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, also alternatively known as alternative history, allohistory, althistory, or uchronie (AH), is a form of historical and speculative fiction, in the author writes about what an event in the past is changed or has a different outcome from our current history, resulting in a timeline of history that is different from our own.

Alternate history touches on "what if?" scenarios at certain points in history, in which events result to a different outcome. Some of these "what if" questions range from such as "what if the British won the American Revolution?" or "what if the Roman Empire did not fall?", to "what if the first airplane wasn't invented by the Wright brothers in 1903?" or "what if Edward VIII never abdicated?", just to give a few examples. And then based on these questions arises different scenarios in the events to come. These "what if" questions are also known as counterfactuals.

Alternate histories can be about major historical events, technology, pop culture, sports, influential people, corporations, etc.

We refer to our history as it happened and the timeline that we currently live in as our timeline or OTL. A specific point in the past which changes the course of history is called a point of divergence. 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 outcome of the event results in a latter series of events in a history which are different from OTL, thus creating an alternate or alternative timeline (ATL). An alternate timeline can include wars, nations, empires, different advances of technologies, people or other historical events and facts which do not exist in our history as a result of the change. History between an alternate timeline and our timeline which occurs before the point of divergence remains the same.

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.

Differences between other similar 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.

Definition and elements of an alternate history

The definitions and elements of an alternate history include:

  • A cause in the past (point of divergence) which has occurred in the past or before the author's writing that has been changed to produce a different outcome later on.
  • Events which are caused by such change which occur differently from our own history.

Alternate histories do not:

  • Have to take place in the distant past. They can place in the present or contemporary times that is parallel or analogous to the present in OTL. Also, PODs don't have to occur in the distant past and can also occur in the recent past as well. A timeline can also include multiple independent PODs.
  • Need to have the point of divergence explicitly pointed out. You can experiment with having a change caused by a vague or unknown event.
  • Need to deal with major or world-changing events. It can be about minor changes where a few differences has occurred. It can be about pop culture, technology, sports or corporations.
  • Need to be about famous people or political/historical figures, people with significant influence or power, or even real people. It can be about an obscure person (or you), and you can also make up fictional people who are in the timeline. But it can also include real-life or OTL elements.

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.