be more powerful if it lines up with realism. Take the wizarding world in Harry Potter. It is absurd, the Ministry is run ineffectively, and people are kooky. But it works because these are the realistic consequences of the characters being outcasts of the real world, being thrown into a world shared by other magical creatures, and having spent more energy working on their magic than on building an efficient civilization.
Tip 6: Create a Timeline for the story.
The length of such a timeline will depend on what type of world you are creating. If a completely new world, you may have to go as far as the beginning of time and record the major events (not every battle, birth, and detail, just create a reasonable justification for the world being like it is). If alternate Earth, you will only need to record the differences between your and our worlds. If Earth, you will only need to record the major historical events that relate to your story. For this last one, do plenty of research, as different countries have different perceptions of how events took place. And you will be respected more as a writer if you address those outside your own culture's.
Tip 7: Lowering levels of magic and ability in your world, makes for more interesting characters.
Remember when building the world of your dreams that a high magical energy world that gives lots of power to your protagonist will make the struggles he or she faces less believable and empathizable. Also, that it is possible to make your world so different, that readers won't be able to relate. If you find yourself facing these problems, lower the level of magic and power in your world, and it should fix the problem.
Tip 8: Remember that most of your world building will not be discussed in your story.
Yes, the sad truth is that unless you want to bore your audience to tears, most of this work will never be directly revealed. But there is a beauty in this, as it allows the readers to piece the puzzle together for themselves. Kingdom Hearts is an excellent example of it—as it had fans puzzling and piecing together how the world worked, one subtle hint at a time. And, if nothing else, it will all go into making your world a more subconsciously believable and artfully crafted place, that readers will pick up on at some level.
I hope this article in my chapter on “World-building” is helpful in defining what kind of story you want to create. Next time, I will be focusing on creating an outline for your story. Please let me know if you have any relevant questions on the topic of “World-building” or anything you would like me to address.
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