Change Over Time in Fictional Worlds

In real life, buildings come down, new ones go up. Towns expand, become cities. Towns lose population, become abandoned. Trees grow, trees die. Climate shifts, deserts grow or shrink. So much can happen.  I thought about this when I saw this today:



The centre of this road where the brown wall is had a lot of cherry trees lining a central walkway. Now they’re gone. Every tree is gone. Why? Well, these trees are called Somei Yoshino, and they have a 70 to 80 year lifespan. Last time I saw them, several of them were dead. They were all likely planted at the same time around 70 or 80 years ago. They were all dying. It looks like they’re going to plant new ones and probably do some repairs.

When developing a fictional world, it’s important to understand that changes happen. If a book happens over a span of years, or if a series of books happen over a span of decades or even centuries, things must change. It’s highly unlikely that the status quo will be maintained.  If you have a town, make sure that the population changes over time, new buildings are built, old buildings go into disrepair and may be demolished, new neighbourhoods pop up, and people change. Even important landmarks may be destroyed. Don’t be afraid to do that.

A dynamic and changing world is much more interesting. It can be challenging to keep track of the changes, but it contributes to the realism of your world.

5 thoughts on “Change Over Time in Fictional Worlds”

  1. Given the nature of my own fiction, the setting changes a lot over the course of a character’s lifetime. (Hmm… Maybe they don’t actually grow apples much around Mistinghill anymore — maybe the climate has shifted a bit and some other region is better suited for that.)

    Even an “Eternal City” sort of setting ought to have a few things that don’t stay exactly the same. (Yes, I’m thinking of that tavern down in the harbor district in Amber — the one always named after the previous owner.)

    1. It’s little things like that that make it real. I looked at my old house from 30 years ago on google maps, and now there’s a garage. The big apple trees and beautiful weeping willows in the back yard are gone. In fact, no trees at all in the back yard. Seems less homey. But things change.

  2. I’m really into change-over-time, and not just because the events in my novels involve a lot of destruction and rebuilding. When I was trying to figure out the structure of one of my cities, I looked into its history because it was built on the site of an earlier city, so I got to figure out where the old fortress walls were and how they were incorporated into the modern version, and what old structures ended up underground so that they became, in effect, secret tunnels… Layers of history and change. Always fun.

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