Genre tips / writing

Today’s #AtoZChallenge Topic: Alternative History

The A to Z Challenge asks bloggers to post every day except Sundays during the month of April on a thematic topic. This year, my debut year with A to Z, I’ll cover writing genres.

Today’s genre:

atoz-aAlternative History


Alternative history is a genre of fiction consisting of stories in which one or more historical events occur differently from reality

Tipsa to z

  1. As you write this epic drama, don’t forget the small, everyday details that bond readers to your character and story.
  2. Recognize that some historical developments are probably inevitable. Leave those alone.
  3. Remember to include historical factors that were important at the time, even if they aren’t important to your story.
  4. Pay attention to the one changed event, but also all the events that led up to it.
  5. Don’t mix urban legends with actual history.
  6. Let the story follow where the altered history will support it, not necessarily where you want it to go.
  7. Remember to tell a great story, not just how you altered history.
  8. Don’t overdo the detail on your alternate world, thinking it will fascinate the reader. Only provide what supports the story.
  9. Ask ‘What if?’ This is fundamental to alternative fiction.
  10. 90% of alternate history novels deal with ‘What if Hitler won?’  Avoid this if possible.

Popular Books

  • anything by Harry Turtledove
  • The Plot Against America by Philip Roth
  • The Alternation by Kingsley Amis
  • Farthing by Jo Walton
  • Transition by Iain M. Banks
  • Fatherland by Robert Harris
  • The Coming of the Quantum Cats by Frederik Pohl

Click for complete list of genres

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, and the thriller, To Hunt a Sub. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. The sequel to To Hunt a Sub, Twenty-four Days, is scheduled for May 2017. Click to follow its progress.

71 thoughts on “Today’s #AtoZChallenge Topic: Alternative History

    • That’s exactly the rub. If you mess up the real history, your alternative fails, doesn’t it? The AH writers I’ve read have a perfect grasp on history and have me believing their alternate interpretation.


  1. Jacqui I know you are going to make my list of the bloggers to check out that I have come across during this first week. Your information is great and hits my theme square on.

    I am laying out the plot of a new historical fiction novel over my 26 A to Z posts. I’d love to have you stop by.

    The Steel Horse Saviors is a story about three civil war veterans who head west in 1866 with their Steam Locomotive to seek their fortune. They encounter a beautiful redhead trying desperately to save her family business.

    Joe @ the Fiction Playground visiting from the A to Z Challenge

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hello, fellow A-to-Zer! Great! All very true, especially the point about Hitler winning… I think it really is the first thing most people think of when they first hear about this genre. Fun article! Can’t wait to see what genres you have waiting for us… there are several letters in the alphabet that have no message for me, genre-wise…
    -Melanie Atherton Allen

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m of mixed feelings about alternative history as I’d rather stick to the real history, But if done well where I get sucked into the premise then the genre can work okay with me. What I really hate is the versions (this is especially true with movies) that are doing a story that is more “based on” historical events than presenting to true facts. Films and books can take a certain about of dramatic license to tell a story, but I hate it when they lie about what really happened especially if the filmmaker is trying to push some kind of agenda.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

    Liked by 2 people

    • Really, it’s all about the writer’s voice, innit. A good writer can carry off most plots. I think lots of people like the Hitler topic. The world would truly have been quite different if not for his loss.


  4. Hi Jacqui – understanding history is challenging enough … alternate facts in this day and age could be anything … I guess the “what if” would be ok back in the time of Henry VIII – life would be very different for us now … I think I’ll stick with my comprehension of history … but a great A … cheers Hilary
    Today’s A – Z Challenge 2017 post

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ya, I get a bit irritated by alternative history unless as you say actual history can support it. I like the untold stories of people that are fact-based on actual history. I love the historical genre – thanks Jacqui, great post…

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Hah, as soon as you mentioned Hitler, my mind went right to Philip K. Dick’s “The Man in the High Castle” 🙂 I’m currently writing a WWII-era story at the moment, and it’s fun to explore the different aspects of the war. No alternative history for me, but I can see the appeal of twisting things into a “what if… the Russians continued pushing the Eastern Front all the way to America” sort of scenario. “What if…” in terms of history, is the question that can only ever be answered by imagination.

    Liked by 1 person

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