All life is created, and must, therefore, have a creator. Jord created the world and filled it with life. Then He created the Nefilum as stewards over the world. The Nefilum rebelled against their task, however, and turned to the worship of demons, seeking dominion over the natural world. Jord was grieved, but He could not bring Himself to destroy that which He made. So He created a vast wasteland that divided the world in two. In the east, He left the Nefilum to fend for themselves. In the west, He created a second race, the Ayla.
Most fantasy fiction writers begin their stories in the middle. That is, the present era of the world they’ve created. This doesn’t mean they haven’t developed ideas of what has gone before. Often, it’s just the opposite. A writer may have detailed notes concerning the history of their fantasy world, which they reference throughout the events of their novel. Who knows, they may even go back and publish that history as a novel on its own.
The Ayla were diligent in their task, tending to Jord’s creation, living in harmony with the plants and animals around them. Some settled in the forests, some in the mountains and some along the waters that bordered fertile grasslands. They prospered, and multiplied.
Your fantasy world’s history is another detail that adds depth and color to your story. It can generate plot ideas for your current work as well as future ones. To do so, it must contain elements of conflict. Wars, catastrophes that changed the shape of the world (both political and geographical), prophecies, and previous heroic quests that succeeded or failed are all common examples.
As the Ayla prospered, they forgot their creator. A sect arose, called Druids, and taught the preeminence of nature. Their leaders, Eldara and Rathanger Goaldleev, were proclaimed prophets. The teaching of the Druids spread, and the worship of Jord faded. In jealous wrath, Jord struck down Eldara and Rathanger, but that did not stop the Druids. They venerated their former leaders as gods and constructed a great idol, a golden oak tree, to serve as both an altar and a memorial. Materials were brought from all over the land, donated by the people, and craftsman toiled for many months to build the towering monument.
One result of all the effort a fantasy fiction writer puts into developing the history of their world is their enthusiasm for sharing that history. The best method is to integrate the events of the past with those of the present, weaving them organically through the use of flashbacks, natural-sounding dialogue and small chunks of narrative involving the main character’s discovery of historical fact.
Jord would not be mocked, however. He cursed the Ayla, changing their speech so that each spoke a new language according to the region where they lived. Thus were born the Durkar, Mer, and Sylva. He also caused a great forest to rise up around the idol, and filled the forest with fearsome beasts that hunted any who wandered under its dark canopy.
What you want to avoid are large dumps of information. These often take the form of prologues that contain a summary of events over the last 100 (or even 1000) years. Another common tactic is the history lecture, where the writer uses a professor/sage/scholar character to relate the past as expositional dialogue. Resist the temptation. It will bore your readers.
History is another great tool for world-building, but a detailed timeline spanning back to the creation isn’t required. Some stories don’t reference the past beyond events directly related to the characters involved. I keep mostly to the present when I write about Janner Kohl and his adventures. How do you handle the history of your fantasy world? Of the fantasy fiction you’ve read, what are some good examples of how history was integrated with the story, and what were some bad examples? Let me know in the comments.