If you’ve come up with your own fantasy world, you might have created a rich backstory for it as well, complete with a list of rulers stretching back decades (or centuries, or more!). Doing so can be a fun exercise, but it’s important to think about how much of this history your characters would know.
Think about general knowledge in our world to guide you. For instance, I live in the UK. Off the top of my head, I can list the following prime ministers: Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss, Boris Johnson, Theresa May, David Cameron, Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, John Major and Margaret Thatcher.
Those are the people who’ve had the job during my lifetime. My knowledge gets patchy after that. I can name Winston Churchill and a handful of others, but not many. I probably wouldn’t be able to tell you when a lot of them held the post either.
Your protagonist might be able to list every monarch for the last three centuries if they’re a renowned historian. However, this is less likely if they’re just an ordinary citizen in a small medieval town with little access to education.
Keeping this in mind can help you to guard against unrealistic info dumping. (“I’m a young guard who’d never ventured further than the next town a week ago, but let’s chat about how the last seven monarchs differed from the current one!”)
However, it’s likely your characters will know something about the land they live in. One way to work out how much is to pretend they’re contestants on a quiz show. What’s their general knowledge like, and how has their upbringing influenced this? Would they be more likely to win the prize money or get eliminated in the first round?
If you like the idea, you could even come up with a series of questions, and write a scene where some of your characters try to answer them. The result might not make it into the book, but it’ll give you a better understanding of what your “contestants” know about.
Have you come across a character who knows twice as much as they should? How did that affect your enjoyment of the story? Send me an email to let me know, or comment below!