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Crafting an Alternate History Fantasy Story: An In-Depth Guide

The blend of alternative history and fantasy writing is a fusion of imagination, historical research, and creativity that offers a wealth of potential for aspiring writers. Combining the "what ifs" of historical speculation with the enchanting allure of fantasy storytelling, this subgenre is often as fascinating as it is challenging to write. This guide will explore a step-by-step approach to creating an alternate history fantasy story.

Choose your historical era and event

Arriving at New York 1931
Research is crucial for creating a credible alternate history narrative. Familiarize yourself with the political, social, and cultural context of your chosen era, along with any significant characters involved. Image by Archivist.

The starting point for any alternate history fantasy story is deciding on the historical era and significant events that you wish to modify. Will you turn the tide of World War II with magical warfare or introduce mythical creatures into Victorian society? Your choice should be something that genuinely interests you.

When crafting an alternate history fantasy story, your choice of era and event serves as the bedrock of your narrative. This choice dictates the setting, influences your characters, and defines the conflict of your narrative. Thus, your selection needs to be made with careful consideration.

Align with your interests

First and foremost, choose an era and event that genuinely intrigue you. Your passion for the subject will shine through in your writing, engaging your readers more effectively. It'll also help sustain your interest during the extensive research phase.

Scope of the era

Historical eras can range from specific decades to entire centuries, each with its unique cultural, technological, and sociopolitical contexts. Understanding the scope of your chosen era will help determine the level of worldbuilding required for your story.

Worldbuilding in fantasy and science fiction writing

For example, if you're interested in the Victorian era, you're not just looking at Britain in the 19th century; you're also dealing with the broader context of the Industrial Revolution, the expansion of the British Empire, and the social norms and values of that period.

Significance of the event

The historical event you choose should be significant enough to impact the world of your story meaningfully. This could range from wars, revolutions, discoveries, to historical turning points like the signing of a pivotal treaty. The outcome of this event, altered by your fantasy element, should cause a ripple effect, creating a different world from the one we know.

Consider the genre fit

Lastly, consider how well your chosen era and event fit the fantasy genre. Some periods lend themselves to fantasy more naturally. For instance, an era with a rich folklore tradition might provide a ready foundation for your fantasy elements.

Remember, your chosen era and event aren't just backdrop details but crucial elements of your narrative. They should provide a rich tapestry of social, cultural, and historical details that can serve as a launchpad for your alternate history fantasy story. The fusion of these historical details with your fantasy elements will result in a captivating narrative that enthralls your readers.

Introduce the fantasy element

Experiencing magic
The fantasy element is a device that is not found in the history books. It can range from magical powers, mythical creatures, supernatural phenomena, to alternate laws of physics. Image by Fly_dragonfly.

Once you've researched the historical context, it's time to introduce your fantasy element. Remember, in an alternate history fantasy, the fantasy element has to be integral to the plot. This element should be substantial and influential enough to change historical outcomes and shape society. Will it be a magic system that changed the course of events, or perhaps mythical creatures that have hidden histories?

Choose a fantasy element

Firstly, decide what your fantasy element will be. This could be anything that fits into the realm of fantasy. Will you introduce a race of magical beings into Renaissance Italy, or perhaps, bestow supernatural abilities upon certain individuals during the American Revolution?

Consider the potential of the fantasy element to create conflict and drive the story. For instance, if you introduce magic, who can use it and what is the cost of its use? If there are mythical creatures, how do they interact with humans and what power dynamics are in play?

Define the rules

Just like the real world has laws of physics, your fantasy element should also have a set of rules. These rules should be consistent and logical within the context of your story. If you're introducing magic, define how it works and its limitations. If there are mythical creatures, specify their abilities and weaknesses.

Integration with history

Consider how your fantasy element fits into your chosen historical era and event. For example, if you're introducing magic during the French Revolution, how did it influence the socio-political unrest? If dragons existed during the Victorian era, how did it affect the Industrial Revolution and the British Empire's expansion?

