Margie Lawson

Changing your Writing World

How to Write Believable Alternate History Fiction

Have you ever imagined how history could have turned out differently?

What would the world have looked like if the Nazis had won the Second World War, the South had won the American Civil War, or the US had lost the Cold War?

Alternate histories challenge and inspire us to think about what might have been instead of what actually was. The problem with writing alternate history is making it “believable”. Even in the realm of imagination, characters, plots, and events should follow real historical patterns.

Come join historian Hugh Gordon as he shows you how to weave history and imagination together. What would happen if Hitler never came to power, or if the Roman Empire lasted to the present day? Learn about writing alternate histories that are believable, exciting, and imaginative.

What you will learn:

  • How alternate history fiction works
  • Popular alternate history tropes and time periods
  • What makes alternate history “believable” from a historian’s perspective
  • How to create your own alternate history novel

Who should take this course:

  • Beginner writers who want to write an alternate history novel
  • Intermediate writers who want to improve the realism of their work and sprinkle it with historical facts and events to make their alternate history more believable
  • Experienced writers who want to engage in intricate world-building exercises flecked with real history

Lesson One: What is Alternate History?

  • How does it relate to actual history?
  • Why is it popular?

Assignment: Tell me what you know about alternate history. Why are you interested in it?

Lesson Two: Popular Alternate History Periods and Tropes

  • Nazi Germany and the Second World War
  • The American Civil War
  • Communism

Assignment: Discuss a time period you think would work well for alternate history.

Lesson Three: What Makes Alternate History Believable?

  • knowledge of period
  • turning points or “track changes”
  • what is going on elsewhere in the world? Does the alternate history match?
  • Do historical persons act as they did in history?

Assignment: Discuss a moment in history that might have gone differently, explain why and what might have happened instead.

Lesson Four: Alternate History in Literature and Film

  • Robert Harris’ “Fatherland” and tales of Nazi victory
  • Philip K. Dick’s “The Man in the High Castle”
  • The works of Harry Turtledove

Assignment: Pick a piece of alternate history fiction and explain why you like it/why it works or does not work

Lesson Five: Writing (Alternate) History

  • Do your research!
  • Check your sources!
  • And invent and have fun!

Assignment: Pick a moment in history and write a timeline (in point form or prose) of how history changes

Lesson Six: Your Alternate History Novel

  • plot structure
  • what types of characters? real or invented?
  • how does it deviate from real history? What would make it exciting or interesting?

Assignment: Outline an alternate history novel.

Teacher

Hugh Gordon

Hugh Gordon has a master’s degree and doctorate in Canadian Military History from the University of Victoria and a bachelor’s degree in History and Classics from Queen’s University. For seven years, he was the History Instructor at Keyano College in Fort McMurray. He has taught courses in History, Classics, and Native Studies. In addition, he has prepared public lectures on the history of Cold War culture and espionage, obscure weapons, air and space travel, concepts of the future, and conspiracy theories. He has been writing fiction since he was in elementary school. He enjoys science fiction, fantasy, steampunk, espionage thrillers, and mysteries. He has been published in Northword Magazine.

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