Alternate history is a fascinating genre wherein authors write parallel world wherein history changed and diverged from what really happened. Consider the analogy that the past is another country while alternate history is from a different dimension. Ideally, alternate histories can make you see the real history of our world in a whole new way and make you realize that events that seem like they were inevitable.

Here are the worst storytelling mistakes in the alternate history genre:

1. Forgetting to tell a 'good' story
One of the biggest mortal sin in writing alternate history is taking for granted the art of good storytelling. Even if you create interesting characters, an alternate history will just be a story without a soul if readers are not compelled to read/ There has to be a point to all this stuff, beyond just the fascinating "what if" question.

2. In every story, there should be a sense of direction
When you're trying to tell a story, make sure that you try to entertain and provoke some thought. And when it comes down to it, you can break almost any rule in the service of a good story. As Harry Turtledove would say "making the story go where you want it to go, regardless of whether they change you've made can plausibly take you there."

3. Confusing urban legend with actual history
Make sure that you know what you're writing about because most of us think that we know the history, more than we actually do. We tend to rely on our general understanding of the past when dealing with alternate history.

4. Ignoring key historical factors that were important at the time
A large part when writing alternate history is making judgments about which historical points to pursue. Bear in mind that if you ignore something that was important to the people at the time then you risk throwing some people out of the story.

5. Forgetting to bring it up to the present.
If you don't bring your alternate history up to the reader's present timeline then you leave out half the fun.

6. Some historical developments were probably inevitable
Often, we think of history in terms of a single person who did something heroic and historic — like, Columbus sailed across the Atlantic and started the European age of exploration. The big breakthrough that allowed Europeans to sail the world was a greater knowledge of deep-ocean currents and wind patterns. Once you know the winds blow consistently from East to West off the coast of Northwest Africa, and from East to West further North, it's fairly easy to sail the Atlantic. So if Columbus hadn't sailed to the New World from Western Europe, someone else would have fairly soon after.

7. Not accounting for even the most obvious ripples from one big change
You can't account for all of the ripples from one point of departure because those ripples will have ripples, and so on. But you can pay attention to things that almost happened in real history because they might well have happened, if things were different.

8. Focused too much on one changed event instead of all the events that led up to it
Just as authors sometimes fail to consider the obvious "ripple effects" that might result from one major change, they often act as though a major change comes out of nowhere. Every historical event has a bunch of causes that lead up to it, so if you want to make a major alteration seem plausible, you have to tweak the factors, so that the changed event appears inevitable in retrospect. The real reasons for the change might be ten years earlier or even a hundred years.

9. Assuming that nothing will change besides one big alteration
Unless the change is so major that the world is unrecognizable afterwards, some things will still stay the same.

10. Too much explaining
The biggest problem in the alternate history genre is when an author shows off too much information and complexity and assumes that the reader will be as fascinated with the details as they themselves were. Determining the pertinent details of the time-shift and then integrating them organically is a serious challenge.

Harry Turtledove is perhaps the master of the alternate history genre and one of his critically-acclaimed novels is "The Guns from the South." This time-travel alternate history delves on the scenario wherein the Confederacy won the American Civil War with the help from a group of white supremacist members of the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging from an imagined 21st-century South Africa. This mercenaries supplied Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia with modern AK-47 assault rifles and other supplies including nitroglycerine tablets for treating Lee's heart condition.

The story begins in January 1864 with the Confederacy is losing the war against the United States. It was then when men with strange accents and oddly mottled clothing approached Robert E. Lee at the headquarters of the Army of Northern Virginia where demonstrated superior rifles. The men, who call their organization "America Will Break," offered their services to supply the Confederate army with these rifles. The weapons operate on chemical and engineering principles unknown to Confederate military engineers. The AWB establish a base in the little town of Rivington, North Carolina, making it into a combined fortress and arsenal.

The AWB continue to offer inexplicable intelligence and technology to the Confederacy by providing Lee with what they call nitroglycerin pills to ease his frequent chest pains. Finally, Lee questions their leader Andries Rhoodie, who ultimately decides to tell that they are Afrikaner nationalists from South Africa and have traveled back in time from the year 2014. The newcomers claim that white supremacy has not endured to the modern era and that blacks in the future will marginalize whites. Lee is told that Abraham Lincoln will act as a vicious tyrant during his second term and ensure that blacks will become the dominant political faction in the South, as they outnumber whites in many areas.

The AWB trained soldiers to use their new weapons thereby improving Confederate morale considerably during preparations for the 1864 campaign against the Union forces. With the AWB's guns and some direct military aid from the time-traveling South Africans, the Army of Northern Virginia drives Ulysses S. Grant's forces out of Virginia. In a surprise night attack they captured Washington D.C. thus ending the Civil War.

To the amazement of most of the Confederate troops, Abraham Lincoln refused to flee the capital during their advance and appears on the White House lawn, addressing them before personally surrendering to Lee. The United Kingdom and France recognize the Confederacy and President Lincoln is forced to accept Southern victory. As Confederate forces begin to end their occupation of Washington and Union troops withdraw from the portions of the South, which they had captured, the new country starts to determine its future social and political direction.

