Part of what makes so many stories cool is their backstory. Nothing’s better than walking into a sci-fi world and there are no computers because of this computer-uprising-thing they had on so-and-so a planet (Like they do in Dune). It truly separates your story from everyone else’s. The technique of “lore-ing” has been used in the genre of Fantasy in particular, but who says that writers of other genres can use it as well?
Anyway, lore-making can be more fun than making the actual narrative bit. There’s a mountain in the distance, you say? Well, that just so happens to be the famous volcano at which the forces of the good king Arcus fought the forces of the dreaded demon Niadra. The fight took four days and four nights, and the battle was bitterly fought down to the last man. However, King Arcus’ forces pushed the last remaining demons, along with Niadra, into the top of that volcano. The volcano has been active ever since, and erupts daily. Tourists say that you can hear the souls of slaughtered demons crying out for vengeance.
I came up with that in a few seconds. That’s the glory of lore: you take a certain (seemingly random) event and attach it to a place. Usually it’s a battle; it’s always an exploit of some kind. This is very enjoyable, in my opinion. Some authors, like Tolkien, choose a MASSIVE backstory as a sort of history, and then use that as a background for the novel.
Of course, lore isn’t necessary. You don’t need to put all that in, especially if your story is of the less-epic kind. It’s of no consequence: you don’t see Lucy Maud Montgomery writing about the origins of this landmark, that house or that person. It happens occasionally, but rarely has great impact on the story. However, I suggest that if you do introduce lore in your story, you use it just like the greats did.
How to create good lore? Well, first of all, make a lot of it! Sometimes general lore makes more of an impact than specific lore. Don’t tell about the battles that happened in this province and in that forest and this small adventure that happened here, tell about the world-engulfing conflict between the Great Demon and the peace-loving people of such-and-such. Be general, as if looking at the world from a distance, and tell a lot of it.
Now, you may be thinking: “Tons of lore bores the reader. It may be fun to write, but what if the reader doesn’t want to read it?” That’s an excellent point. However, the writing of lots of seemingly monotonous lore is more for your benefit then it is to your readers. Very little of Tolkien’s lore pops up in The Lord of the Rings, and when it does, it’s usually something trivial like a song or poem. Very rarely do you get something like the Balrog at Moria, who is incidentally one of the ancient servants of Morgoth in times past when he waged war against Eru, the One, and His elves.
Yeah, I’m a nerd.
But that’s the point: so many people who never read the Silmarillion read LOTR, and that’s okay. Not knowing all the lore shouldn’t handicap your readers. However, to make your story look bigger, you can stick a “the story thus far” about 4-5 pages before the beginning, covering the major milestones of your world’s history while making it up as you go along. This #1: Sets a space for both you and your reader to think, and encourages them to keep reading, and #2: Creates a sense of “Wow! Cool world! I wonder who made it…” for the writer, and causes he/she to keep writing with evermore increased fervor.
So, writing up a few pages of lore for a story might not be a bad idea. There are a few exceptions to this rule: In Contemporary Realistic Fiction (Or what I like to call “sensible stories”) this might not be so potent. A small history of Joey’s life before his life at the orphanage might be a good thing, but the story of a world we know very much about will be EXTREMELY dull. In terms of less-fantastical stories, don’t go too wild on the lore.
There’s one last aspect of lore I’d like to talk about: Personal History. The word “lore” usually denotes a epic-ness (A word I’d like to coin someday) or a vast amount, but it can also mean the history of one individual version. If any lore would be used in CRF or something close to that, I’d recommend Personal History. This kind of lore focuses on the events in a certain person’s life rather than the history of a place or battle. This type should be deeply personal and include instances of certain thoughts, dreams, as well as physical events.
Choose your lore well, ye writers.
Good luck, and happy writing!