Crafting Alternate History

The beauty of fiction is that the writer can imagine just about any kind of scenario for his/her story. It can be populated by mythical creatures, aliens or normal humans, where anything goes, and it’s (for the most part) believable to the reader, so long as there’s enough exposition to explain the difference(s) from the Real World. Time is relative, and history can be whatever the writer deems to be true in the world he/she has created.

The possibilities are endless, which is also the challenge when travelling down the path of the alternate universe. The degree to which to skew fact is among the factors to take into account, along with determining at what point in time to diverge from actual history and distinguishing the Fixed Points that cannot be changed. As a way to help with the process of determining these salient issues, I’ve binged watched select episodes of Doctor Who. The current series is amazing thus far, and it’s a shame that it’s Peter Capaldi’s final run as The Doctor – he’s by far the finest modern incarnation. I’m liking the new companion, Bill, who is a refreshing change from the recent companions.

But I digress.

The ripples from changing a (perceived) Fixed Point can cause a multitude of alternate universes where the status quo could be better, worse or just different from reality (though these days with all that talk of “alternative facts”, it can be difficult to know what is real and what isn’t). Then there’s the option of creating a secondary alternate universe within the primary one, where things get really complicated.

Of course, among the requirements in creating an alternate universe with its alternate history is to have a firm (or as firm as possible) grasp of Actual History (or at least the history that’s been recorded and taught in school) and choosing a key moment (or several) to diverge from and creating a plausible divergence from that point. After all, it’d be too complicated and complex (not to mention frustrating) for the reader to have to research actual history to be able to understand the difference from the alternate history from the actual one.

The use of alternate history remains a component for the foundation upon which the MASC Chronicles sits, along with a bunch of other other-worldly elements. The point at which history diverges is one that (at least to my knowledge) hasn’t been employed before, and whether or not history is “restored” to its original state remains to be seen.

Onward to research, plot and ponder.

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Education and Knowledge

Knowledge is power.

It’s a phrase that has been used for as long as anyone can remember, and implies a correlation between knowledge and success – knowledgeable people are successful, and successful people are knowledgeable…. Usually.  Sometimes, it’s not so much what one knows, but who one knows – networking and interpersonal relationships can compensate for a lack of knowledge in a given situation or profession. The level of education is not always a guarantee of success – the aforementioned interpersonal / social aspect has its merits – thought a certain level of fundamental information is critical. Timing is also a critical factor – when one knows someone / something can be as important (or more) than the other two factors, and can be the difference between success and failure, life or death.

I had thought to write about something else for this week’s entry, but as I plotted and pondered that other topic, I noticed that today (May 20th) is the anniversary of graduating from college. Hence the quasi-rambling about knowledge and education, and it’s relevance to the writing process (though these days it’s more plotting and pondering process than actual!writing).

Anyway.

In relation to the previous blog entry, which dealt with the practical aspects of world and character building, along with deciding upon the professions the characters hold (and what types of professions are viable, respectable and obtainable in the fictional world in which the character reside), the question of what type and level of education would be available for the characters arises, along with the importance of gaining certain levels of education (and the knowledge that goes along with it).

(I think that’s the longest non run-on (?) sentence I’ve written in a long while. I hope it makes sense. But if it didn’t, a short(er) translation)

In crafting the fictional world in which the narrative takes place, the presence (or absence) of educational systems and access to them is another practical aspect to take into account. Also, from a storytelling standpoint, there would a need for exposition to educate the reader, especially if the world in which the story is set is not readily familiar to the average reader. Then again, what the reader knows and is told may or may not be different than what certain characters know, which can heighten the suspense / drama in the narrative.

This imbalance of knowledge between the reader and character(s) happens more in stories told in third person perspective, as the (usually) omniscient narrator is relating the story objectively, while a first person perspective narrator chooses to tell the story at their own pace, and tells as much as he/she can or wants to. Of course, the writer holds all the cards (so to speak) and is the final decision maker as to the pacing and access of knowledge; then again, in the pantsing world, plot twists have a sneaky way of showing up and creating its own brand of chaos of which the writer needs to stage manage.

All the time.

Which is the fun part of creating a fictional world and the characters within.

