Help:Guide to Alternate History

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Any registered user is free to edit and expand upon this help guide.

  • Note: Before you start your first timeline, it is recommended that you read the timeline guidelines, which explains the rules on creating and editing timelines and articles on this wiki.

Here at the Alternate History Wiki, anyone can create an alternate history timeline.

What is alternate history? Well, an alternate history (see Wikipedia article), also alternatively known as alternative history, allohistory, althistory, or uchronie (AH), is a genre of historical and speculative fiction in which the author changes the outcome of events in the past which results in a timeline of history different from our own. Alternate history touches on the "what if?" scenarios at certain points in history; what if the outcome of an event went differently, or what if something never happened, or what if something that didn't happen did happen? What would the effects of such a change be and how would it play out through time? How different would such a world be from our own?

We refer to our history as it happened and the timeline and universe that we currently live in, from the past up to our current present, as our timeline or OTL. Specific points in the past which changes the course of history are called points of divergence (PoD). The point of divergence can be at anytime in the past, either in the recent past or in distant history. The further back in time the point of divergence is, the more different an alternate history timeline is going to be from our timeline. From the point of divergence onward, the changes in outcome results in a latter series of events in a history which are different from OTL, thus creating an alternate or alternative timeline (ATL).

Alternate histories can take the form of narrative stories, in which the characters take part in the changes and live through their alternate world. Others can take the form of chronologies, listing a timeline of events and the dates that they happen. On this wiki, writers can expand upon that by including individual encyclopedic articles on the countries, people, organizations and events that exist in their timelines and how the changes affect their individual histories in a similar style to articles on Wikipedia.

Alternate histories can touch on major historical events, politics, technology, pop culture, sports, celebrities, business, economics, etc.

Brief glossary of alternate history terms and acronyms

  • OTL - Our timeline, or real-life history as it happened.
  • ATL - Alternate timeline, the series of fictional events which occur differently from OTL and the universe within it.
  • PoD - Point of divergence, a cause or a change of outcome at a point in history which results in a diversion of events between an ATL and OTL.

See more definitions in our glossary.

How it relates to other genres

Alternate history is considered a subset of speculative fiction, which are broad genres of fiction which deals with elements that do not exist in real life and also include genres such as fantasy and science fiction, and historical fiction, which focuses on a particular time period in the past. Unlike other forms of speculative fiction, alternate history doesn't usually include elements of fantasy, which mainly include magic and mythology, but instead are about things that could happen in real life that are plausible. And unlike historical fiction, alternate history doesn't just focuses or takes place solely in the past, as many timelines also work their way up to an alternate present and evolving technologies.

Future history is related to alternate history as it is also a form of speculative fiction or science fiction, but future history deals with events that take place in the future, i.e after the present in OTL (or after the time of the author's writing) and that could happen based on the author's imagination. Sometimes, a future history can be written in the past and take place in a time that is now considered our past or present, with events that never took place or occurred differently and making the future history obsolete. But what sets an alternate history and an obsolete future history apart is that in an alternate history, the change occur in what is already the past, where as in a future history the change occurred after the time the future history was written and thus had no knowledge of the actual events that would occur later on.

Future history and alternate history can be combined to produce alternate future history, which are about alternate parallel future timelines. In other words, they are ATL timelines with a point of divergence in the past but which events takes place in the future. And because these future events are a result of changes in the past that are different from OTL, these future events never come to pass.

Counterfactual history is also very similar in concept to alternate history in that they are also about speculations about what if something has occurred differently in the past. The difference is its purpose: alternate history are mainly for literary and entertainment purposes, where as counterfactual history are for historiographical and academic purposes.

Also, depending on the time period of the point of divergence, alternate history can include elements of steampunk (for the 19th and early-20th century), dieselpunk and atompunk (for the mid-20th century) and other related time periods (especially if they are technology or pop culture-based timelines). However, these are more styles of historic fiction and science fiction, rather than alternate history because alternate history often continues into the present instead of focusing at a particular time period.

The science behind it

One way alternate timelines can be explained by the many-worlds interpretation, which is a quantum mechanics theory that states states that there are an infinite number of possible outcomes at any point in time, resulting in an infinite number of parallel universes which each results from a different outcome, and that the present branches out into different possible futures.

Definition and elements of an alternate history

An alternate history should always have:

  • A cause or a change of outcome which has occurred in the past or before the author's writing (point of divergence) that alters the course of history thereafter.
  • A series of events resulting from such a change (timeline) which occur differently from our own history, and occur since the PoD and upto the present.

Alternate histories do not:

  • Have to have events only taking place in the distant past. Events can continue up to a point parallel to our present, and the point of divergence can also occur within recent contemporary history.
  • Need to have an explicit point of divergence. You can experiment with the point of divergence being implicit, and with events are caused by some vague, mysterious or unknown event.
  • Need to have major world-changing events radically different from our own. The changes can be about minor or lesser known events, or the timeline can change very little from OTL.
  • Have to have only one point of divergence. You can set multiple points of divergence throughout the timeline where different events which would otherwise occur the same in OTL each had a change of outcome and can happen either close together or distantly from each other, or could occur at different places of the world whether contemporaneous to each other or at different points along the timeline.
    • You can also make a spin-off of an alternate timeline, or an alternate history of an alternate history, where a point along an existing alternate timeline is change to produce another different set of events. The spin-off timeline will be considered different from the parent timeline.
  • Have to include or involve famous historical figures or significant historical events. It can also involve minor and obscure people and events that are not as notable or made a significant effect. It may include real people who existed in OTL whose lives and role may have been changed in an alternate timeline, but it can also contain purely fictional people, countries, government and corporate entities, events, languages, etc. It can also be changes relating to pop culture, companies and business, mass produced products, etc.
  • Have changes in a timeline that are purely sociological, political, or militaristic. The change can also be biological, technological, economic, linguistic, geological, etc. Keep in mind that a change in one aspect will have the effect of changing all other aspects in history.

Creating a Good Alternate History

A good alternate history must be plausible, meaning that the events are believable and are reasonably likely to happened. A good alternate history should also include enough factual information and details about the scenarios in your timeline.

Some suggestions to help make your timeline more plausible is to do some research online about historical events that lead up to the point of divergence before you start your timeline, as well as reading alternate histories from other contributors. Also, read your pages' talk page from time to time for any good suggestions readers might leave you.


See also

  • Help:Glossary for a list of jargon used in the alternate history community.