Alternate History and “The Divergence Point” Part 2

If you’re a little behind, check out the first part of this article: Alternate History and “The Divergence Point” Part 1.

Last week, we discussed the Divergence Point in the alternate history genre. I’ll jump right in and give you a little peek at how my alternate history works by telling you my Divergence Point. In 1554, Mary I, Queen of England married Phillip II, Prince (at the time) of Spain and Portugal, King of Naples and Sicily, etc. etc. In 1555, she became pregnant, but it proved to be a false pregnancy. Ultimately, she left no heir and her half-sister, Elizabeth, became queen. My alternate history starts here: the pregnancy was real, and they had a son together.

*cue dramatic music*

This is an example of a small Divergence Point (relatively), in the sense that it doesn’t cause any insanely huge, immediate changes. Still, the repercussions end up being massive. Once a Divergence Point is chosen, that’s when the real historical fiction-style research comes into play. Actually, the amount of research required is probably greater than that of historical fiction. Historical processes at play for hundreds of years must be understood leading up to that moment. For example, here is a brief list of some major European (and near-European) events in 1555:

First of the Protestant Martyrs burned at the stake in England; Pope Marcellus II and, later, Pope Paul IV take office; the Peace of Augsburg is signed; the first formal Jewish “ghetto” is formed in Rome; the Treaty of Amasya is signed; Siena surrenders to Spanish troops; Russia breaks a truce and invades Finland; and the only text detailing the Americas, De orbe novo decades, is translated into English and published.

That’s a lot going on! And understanding the historical contributions of those events requires an understanding of Protestantism in Europe, who or what an Augsburg and an Amasya were, why Jewish people were put in ghettos, where Siena is and why the Spanish liked it so much, why Russia invaded Finland and what their truce was about; and most everything about exploration of the “New World.” Not to mention understanding the entirety of the Tudor and Hapsburg lines so that the significance of their inbred baby can be fully grasped. And that is literally just the beginning. Every event unleashes a new list of associated events. Studying history in this manner creates a tree with an uncountable number of branches, and to try detailing every leaf would take an infinite number of lifetimes.

Therefore, when embarking on a quest to create an alternate history, it is important to do the best you can within reason. You don’t have infinite lifetimes (if you do, please email me. I have some questions for you), and odds are you’d really rather just write your novels than do all of this. The key is to do both at the same time. A good starting point is to know when and where your novels take place, making it easier to focus on the specific history of those settings, keeping the other areas much more general. What I personally find helpful is, while writing the novels after forming the general history, to make a note every time you put in a historical reference. Then, refine that historical reference, and carefully document the decisions made, especially in terms of their wider influence. Eventually (hopefully) those notes begin to intersect and create a living documentation of your world’s history. This same technique could, in theory, be applied to any world-building endeavor.

Up until now, we’ve been focused on how the past affects the Divergence Point. In the third and final segment of this article, we will discuss how the Divergence Point affects the timeline post-Divergence.

Thanks for taking the time to read about my writing process! I hope you found this helpful or, at the very least, interesting. I’d love to hear your opinions on the subject. Whether you are a lover of history and all its iterations, or if you, like Henry Ford, believe history is bunk, feel free to leave a comment below!

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3 thoughts on “Alternate History and “The Divergence Point” Part 2

    1. I certainly hope not! My concern is mostly with the plausibility of those divergences. The last thing I want is for a lover of history to throw my book across the room and spit, “That would never happen!”

      Liked by 1 person

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