In negotiations between the CSA and USA, to which Lee is made a CSA representative, the USA agrees to pay millions of dollars in reparations, albeit reluctantly. The CSA, in turn, gives up any claim to Maryland and West Virginia. After much debate, both sides agree that Kentucky and Missouri will hold elections to determine whether they will remain in the Union or secede and join the Confederacy. The two countries appoint Lee and his former opponent Ulysses Grant to supervise these elections to ensure fairness. At one point during the run up, AWB men are caught smuggling weapons into Thompkinsville, Kentucky; when questioned they disclaim any effort to affect the outcome of the elections. They claim they were selling weapons which, given the group's overwhelming wealth, seems highly unlikely. Other supporters, both official and unofficial, and including the defeated ex-president Lincoln, pour into both states to try to sway voters. Despite an assassination attempt on Lee by a former slave in Louisville and the machinations of Rivington men, the election goes as planned, with Kentucky voting to join the Confederacy while Missouri votes to remain with the Union.

In the 1864 US Presidential Election, Democratic candidate Horatio Seymour and his running mate Clement Vallandigham narrowly defeat President Abraham Lincoln and Vice President Hannibal Hamlin, carrying 138 electoral votes from ten states compared to Lincoln and Hamlin's 83 electoral votes from twelve states. Independent George McClellan carried third place with ten electoral votes from the states of Delaware and New Jersey. In fourth place, Radical Republican candidate John C. Fremont and his running mate Andrew Johnson carry only three electoral votes from Kansas.

Confederate slaves, freed during the war by Union troops, have violently resist returning to slavery. Many who made up Union military units during the war continue to fight Confederate forces long after the North's formal surrender. This has frightened many Southern whites and infuriated the troops charged with fighting them, particularly Nathan Bedford Forrest (OTL: he became an early Ku Klux Klan member and was elected as its first Grand Wizard in the postwar years) and his men. Lee, already dubious about slavery and respectful of the courage of the United States Colored Troops during the war, becomes convinced that continuing to enslave Negroes is both morally wrong and ultimately impracticable. He believes that it is too late to try to re-impose prewar conditions. He thinks black guerrillas will continue to raid and perhaps prompt a general slave rebellion in the near future.

Parts of the South, which had fallen to the Union during the war, had already lost most of their slaves, as they were freed as soon as the Union troops had arrived and did not return to their previous masters. In other parts, many slaves had run away, mostly to the Union lines where they gained freedom. Despite threats by the AWB, Lee made no effort to hide his views. He runs for president with the full backing of Jefferson Davis, who is limited by the Confederate Constitution to a single six-year term, in 1867 even though Davis had initial reservations about Lee's views on the slavery issue.

The AWB convinced Nathan Bedford Forrest to run against Lee on a pro-slavery ticket with Louis Wigfall as his running mate and put their considerable resources into Forrest's campaign. They draw from their large supply of gold coins. When Lee achieves a narrow victory, Forrest concedes defeat and promises to help rally the young nation behind its new president. Soon after the election however, Lee receives a history book (stolen from the AWB) from a former Confederate soldier, which covers the Civil War and the original outcome that was supposed to happen without the AWB's intervention. Enraged at the lies, Rhoodie told him about what happened in the future. Lee confronts Rhoodie by using the modern history book as proof of Rhoodie's dishonesty. Faced with these accusations, Rhoodie promises to show the AWB's true colors to Lee.

At Lee's inauguration on March 4, 1868, AWB men tried to assassinate him but failed. However, it resulted into the death of Lee's wife Mary, his vice president Albert Gallatin Brown, various dignitaries and generals, and many civilians. The police seized the AWB offices in Rivington after a fierce battle. Lee enters the stronghold to find more technological marvels (such as fluorescent light bulbs and air conditioning), along with books that document the increasing marginalization of blacks and other minorities. Lee showed these books to Confederate congressmen to convince them to vote for his plan for slavery's gradual abolition. Appalled at the AWB attempted assassination, Forrest offered his services to Lee without reservation and is put in command of a hastily re-mobilized Confederate forces.

Eventually, Confederate forces laid siege to Rivington and engaged the AWB despite their use of modern weaponry to inflict heavy casualties on the Confederate forces. Despite suffering heavy casualties due the vast technological gap, the Confederate infantry manaded to destroy the AWB's time machine during the fighting and seized the town after breaking through the AWB defenses. The few surviving Afrikaners who were unable to escape back to their own time surrendered. Soon after being captured, Rhoodie was killed by an enraged slave. In Richmond, the Confederate Congress narrowly passes President Lee's gradual abolition bill.

Pharmacists have copied the nitroglycerin pills brought by the AWB and Lee hopes, with their help, to live to see the effects of his plan for emancipation. Meanwhile, a few of the stranded South Africans agreed to help the Confederacy replicate their 21st century technology from 2014, helping Lee to counter the Union's own replica 'modern' rifles and greater industrial strength. Though the CSA has maintained strict neutrality in a war, which the USA has started, with the British Empire by invading Canada, Lee fears the Union may attempt a war of revenge against the CSA in the future, but he rests assured that the CSA will remain the most technologically-advanced nation in the world for many decades to come.

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{picture#} JP Canonigo is a historian, professional blogger and copywriter, online content specialist, copywriter, video game junkie, sports fanatic and jack-of-all trades. {facebook#} {twitter#} {google#}
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