I’ve found one of the most daunting tasks for my world building has been the history. Figuring out character’s personal histories is easy, but when preparing the history of an entire world, figuring out how the countries formed, who the political leaders were and what wars have been fought is a lot more intensive, and it seems an awful lot like an endless puzzle.
Thankfully there are multiple techniques to use when crafting a history. Before getting into those however, one of the best tools to use for everything is to ask why. Why helps you figure out details that can open up new lanes of exploration for your world and your history: why do These People disagree with Those People? Why do These live here? Why do Those revere that resource?
Apply liberal amounts of ‘why’ when you find yourself stuck.
Ages and Timelines
The two best ways of organizing history are both based on chronological order. Timelines tend to be a little more specific with X happening in Year Y. Ages however, cover a range of years without getting too terribly specific about the years each event happened.
That also means it may help to start with figuring out your ages first–are you following the age of stone, bronze, steel, etc? Or, are your ages and eras named for the major advancements in civilization like the move from caves into tribes and villages?
Timelines are especially useful for organizing big events leading up to your story. This can include things like the birth of notable figures, inventions of new technologies and major discoveries.
Ages help you see how your world has developed overtime. Thinking of them as spectrum may help–you may not know exactly when your people had fully transitioned from using magic to burning coal for example, but you can mark the edges of that era based on the transitory change from one fuel source to the other.
Devices are used all the time to explain how a character had some powerful tool or the other. Hero has a magic sword from an abandoned religion? That’s a device, one you can use to help build your history: why was the religion abandoned? Where did he find this sword? Why did they need a sword with immense powers?
Scour your drafts for devices. Find an abandoned ruin? Start asking why and how long it’s been abandoned. Magical family bloodlines? Start asking why and how they got that way. History can be built around the answers you find in questioning the facts.
Personally, I love starting with the most recent events and building off that. Start with asking yourself what the most recent advancement is, or who the current ruler is. Who ruled before that? What needed to be discovered before they could advance medication or transport? What sort of obstacle needed to be overcome for these people to settle in that area?
Repeat this as you build your layers backwards. It’s fine if you don’t have the answers for all of it. Remember that history gets harder to prove and track the farther back we go, largely because means of recording history had to develop as time passed.
Also remember that any of these techniques can be combined. Find the devices in your story right now and work backwards from those–find out how they came to be and the events that shaped the area around them. Build everything up into a transition from one thing to another, creating your first age. Create a timeline of known events, and fill in the gaps by asking yourself questions about how they create the devices and facts in your world.