Roles and Responsibilities

One of the more practical aspects in the writing process is the development of the roles and responsibilities as well as the “rules” that govern the fictional world in which the characters reside and interact. This is a necessary evil (?) when writing within the fantasy and science fiction genres (and its sub-genres), where anything is possible (elves, vampires. wizards, etc.). As that fictional world is not like any other that actually exists (at least as far as anyone is aware – I firmly believe that there has to be some other life out in the universe, or maybe a parallel / alternate universe), there’s a need for some kind of structure so the reader can follow along. Even if the setting is a variant of the real world (whether it’s set in the near or distant past or in present day). there a need for exposition (liberally sprinkled throughout the narrative) so there’s a level of familiarity so the reader can relate to the narrative arc:

  • Power – who or what is in charge? Who / what makes the rules to maintain law and order?  This can range from a dictatorship to a democracy, and anything in between. The pursuit for power (and the retention of that power) drives the characters and moves the narrative along its path.
  • Professions – what do the characters do for a living? Characters should have some sort of job that he / she does to maintain their lifestyle. The profession the characters can play a significant role in the situations they find themselves in, and the relationships they have with one another.

There are probably many more practical elements to address but I can’t think of them at the moment (so there might be a follow-up entry).

Anyway.

This topic popped into my head as I continue the (internal) plotting and pondering for my work in progress (which admittedly hasn’t progress as far as I thought it would at this point). Along with (re)defining the characters and designing the quasi-alternate / parallel universe of the MASC Chronicles (one day I’ll devote a series of entries about the series, but this is not that day), figuring out all the details (or at least as much as I can at this point) is exhaustive. This is in conjunction with the world building and its alternative history (of which I’m still making an effort to adhere) – the decision to set the MASC Chronicles in an alternate (possibly parallel) universe where there’s a divergence at a key point in World History. Figuring out how this alternate history plays out has its own challenges, as causality can create unexpected ripples in the time / space continuum.

And time travel hasn’t entirely been ruled out either (though that presents with additional headaches and countless flow charts). It’s quite an overwhelming and ambitious task to undertake, given the complexity of the entire series, though I do believe if I can pull it off convincingly. it’ll be epic and different (I hope) from anything that has been written already.

So the roles and responsibilities for me to make sense of all the quasi-rambling musings and plot bunnies bouncing about, waiting to be developed into Something Extraordinary.

Onward and upward!

Collaboration and Feedback

Writing is a collaborative effort.

While the elements within the story – characters, setting, narrative arc, etc. – are created by a (usually) solitary author, there are other collaborators behind the scenes who have had a hand in the final product. Those are the names listed in the acknowledgments, and sometimes those mentioned in the dedication. Then there are various forms of collaborative writing, from two (or more) writers creating a structured story to a group of writers creating an improvised story. The former has a defined plotted out narrative, characters and resolution, while the latter has infinite possibilities with regards to the narrative, characters and resolution. Another form of collaboration is writing on a common theme or topic (often published as a collection of short stories or essays).

In all of the aforementioned variations on the writing process, the element of feedback from beta readers, editors and critics (oh my!) is vital. Writing groups (in-person or online) can be helpful or harmful to the writing process, depending on the members in those groups. Some may genuinely want to help, giving constructive criticism, while others just nitpick and argue. While I have not joined any in-person writing groups (I’m too introverted to do so), I have joined a few online (via Facebook) writing groups, to which I’m a passive participant (mostly because of the aforementioned introvert nature, so I don’t really have the confidence to post anything for critique). One needs to have thick (lizard) skin to post musings online and deal with the inevitable feedback from the general public…

Oh wait.

This is a form of public writing, I suppose, but then again, there isn’t that much feedback and collaboration in this forum, as it’s quasi-one sided, and it’s not strictly fictional (though it’s not quite factual either, as the majority of these entries are essentially improvised essays).

Anyway.

After the first draft of the story is completed, the editing process begins, which can include recruiting beta readers (or friends / family) to read, with the hope of receiving constructive criticism and not just blanket praise (as many friends and family member are apt to do). Several drafts may result from this, along with a new round of beta readers. Once the final version is set (for the most part) then the task of deciding the publishing method begins, along with the cover design. These days self-publishing is a viable (and probably cost effective) option, and with the rise of e-readers (while convenient and lighter in terms of portability, I still like the feel of a real book in my hand, not to mention the new / old book smell) getting the completed book out and into the public is easier. With the presence of online sites such as Amazon and Goodreads (to name but two of many out there in cyberspace…. does anyone use “cyberspace” anymore?), submitting feedback is instantaneous and (for better and for worse) public.

While there may be one name on the book cover (real or otherwise), there are many people who have a hand in getting the story from the writer’s imagination into a reader’s hands.