Writing fantasy is hard. Writing epic fantasy is even harder for many reasons, but there’s one in particular that always causes problems: the timeline.
When you want to write about a world that’s been around for a very long time, especially with longer-lived countries floating about, you need to make sure all of your eggs are organized and preserved in one proverbial basket. People talk about things that happened a long time ago. At least, educated folks do. When most of your characters are educated, they’re going to make mention of a king who almost destroyed his own kingdom three hundred and fifty-two years ago. They may not know exactly when they lived, but you certainly need to so that your timeline doesn’t become more of a time-spiral.
People draw parallels all the time. Modern folks are put into context in our heads by comparing them to people history has told us much more about. The longer that information has been available, the farther back people can go. Napoleon compared himself to Gaeus Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great. Even though they both lived well more than a thousand years before him, he was able to draw knowledge from them, and about them.
In other words, having your history properly detailed and organized is important because your folks running around will know it, therefore they’ll bring it up. It’s not really believable if educated folks can only think as far back as maybe one hundred years ago.
Now, this isn’t always the case in terms of how far back we go. Most of Western Europe in the Middle Ages had records that could reliably go back to about the end of the Dark Ages, as well as some records from the Greeks and Romans. The history went back quite a ways, but it had a lot of holes in it, and big ones at that. In Eastern Europe, on the other hand, we get largely oral histories that rely more on local history than international. This is, of course, excluding the Byzantine Empire. The Middle East and Byzantium, however, had excellent recordings of history that went quite a ways back in fairly reliable detail. The Byzantine Empire was an extension of the now-dead Roman Empire and the Republic and Kingdom before it. Byzantine records went back as far as about 500BC for their own history, and they had numerous Greek texts to boot. The Middle East had largely the same information from records translated at the Library of Alexandria and the Bayt al-Hikma in Baghdad. Both of those were later destroyed, sending the Middle East spiraling into a Dark Age of their own, but that’s not the point.
So, what timeline issue was I having?
Truth be told, I didn’t have a timeline issue for a while. Everything lined up how I wanted it to, and all of the date corresponded to everyone’s proper ages they’re currently at, ages at time of death earlier in history, et cetera. But then, the fantasy kicked in the door and pointed out a major issue with my timeline.
Technology was advancing at far too slow a rate.
Whoopdey friggen do, right? Tolkein’s world is stuck somewhere between Classical and Middle Age technology for over fifteen thousand years. But in the context of his world, it makes sense. When you have immortal Elves, magic, Dwarvish masonry, and very large periods of relative peace, military technology tends not to advance very quickly. Plus, with three major cataclysmic events it makes sense why all the progress of, say, two thousand years, could be wiped away in an instant. It happened in the real world when the Roman Empire fell. Western Europe descended into a tornado or chaos that lasted hundreds of years.
But my problem was that my technological timeline was largely based on how fast our technology was advancing. Things have been taking a bit longer to give me more creative license with my longer-lived race, the Ataerans, but not by too much.
So here’s the big issue: the Ataeran nation of Edhaman (“Land of the Edham”, but I’ll do into that later), the main nation of Ataerans my writing project will have as a non-human focus country, collapsed in the West a long time ago. With the Second Exodus came a massive population of humans from some western continent. This influx of humans was in the wake of invasions by humans who had been on the continent since the mythical First Exodus, a similar event from time immemorial, and localized rebellion from a weakening of the central power of Edhaman. Essentially, growing pressure in the East and invasions from humans creating unrest in the West caused a nation that spanned the most of the continent to collapse into a country roughly the size of modern Kazakhstan.
I wanted this event to be “a long time ago” even by Ataeran standards. That’s where my problem stemmed from.
Initially, the Ataerans were far longer-lived than humans, so this Coming of Men, as they called it, took place in what the Ataerans dated as 3892CM. The major problem? With their current technological level being largely from the late 1200s and early 1300s, that would place the end of the Iron Age in my timeline in around 700CM. That’s way too long for the technology to have been mired down with all the local wars and carrying on the humans and Ataerans as a race have been doing since then.
So how do I fix this? I make the Ataerans’ lifespans a lot shorter.
As of two days ago, the Ataeran life expectancy is now around four times that of humans. That means that rather than their life expectancy being between 45-60 depending on station and availability of food, it’s closer to 220. Now, you can obviously have much longer lived Ataerans just like with humans, but this is the norm. This fixed a lot of my problems.
Now the Second Exodus, or Coming of Men, took place only around 1700 years ago, the current year being 1673CM. The technology progression is still fairly stagnated at points, but it can be justified more readily. The Imperial Dominion of Edhaman collapses, and a lot of technology in areas freed from their control goes with it. The Dominion’s people were more concerned with holding on to as much land as they could that the progress of technology took a seat for a while. The age of the Imperial Dominion, as it was then called, was reduced to just over 3,700 years. Now, this may seem like a while, but you have to figure that the “Dominion” period only held until about 686CM, and the “Kingdom” has been continuing since then. The Roman power in the world lasted in one form or another from around 750 BCE to the mid-1400s CE, a period of about 2,100 years. The Ataerans live longer, so really it’s a slightly shorter time-span for them than it was for the Romans.
The major pain in my ass was redoing all of the Edhaman dates, especially for birth dates and important deaths. The upside, though, is that the new timelines gave me a great idea for more details in the Edhamani and Belanorian relationship across history.
Thankfully, the timeline of Belanor, the main human country, still fit. It simply came down to dating the important expansion dates or births and deaths correctly. Belanor has been around as an ever-expanding human power for closing in on 500 years. Because of that, we have a large human kingdom with a lot of history.
Thank goodness that timeline didn’t get thrown off because it’s horrendously muddled as is.
The main problem was that my initial timeline just wasn’t believable in any real stretch because of the world I had created. Magic is going to be very much a is-it-or-isn’t-it concept, at least in the beginning, and so I can’t use that as an excuse. Why develop gunpowder explosives when you can just hire a wizard, right? I can justify a slowed progress of technology for a number of reasons. Technological ages aren’t concrete, it just happens to be how fast our world developed. They’re good guidelines and indicators of how long something might take to figure out, but in the end they’re simply that: guidelines. I’m not sticking to it like a safety blanket, but it’s certainly a good reference point to keep around.
The problem was that it became too fantastical of a time gap for my world to support itself. Essentially, my history had become structurally unsound. All the ethnic and political movements, the military campaigns and so forth were believable, but time was quite literally not on their side.
I think I was simply overzealous in my attempt to create a long and intricate history. It all still fits, thank the gods, in my new timeline, and it seems much fresher now. I just couldn’t figure out what was making everything seem terribly awkward until two days ago.
So that’s been my last two days of writing: fixing the timeline. It was time consuming and surprisingly agitating (I’ll spell that word right on my first try eventually…), but in the end it makes my world feel much fuller than before. It also makes the discrepancy in how far human records go back as opposed to those in Edhaman far more believable and logical.
Now that I have all of that nonsense fixed, I just need to keep filling in the blank spaces.