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Why Write Alternative History?

Thande

Catch '22
Published by SLP
Yeah I can't see the front page at all. Not sure what's happened.
OK - I'll wait till it comes back before I publicise it on social media.

Incidentally did you use 'alternative' rather than 'alternate' history in the article? The former is strictly more grammatically correct in British English, but we tend to consistently go for the US usage these days as 'alternative' more evokes conspiracy theories and so on.
 

Gary Oswald

It was Vampire Unions that got us Vampire Weekend
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OK - I'll wait till it comes back before I publicise it on social media.

Incidentally did you use 'alternative' rather than 'alternate' history in the article? The former is strictly more grammatically correct in British English, but we tend to consistently go for the US usage these days as 'alternative' more evokes conspiracy theories and so on.
In the first sentence I go 'alternative or alternate history' and then use AH for the rest of the article.
 

Redolegna

Champagne Socialist
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Hah, I'd forgotten that!
I'll grant that the Alternate-Crimean War that goes on forever and with France bowing out because it's not worth it, Wales going its separate way, etc., can be more memorable.
 

Gary Oswald

It was Vampire Unions that got us Vampire Weekend
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I see you didn't mention the one book where there is an Alternate History version of Jane Eyre... Probably would have complicated matters.
I was tempted. When I wrote the paragraph about how if the story isn't about what you're changing you should leave it out to avoid the story not having focus I very nearly added 'unless you're Jasper Fforde where the complete lack of focus and various unexplored ideas littering the background is kind of the point'.

But then you have to explain the plot of the Eyre Affair and I don't have three years.
 

Thande

Catch '22
Published by SLP
I'll grant that the Alternate-Crimean War that goes on forever and with France bowing out because it's not worth it, Wales going its separate way, etc., can be more memorable.
And the Tsarist Russians demanding Kent in reparations but settling for just Tunbridge Wells. Meanwhile WW2 seems to have happened just the same in the meantime except that there was a successful Sealion.
 

Alexander Rooksmoor

Well-known member
I whole-heartedly agreed with the article. I have explored this topic in two chapters of my recent book 'Thinking of Writing Alternate History?'. I develop Tom's theme in there, that AH is a frame rather than a genre and give examples from a whole slew of AH books which are also war stories, or spy novels, romance or slice of life stories. I also look at what I thought this article was about from its title, i.e. what motivates people to write alternate history over straight forward historical novels and stories.

I feel a prime motive is to shake-up what is known and see if it still falls down the same way or if something very different develops. If the latter, then this is a motive but also an opportunity. Say Napoleon's forces invade England, do the Misses Bennetts still spend their time seeking a husband or do they join the resistance, try to live as normal or start sleeping with French officers in exchange for food? Sometimes I have abandoned writing on scenarios because on reflection, the differences would be so minor as to not really provide much of interest over me writing a straight historical novel.

One complaint about 'Scavenged Days' which starts with President Charles De Gaulle being assassinated in 1961 is that by the 1970s France was shown as being pretty much back to how it had been. In fact this was not true, but on the surface it looked much the same and the reader felt that I had failed in adopting a scenario leading to greater change, even though NATO had sent troops into the country, the Americans had occupied Paris and Greek troops had hunted down OAS members in Provence with a shoot-to-kill policy, plus France had a different President. Some readers have the sense that the divergence must be great, though feasible, or there is no point in writing about it.

For me, it comes back to what makes a good story. 'King and Joker' by Peter Dickinson is a classic case. It has the minimal of changes to the British Royal Family, but one that allows Dickinson to explore characters in a way that adhering to the real history would not have permitted. The series started with 'Wolves of Willoughby Chase' by Joan Aiken, is another example. We do not even know how a James III is on the throne in the 19th Century, but largely because that is not Aiken's focus, she wants to write a dramatic adventure story and an alternate history provides her some opportunities she otherwise would not have.

I think it is great that there are groups which discuss AH. However, I think when it comes to striving to promote good story telling, the focus is instead much more on the 'mechanics' of the AH rather than the quality of the writing. As David shows in 'How to Write Alternate History' (2019) often the least feasible alternate history scenarios have the best writing or at least are the most popular. We have to be careful not to become a literary equivalent of trainspotters, becoming fussed because the 8.45 came on to Platform 3 rather than 2.
 

David Flin

Real people take priority over imaginary people
However, I think when it comes to striving to promote good story telling, the focus is instead much more on the 'mechanics' of the AH rather than the quality of the writing. As David shows in 'How to Write Alternate History' (2019) often the least feasible alternate history scenarios have the best writing or at least are the most popular. We have to be careful not to become a literary equivalent of trainspotters, becoming fussed because the 8.45 came on to Platform 3 rather than 2.
Whole-hearted agreement. For me, at any rate, the story comes first and foremost. If the story is dry and dull and uninspired (tastes differ), then it doesn't matter how carefully crafted the setting is, the story is no good. If the story is a cracking good read, then the details of how the setting arose aren't important.
 
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