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Now here's the author, to tell us about the process of creating an alternate history. Take it away, Christian:
I have been asked over the course of writing my first novel what the hardest part was. Honestly, I lost count of the hard parts a long time ago. Am I writing a cool and engaging story? Will the reader be able to visualize the events in their mind? Have I actually written anything or have I been awake so long I am now hallucinating? There have been a lot of obstacles that I had to overcome to make it to the finish line, many of those obstacles were self-imposed. I had to become confident enough and determined enough to see the story through from beginning to end, but I also had to have a plan. I’d like to provide some gems about the process that I used to create the fictional history for my novel, Shadow Precinct.
When I first had the idea for the story of Shadow Precinct, I knew immediately that I wanted to incorporate real events into the history. There had to be a reason why the alternate version of the United States that exists in the book became what it is. If you are creating an extensive history or backstory for your story, I would suggest starting with an initial premise and work backwards from that. For me, the initial idea was: What would the US be like if firearms were heavily restricted? For you it may be: What was life like before dragons? What was life like before the zombie apocalypse? You get the point. From this initial premise, I had to consider the many events that would lead up to such an event to come to pass. Of course, it wouldn’t be something that happened overnight, there would have to be a substantial snowball effect to create the particular set of circumstances. One of the most helpful ways to do this is to establish a timeline.
Start your timeline with the earliest major event that you want the reader to be aware of. There are two things you should be aware of. One, you should always be sure anything you add to the timeline eventually leads your world to the major event of your premise. Two, try not to overdo it here. You don’t want to inundate your history with a bunch of pointless facts. There’s a fine line between adding weight to the story to enhance believability and drowning it in details that will hinder the reader’s experience. Your timeline will become a valuable tool in your writing arsenal going forward.
Lastly, I know this may come as a bit of a shock, start writing. You have ideas about where you want your story to go, now it’s about the getting there (the fun part). Fortunately, you have a handy timeline to help guide you in your writing. Keep in mind that the timeline is not concrete, it should be ever growing and changing as your story does. As you come up with new story elements, ask yourself how it fits into the continuity you’ve already established. Sometimes, you’ll have to rework some aspects to make sure everything fits as it should. It’s a back and forth process that I’ve found to be immensely helpful in my writing, and hopefully it is in yours as well.
Christian Porter is a graduate of Howard University in Washington, D.C. He has had jobs as a programmer/designer in the video game industry, and most recently as a technology coordinator for a network of charter schools in New Orleans. He drew his inspiration for his debut novel from many different places: comic books and anime, old school kung-fu movies with awful voice dubbing, hip hop music with lots of curse words, action movies with awesome one-liners, and visionary science fiction films with awe-inspiring settings.
People can view concept art or contact him at his website: www.shadowprecinct.com