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  1. Avalon McSoley

    Avalon McSoley Member

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    What makes an alternative universe awkward?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Avalon McSoley, Jan 11, 2017.

    Okay, so my genre is drama. I've been writing a lot in the late 1800's Europe, early 1900's Scandinavia and North America plus quite a lot of modern, southern American drama. I've co-written a fantasy series in an alternative universe, a comic, that is, but I mostly handled dialogues and character relationships/development and world building was mostly the artist and another contributor's thing. So that's my experience.

    Now, I'm eager to write a drama in a fictional world. (Or alternative timeline of our own.) It's realistic, no fantasy or scifi, and I'm basically making myself a good stew of elements from different historic societies. I've got most of it figured out now, I think, the setting, culture, fashion, leadership, religion, laws, scientific development... and I'm currently building my MCs. My problem is that I have this feeling alternative universes easily gets kind of awkward, and I'm trying to figure out why, so I can avoid it.

    Two elements I've already figured is: 1. poorly planned ones would probably get awkward if it's changing along the way or have huge holes. 2. Overly explained ones would get awkward as you're trying to sneak in tons of information that has nothing to do with the setting and which the reader doesn't even need to know yet. (Think we fell into the last trap with the fantasy comic I was on.) Anyone else with more experience than me?

    FYI: an example would be the series Morganville. (Popular a few years ago.) I only read the first book and it was one, long cringe to me. Author didn't seem to figure out if she was writing a high school drama or life or death battle for survival. So if you've read it, that's the sort of thing I want to avoid.

    Any input is welcome!
     
  2. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Contributing Member

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    My writing partner and I are doing something similar (if I'm reading you correctly), an alternate world that is almost, but not quite like the very real world of French Revolution-1790-Paris. We're using the political upheaval, some of the historical figures, real historical events, books that were available in 1790, the dawn of an industrial society, etc... but we never name cities, or make references to France, the French or take the reader to a specific time and place. There is no overt magic, and anything supernatural will have an alternate and more reasonable explanation. It's still fantasy, and as such we have some options, but very narrow options.

    It is tricky writing a story like this. There are things you just can't do, and it forces you to really think within the realm of conventional plot devices. When we find ourselves stuck, it isn't modern fantasy we dig into for ideas... it's classic literature we're finding inspiration in. On top of that, I'm illustrating the story and having to reinvent my approach and style. Not an easy thing to do.

    Good luck!
     
  3. newjerseyrunner

    newjerseyrunner Contributing Member Contributor

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    I really dislike alternate history plots, but I can tell you what I do and don't like about them.

    I dislike plots where history follows as normal despite a major disruption in the past, as though the butterfly effect was non-existent. I watched a story about if the south won the civil war, the US would likely side with Hitler during WWII. It got me thinking that if the south won the civil war, we would not have entered WWI, Germany would have likely won the war and Hitler would have never risen to power in the first place.

    I also dislike plots that simply repeat history with different characters. There was a Star Trek episode where an officer built a new planet on the philosophy of benevolent Nazism, which then degenerated into the Gestapo again, as though it would have gone that way even with an anti-Hitler in power.

    The biggest thing I hate though, is when trying to tie in the current popular culture into a culture that should be totally different. Going to Star Trek again, Kirk found a planet that was basically if the Roman Empire had never collapsed. They worshiped the Roman gods, with a small subset worshiping "the sun," which the realize at the end of the episode is "the son" ie: Jesus. Really? it's 400 years from now and you still have the same ancient gods? You met Apollo. You also met the alien who was a number of figures in the bible.

    I haven't seen The Man in the High Castle yet, but I've heard some great things about it. I do wonder how the Germans managed to beat the US on their own land, and why are the Germans honoring a pact with Japan?
     
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2017
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  4. big soft moose

    big soft moose Contributing Member

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    Since the South were fighting for secession not a conquest of the North if the south had won there'd be two countries the Union states and the Confederacy.

    In a WW1 context the zimmerman note would have been aimed at getting the South to attack the North again rather than at getting Mexico to attack the US, and thus the union would still have been provoked into declaring war on Germany.

    Also american involvement in WW1 was much less pivotal than it was in WW2 and france and Britain would probably have beaten Germany with or without it.

    That said I don't think its logical that either america would then side with Hitler - the likelihood is that they would stay with an isolationist policy and not get involved with the war, in which case it would probably have dragged out to a stalemate with Germany unable to defeat Britain but Britain unable to liberate the German possession in Europe
     
  5. newjerseyrunner

    newjerseyrunner Contributing Member Contributor

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    Without US imports? No way. Britain wouldn't have lasted more than a year. The whole point of the battle of the Atlantic was the supply of American materials into Britain. Churchhill himself was very aware of this as was Hitler, which is why they both put so much effort into that part of the fight.
     
  6. big soft moose

    big soft moose Contributing Member

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    Imports and support is different from active involvement - Britain lasted 3 years without direct american participation in the war (apart from american volunteers in eagle squadrons and so forth) , and the indirect support we received through supplies shipped across the Atlantic was either paid for mostly with gold , or subject to lease/lend type agreements. (that is you lend us warships and other materiel, we lease you bases on our colonial soil when this is over)

    Even an isolationist government will sell exports and do deals - and Britain/Allies could have fought to a standstill with no more support than that (especially bearing in mind that we also had support from Canada, Australia, New Zealand and so on )

    Also even if Britain had lost the Russians would have ground the Nazi's down eventually, but that would have led to a red europe which america was not likely to tolerate
     
  7. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Seen the pilot, heard bits and pieces about the book.

    Axis winning: The Germans beat us to the bomb and destroyed Washington DC. Which granted has a few problems of its own

    a) the Germans didn't care about making the bomb as much as we did. Their scientific/technological acumen was clear enough for them to realize that the bomb would take a long time to perfect, and all the propaganda told them that the war would be over too soon, so putting a hypothetical Berlin Project's resources towards the existing military-industrial complex was seen as the best way to get the war over with even faster (so that they could then work on the bomb at their own pace)

    b) even if they tried to make the bomb, Hitler had carefully tailored the military-industiral complex to be inneffective enough that they could never overthrow him (hence Britain stopped trying to assassinate Hitler when they realized that his "leadership" was actually winning the war for them)​

    But apparently, the book handled this better by focusing on the beginning of the war instead of on the end: President Roosevelt was assassinated in 1933, the Great Depression, and we didn't provide the logistic support that Britain depended on in the real world, so the Nazis managed to get a good enough head start that they were able to overcome Hitler's incompetence without the need for a dramatic Berlin Project.

    Germany remaining friends with Japan: they weren't ;) The peace was explicitly described by high-ranking German and Japanese officials as having been tenuous from the beginning, and a good portion of the pilot revolves explicitly around those same officials' worrying that when Hitler's already failing health finally gets the better of him, then the inevitable collapse would come sooner rather than later.
     

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