They set out on an epic quest and the world is ready to unfurl before them, with it, the story which you have so carefully crafted. If you’re a writer who plans it or wings it you have some vague idea (at least) of who these people are, where they’re going, what they want, and how they’ll get there. Likely, you know a little bit more about them, where they grew up, the names of their family, their favorite food, or what they wanted to be before they found out they were drafted to be the unlikely hero in your story.
But, how much back-story is enough?
That’s a hard line to draw, especially in a genre like fantasy. The truth is something that most fledgling authors (myself included) have a hard time swallowing: You need to know your world inside and out. When your character passes some random ruins you should have some idea of how they could have gotten there.
You don’t need chapters about Farmer A who’s family died in a famine that was part of XYZ Kingdom’s history. But, knowing that much will help create a richer world all around. It enables passing references and a tighter chronology of history.
The reason why this is so hard is because, as an author, you will have to let go of a lot of this content. You’ll spend the time thinking about it, developing it, and seeing all the cool ways your world links together and then you’ll have to let it go because there aren’t enough pages for it. It’s all cursory to your story, and that’s what needs to shine.
So how do you decide what’s relevant?
I don’t see this as always being a conscious decision. But, just having these back-stories, if only in your mind, will help enrich your writing. If you know what the connections are then it’s possible for a reader to see it and it’ll make their experience that much deeper.
So, fantasy authors, invest in your world and do your homework about its lore and histories!
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