Changing History: A Beginner’s Guide to Writing Alternate History

Changing History: A Beginner’s Guide to Writing Alternate History

I love the steampunk genre, especially the alternate history aspect. The Art of Piracy, my story for the Rogue Skies box set, is set in the same alternate timeline as my Aether Psychics series. How can you change history to work for your own fiction? Here are some ideas.

First, figure out your why.

Some people start with the premise of, “wouldn’t it be interesting if…?” I needed a coal crisis, so my characters would need to search for a new power source, and I worked backward from there. In my universe, Lee never took his troops outside of the South, and therefore, the battle at Gettysburg never happened. This resulted in a stalemate. The Civil War then dragged on for a decade, and coal supplies are running low. As you can probably imagine, this leads to some interesting consequences.

Second, do your research.

Sorry, you can’t skip this one. If you’re going to change history, you need to know the history and more than the chapter you read in that one class in school. I listened to the Great Courses class on the Civil War to figure out what needed to change to induce the stalemate. I also talked to people with more knowledge than I have and read books on place-specific history to get a broader context.

Third, borrow from the time, especially where they got it wrong.

I wanted to focus the Aether Psychics on aether, the substance light travels through, at least according to the Victorians. Of course, it doesn’t exist, but they thought it did. This is where I found my, “What if…?” In other words, what if aether turned out to be the hope for a new power source? Since steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction, it works.

Fourth, make sure your characters fit in the time, but readers can also relate to them.

In my books, I write about strong women who will stand up for themselves even if society tells them not to. Thankfully steampunk heroines who challenge Victorian social restrictions make it easy to straddle the line between historical accuracy and relatability. Other genres may require more work. If you have to choose, go for relatability over accuracy.


Rogue Skies Boxed Set


I hope you’ll pick up Rogue Skies and enjoy reading The Art of Piracy and the rest of the stories. Don’t forget – once you preorder, you can get fourteen more stories for free including Noble Secrets, my Aether Psychics prequel novella. Click here for details.