There is a viking prayer that I am rather fond of and it sounds like this:
Lo, There do I see my Father, and
Lo, there do I see my Mother, and
Lo, There do I see my Brothers and my Sisters and
Lo, There do I see my people back to the beginning, and
Lo they do call to me, and
bid me take my place among them in the halls of Valhalla,
Where the brave will live forever.
It is that middle line that catches me, "Lo, do I see my people back to the beginning...". This is what sets my imagination off. It is the thought that there were thousands (millions, really) that have come before me. Each one a life lived and a story told through out history all the way back past recorded time. It is the thought that somewhere in my genome is a fragment of DNA from a man who likely fought in the Revolutionary War. Another fragment that was passed down from a woman who may have lead a village in Bronze Age Europe. Tiny bits of A's and T's, G's and C's that have been passed down from life to life from before thoughts progressed beyond eat, reproduce, and survive.
I my mind, I do see them all the way back to the beginning.
Sometimes, on a stormy night like this, I like to sit and dream of the lives that led to me. My family history is muddled beyond the most recent three generations and anyone who could remember beyond that is long since passed. All I can do, then is to imagine them. Farmers, statesmen, masons, warriors and poets all and more going back to some great migration (I believe that there must have been more than just one) out of that original Eden that was a water laden northern Africa. This is my history - my heritage - that has led to my existence here and now.
It is my story.
And therein lies the link to my writing. I can imagine my heritage all the way back to the prokaryotic cell in the primordial soup that began it all. Why, then, should I not apply the same history imaginings to my characters. Instead of simply sketching out the backstory to one or two generations prior, why not delve deeper? Imagine their history back to the beginning - back to the time before their world's history began. True, it's probably not practical to do it for every character, but I should think it would be worth it to at least do it for your protagonist and antagonist. The world rules the spring from the creation of their heritage will guide you with your other characters as the history unfolds.
This is their story.
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