This is the last part of my three-part blog post introducing the genre of Alternate History. Make sure you check out the other parts before you read this one: Alternate History and “The Divergence Point” Part 1 and Part 2.
Now that we have established what the Divergence Point is, and the work that goes into researching the time leading up to that divergence, let’s talk about what happens after the Divergence Point. I will highlight two different aspects: the immediate changes and the long-term destination.
To demonstrate the immediate effects of the divergence, I will use my Divergence Point as an example. The most drastic, instantaneous change is in regards to that good-looking lady pictured above. That is Queen Elizabeth I of England, but in my history she does not become queen. Which means that many of the things she accomplishes as queen never happen. Most prominently, her support of the Protestants in England, France, and the Netherlands, as well as general suppression of Catholics. She also contributed to the start of the Anglo-Spanish War, and nurtured positive, beneficial relationships with the Ottoman Empire. During her reign, there was also a notable increase in literature, arts, and science.
But now, *poof*, none of that happened. Like researching the history before the Divergence Point, these immediate repercussions—historical events concerning people who live during the divergence—should be researched in the branching manner. Every event needs to be understood, except now you must have an understanding of potential hypotheticals. How would the event have developed despite the divergence, and how do these changes affect future events? Either way, things should, theoretically, change very quickly.
So what happens instead? Well, this is where the “fantasy” side of alternate history kicks in. And this is where it is a good idea to have a “Destination” in mind.
If I’m being totally honest, I’m afraid I might have misled you. I’ve insinuated that the Divergence Point is the first thing you have to decide on. Sometimes, that’s the easiest way to do it, but in reality the best place to really start your process is the Destination. This is the historical setting which you have created in your mind, the event that is focal to your stories or to your alternate history as a whole, and a place where your diverted timeline must lead. For me, it was a massive civil war following the collapse of a European Empire inherited from the remnants of a Holy Roman Empire far stronger than the real one. This war has a major influence on all of my stories (so far), and in order to provide the historical context I needed to realistically create a Holy Roman Empire that succeeded in taking most of Europe. The best way to do that, was to provide Phillip II an heir. Suddenly, I have my Divergence Point.
Okay, wait, I’m getting a little lost here. How about a recap?
Alternate History is a type of speculative fiction dealing with one (or many) event(s) in history changing, resulting in a different timeline, but still rooted in a common history with our world.
The best place to start is with a Destination. Think of a historical event you want your stories and narrative to focus on. It can be anything you want, that’s the beauty of alternate history! As long as you can justify it. Example: The Holy Roman Empire unites Europe, but eventually collapses and sparks a massive war.
With your destination in mind, trace back through history and find a point where it is most plausible that history can change to reach your Destination. This will be your Divergence Point. Example: The best way to make the Holy Roman Empire grow is to make Phillip II and Mary I have a son, thus creating an heir which has claims to both England and the Holy Roman Empire.
Now, research! Find out everything you can about the circumstances leading into and out of the Divergence Point.
Once you have researched the Divergence Point, begin making things up. Find a way to connect the Divergence Point to your Destination, accounting for all of those things you just researched oh so thoroughly. Be realistic at first, but the further you get from the Divergence Point, the more drastic your changes can be.
And there you go, you’ve just written an alternate history! Well done. Now go get a drink, you’ve earned it.
As special thanks for reading my ridiculously long description of Alternate History and The Divergence Point, here’s a Wikipedia list of alternate history books, shows, movies, video games, etc.: List of Alternate History Fiction. Check it out! There may be something you like.
Thanks again, everybody. Feel free to leave a comment below letting me know what you think about all this crazy stuff. And hey, stay awesome.