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Writing an Alternate Universe

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Nov. 2, 2019
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An alternate universe (AU) is, in case anyone isn't aware, a story taking place in a fantastical, alternate historical timeline that usually kicks off from a specific event in actual history that takes a different turn from the one that it did in reality.

Alternate universes are fascinating. From classics like The Man in the High Castle to pop-culture hits like Inglorious Basterds, AUs are always fun!

So I thought I'd discuss today some of the things that are necessary in order to create a good AU that feels plausible and realistic.

1. Know the actual history very well

When preparing to write an AU, it's good to know the actual history well, especially when it comes to the forces and variables involved and with which you will be toying. Knowing how things resulted into the events or status you wish to change is key in order to be able to believably change the circumstances that could have brought a different outcome along. It's also crucial in order to write the new sequence of events. What, for example, would have happened if Hitler hadn't tried to backstab Stalin? What if he didn't micromanage his generals? What if he didn't survive his assassination, but that fact was never disclosed?

The possibilities are endless. But you'd need to know Hitler to tweak enough things in his life or environment to make him make different decisions, and also know Stalin well enough to suggest a plausible set of reactions of his own (hint- he also liked invasions and stuff).

2. Know what you want to explore

Why are you writing the AU? What is it you're looking to experience, find out, or say? Is it political? Social? Romantic? All of the above? Knowing that will help you keep the story in focus as the new historical events are taking place, and narrow down the stuff you will be centering in on.

3. Keep everything else constant

Just because the history changes doesn't mean that everything else does- you still need to research the era as you would for writing an actual historical novel. The culture, the fashion, the norms, and the history up until the point of divergence remain the same, so you should know it well.

4. Have some grasp of the era's world history

The history of a country doesn't happen in vitro. When you change an event in a country's history, it's highly likely that this will affect the neighboring countries (and thus their reactions to the country of focus). This may or may not be vital or even relevant to your story but know it nonetheless. It will surface in your dialogue or other elements of worldbuilding, and make the immersion even better.

And that's it! Have you ever written an AU? Would you ever try it and if yes, on which historical point in time?

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anonymous?

bravo1102 at 11:37AM, Nov. 2, 2019

There's a good series of books entitled "What if?" with articles by historians on what could have happened if various events went differently. One of the most chilling was the Persian victory against the Greeks which the author posits would mean the snuffing out of European civilization. There's also what if the Great Khan had not died and the Mongols not recalled east and instead had continued their invasion of Europe. I put that in the world for Sword of Kings. My version of the Mongols swept all before them and only stopped at the forests of Western Europe.

usedbooks at 10:18AM, Nov. 2, 2019

My favorite "alternate history" universe was in Bioshock Infinite (video game). It takes place in 1912 on a floating city called Columbia. After losing the American Civil War, the southerners decided to make their own self-governed city on this floating island -- their own version of paradise. Has sci-fi technology in a bright, clean, "happy" place (with racism/classism, dismal factory conditions, etc.). It's a shooter game, so obviously all is not well in "paradise." (Plus, it has some time-bending themes, which is a favorite story element for me.)

ozoneocean at 8:30AM, Nov. 2, 2019

Pinky TA is an alternative universe story :D History diverges quite a lot for it though, unlike a lot of those American TV shows and movies that a more of "what if" sorts of stories.

bravo1102 at 3:49AM, Nov. 2, 2019

Mask of the Aryans featured an alternate 1960, where the Korean War had become World War III with atomic weapons and the death tolls had been so huge the military was sexually integrated but not racially because Harry Truman didn't win the 1948 election.

bravo1102 at 3:44AM, Nov. 2, 2019

Harry Turtledove is the master of alternative history. Read one of his series and you'll see how AU is supposed to be done.

Gunwallace at 2:31AM, Nov. 2, 2019

@Andreas_Helixfinger : That's a very interesting idea. I guess my current comic, The Lipstick Churchills, is an AU where there was a crap band called The Lipstick Churchills. How can the existence of one more crap band change reality?

Andreas_Helixfinger at 2:03AM, Nov. 2, 2019

Well, I'm currently putting out a noir-style comic on this site that takes place after the Chernobyl disaster, where the Chernobyl disaster has affected life radically on a global scale, as oppose to what it did in reality, creating this bizarre world of mutants and mutant humanoids. That's my take on Alternate Universes so far.


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