The history of a setting can easily be overlooked during development. Not thinking about it can create lost opportunities to enrich a story.
The history of an area influences nearly all aspects of a society. Not only can the land itself change, it can be changed by people or other forces.
Consider major events like natural or man-made disasters, wars, significant political events, major religious movements, large-scale societal changes, and the physical history of a place.
Much of the landscape of Europe was changed during the two World Wars, with some town ceasing to exist or being rebuilt after clearing the rubble. A centuries-old town suddenly made new could drastically change how people interact with the setting and with each other. It can change the tone of the area and create sentiments of hostility or hope.
Parts of New Orleans and surrounding areas still have ruined or abandoned buildings destroyed by the 2005 Hurricane Katrina, and how that natural disaster was dealt with changed many lives and attitudes.
Areas that have experienced unrest on turmoil may have physical markers of the struggle, events to commemorate it, or an air of secrecy if it is a history the residents are not proud of. July 24th isn’t a special day in most of the United States, but Utah hosts Pioneer Day celebrations that day to commemorate Mormon pioneers arriving in the valley. There are also many events that spoof or mock Pioneer Day, such as “Pies and Beers Day” or “Pies and Queers Day,” in the area, which highlight the tension present in the state.
Major historical events impact generations and can shape or alter society in a specific area.
Historical fiction requires a great deal of research, of course, but modern fiction should also make use of important historical influences. All aspects of life are influenced by the time period a person lives in. If a story has multi-generational characters, the history of a place can be a great way to show the effects of history on a place and its residents. Old biases and prejudices may be perplexing to younger who didn’t experience race riots or have only experienced acceptance of LGBTQ persons.
Consider how each historical element affects daily life, worldview and self perception, opportunities and choices of your characters. Work to weave these influences into the overall storyline and into the character’s backstory, current self, and motivations and goals for the future.