The fantasy element should be woven into the fabric of the historical period, influencing culture, politics, technology, and social hierarchies.

Impact on characters

Finally, think about how your fantasy element affects your characters. Are they users of magic or allies with mythical creatures? Do they fear the supernatural or seek to control it? This will add depth to your characters and increase the complexity of their interactions.

Introducing the fantasy element is a delicate task. It requires blending the realms of reality and imagination smoothly and consistently. Done right, it can transform history into a captivating tale of "what could have been," capturing readers' minds with the sheer possibilities it presents.

Weave history and fantasy together

A pyramid levitating in sections
It's essential to remember that the fantasy aspect isn't merely a decorative addition, but a transformative force that reshapes the historical setting. The two elements should interweave seamlessly, each enhancing and making sense of the other. Image by Eugene Tkachenko.

Creating a coherent alternate history fantasy world requires the careful integration of your historical and fantasy elements. How does the presence of magic or mythical creatures change society, technology, or politics? How do they alter the course of history? Make sure these changes align with the laws and lore of your fantasy elements.

Consistency with historical setting

Start by ensuring your fantasy element aligns with the cultural and technological context of your chosen era. For instance, if you introduce mythical creatures into Ancient Rome, you could consider Roman mythology and beliefs to explain their existence.

Consequences on timeline

Next, think about how the fantasy element alters historical events. If magic was used in World War II, how did it affect the war's outcome? If a prophecy influenced a king's decisions during the Middle Ages, what were the repercussions? Make sure to detail how these changes influence the world's subsequent timeline.

Influence on society and culture

The introduction of fantasy elements will also impact society and culture. A society that coexists with magical beings or practices magic would have different norms, prejudices, fears, and aspirations. They might have different social hierarchies, laws, or cultural practices.

Modification of historical figures

When including historical figures, consider how the fantasy element affects them. Perhaps they possess magic, ally with mythical beings, or work against supernatural forces. However, their fundamental personality and values should remain consistent with their historical image, unless there's a well-justified reason for change.

Develop a new "normal"

Your readers need to suspend their disbelief and accept your fantasy element as part of the world's norm. This could be achieved by demonstrating how the fantasy element is perceived and treated by the society, how it is integrated into daily life, and its influence on historical progress.

Develop your characters

A magical character in the woods
These characters could be users of magic, friends of mythical creatures, victims of supernatural events, or even skeptics of the fantasy element. Their relationship with the fantasy element should impact their motivations, abilities, and character development throughout the story. Image by Alice Alinari.

In creating characters for your story, focus on authenticity. Historical figures should still resemble their historical selves, even if their circumstances have changed due to the fantasy element. Original characters should also be true to their era, with attitudes and beliefs reflecting their time.

For original characters, they should fit seamlessly into their historical context. Their attitudes, beliefs, and daily lives should reflect the period they live in. However, the presence of your fantasy element should also affect them in a variety of ways.

Character interactions

Interactions between characters provide a rich avenue to showcase the altered historical context and the fantasy element's impact. Dialogue, conflicts, and relationships between characters should be consistent with their personalities and the altered world in which they live.

Diverse perspectives

Including characters from various social classes, professions, and beliefs can provide a multi-faceted view of your alternate world. A servant might have a different perspective on magic than a noble. A soldier might interact with mythical creatures differently than a scholar. This diversity can make your world feel more believable and complex.

Character development and arcs

Every character should undergo a transformation throughout the story, also known as a character arc. These arcs should be influenced by the historical events and the fantasy element in your narrative. Their growth should resonate with the struggles they face and the choices they make in response to the blend of historical and fantasy events in your plot.

Weaving history and fantasy together is a delicate art, and when done correctly, results in a captivating and immersive world that enthralls readers. The trick lies in balancing historical authenticity with the allure of fantasy, ensuring that one doesn't overshadow the other. It involves rewriting history, not by disregarding it, but by reimagining it with a touch of fantasy.

Header image by Veneratio.

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