I'm writing a fantasy story in which there is a contemporary earth (our earth) and a secondary world. Due to certain reasons all earthlings who are able to reach the second world have great magical powers which can cause great ruckus.

My problem is that I need to explain whether other earthlings in the past have caused conflicts inside the second world, before the main characters of the story.

If it happened, I need to figure out why am I narrating the story of these characters and not of previous earthlings. The reason can't be that they are simply special (I don't want them to be "the chosen" or something like that). I just want these characters to be in the XXI century because it's better for the plot. But I can't say that to the reader, i need to justify the choice.

If it didn't happen, it begs the question: why the adventures of these characters and the effects they had on the second world didn't happen before? All previous earthlings who visited the second world had the same powers.

In front of me I see the following options:

  1. Create a chronology and a big backstory of how previous earthlings have affected the second world. It's the most consistent option but also the most challenging (I'm not fond of it because most plots of my characters don't rely that much in past events);
  2. Made up an excuse to make previous earthlings unable (or not willing) to affect the second world in meaningful ways;
  3. Create a special reason why affluence of earthlings to the second world has increased in the XXI century. In the past only a small number of earthlings were able to reach it (for some reason).

How would you solve the dilemma? Do you see any other option? Which one would you choose? It would really be helpful if you could provide examples of dilemmas you encountered while writing one of your stories and describe your mental process in order to solve them.

P.S. I tried to keep it simple in here because the reason they have magical powers is kind of complicated and I don't think it helps to solve the problem (on the contrary it opens other problems, but I don't want to diverge your attention).


3 Answers 3


Are you sure you have to justify to the reader why you've chosen to write about certain people in a certain century?

Sure, there is the question, why does the story start here? But it could be as simple as your protagonist has come of age and are starting to see his abilities manifest, or some antagonist has finally found a proof that the magic ones exists and now he's going to tell EVIL GOVERNMENTAL AGENCY, or some other reason that isn't the beginning of the whole world. (Think The Lord of the Rings vs Silmarillion, Tolkien started writing LOTR with tons and tons of backstory he mostly skipped--although specifically Tolkien is a bit backstory heavy sometimes).

You are allowed to simply chose one reason to start the story and then, via dialog, flashback and similar tell the rest of your backstory as it is needed.

I think it's important to start the story in the middle of some kind of event that naturally generates action and movement of the characters, so I'm not overly fond of prologs, but that might be a way to go.

However, on the problem of telling the rest of the backstory convincingly:

Give a character an urgent reason to figure out what happened in the past? Say for instance, this information is needed to solve the story problem.

Or, put these past events into the backstory of a character and make them vital to that character's personality or backstory. For instance, what if one of your characters actually was one of these older people, that via magic had survived to these days?

Also don't be afraid to not use all the backstory information. Sometimes it adds extra dimension and dynamic to a story that doesn't explain everything.

I've heard you could possibly use about 1% of all the backstory of characters and the world you develop without making your story too backstory heavy.

After all, the reader wants things that happens now, not to hear anecdotes of past adventures that they are not allowed to be a part of... (Imagine two of your best friends talking in lengthy detail about something they did yesterday when you weren't there--you get the idea!)

Finally, don't be afraid to kill all the darlings that prevents you from writing a good story!


You see three options:

1) I like history so I like option 1.

2) involves a change in the abilities or plans or desires of Earthlings who go to the secondary world, so that more of them change things there. This involves a sociological change in all Earthlings in recent history, or a change in a small subset of Earthlings that you define as the ones able to go to the secondary world.

3) involves a change in Earth that explains why more Earthlings go to the secondary world, such as growing population combined with other factors involving whatever small subset of Earthlings that are able to go to the secondary world according to the (possibly complex) rules of your story.

4) The one you didn't mention, is a change in the secondary world that enables more Earthlings to go there and change it. Maybe more magical equivalents of transporter pads are built there so more Earthlings can cross over. Maybe the Anti Earth Magic Service has worked too well and the secondary world congressional budget committee doesn't believe that magic users from Earth are a threat and slashes the budget, allowing more magic users from Earth to drastically change the secondary world, including abolishing the secondary world government and its Anti Earth Magic Service.

I recommend a combination of two, or three, or all four options.

The increasing numbers of Earthlings who cross over and use magic in the secondary world can be a important plot element. Separate characters can each identify a trend that is partially responsible for more magic users coming from Earth, and calculate that the number who cross over will eventually destroy both worlds. Later they meet and compare notes and discover that the several different causes reinforce each other and the doomsday moment will be much sooner than they thought.


Look for a reason of their magic powers that could make ancient travelers unable to have great powers. May be that magic powers are increased by exposition to TV sets radiation?

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