In my post on Randomness and Inspiration, I mentioned the 156 Great Mages generated by a tool I wrote using a model of transitions of power. (I’m a serious software hack. Multiple non-fiction books under a different name.)

That was fun. It provided a necessary tidbit that helped make the main narrative gritty and detailed. It changed a few words here and there to show one mage's mastery of history and other mage's failure to grasp the context. It helped clarify a question of who’s grandfather fought against whom. Small stuff.

In Backstory I identified a need to fill in some gaps in the historical record. I knew the gaps were there because the Red Knight’s story has a few holes. While I knew they needed to be filled, they’re not part of the The Forge. They’re more relevant in the Crystal and the Sword. The reveal is only partial in Book III (working title: The Crown, The Orb, and the Scepter.)

I try to avoid too much backstory because I’m not a brilliant writer. I’m aware that a technical nerd like me can turn it into pointless exposition. I have main characters. They have problems. That’s fun writing that I can accomplish. The fact that there were 156 Great Mages doesn’t motivate anyone in the story.

I’ve put it off and put it off. I’ve reached the awkward situation where I now need to actually write the historical narrative for the past thousand years.

Two of the four books are done. 300,000 words.

And I’m doing backstory now!?!? Am I crazy?

Perhaps. But perhaps not.

When you look at the modern long-form story-telling in TV series, you see the way they use progressive reveals through the first bunch of episodes. In the really well-done shows a setup can be very small, but will have a payoff in later episodes (or later seasons in some cases.) This level of depth comes at a cost of having show runners, writers, and directors in a large-scale, very expensive creative process. For a solo novelist, it’s essential to wear a variety of hats, sometimes being big-picture, long-story-arc show runner, and sometimes being a writer on an episode with a specific scene structure, and sometimes being a director moving some things around to emphasize key dramatic points.

Filling in backstory is a conversation between episode writing and show running. My episode writer brain wanted a shocking reveal as a way to structure a conversation about the Mage’s despair while locked in a prison (for the third and final time.)

And the reveal that had been there was weak. The director said it didn’t have enough drama because it was just more talking heads in darkness. No action. No noise. No movement.

So, I (as episode writer) have to go to me (as show runner) for a reveal. And I (as show runner) have to write out the 1,000-year history to provide some details for me (as episode writer) to reveal so that the director can frame up a shot with the reveal just before the another prisoner gets jammed into the cell.

To be complete, of course, I have to write the history from the three different perspectives of the Empire, the Kingdom of the East, and the Outlands. Since the official history is written by the victors, the stories all have the same facts, but different perspectives on victory and loss. The Outlanders claim some events as victories where the Kingdom of the East wrote them off as irrelevant, and not total losses.

I’m only covering 1,000 years; because of the “haze factor” I don’t need names and dates for all of it. Some traditional cultures have oral histories that reach back 7,000 years. Maybe most cultures did, but European colonization broke the continuity in many cases. I can’t just wave my hands and claim everything that happened over 500 years ago is too ancient to discuss.