How to Write a Timeline-a guide

Discussion in 'Help and Rules' started by maverick, Sep 11, 2008.

  1. maverick Banned

    Joined:
    Jul 30, 2006
    Location:
    Los calidos Laberintos selvaticos de la frontera
    I don't know if this has been done before, or just with stories, but I thought this would be fun to write as a cooperative project of whoever is interested...

    ***********************

    So, you've decided to enter into the fascinating world of Alternate History and are interested in writing your first Timeline...good for you! you will not regret it!

    Now, you have probably read another timelines around and feel eager to start writing, but you might be nervous about competing with such big projects such as Look to the West and Decades of Darkness, don't you? well, you needn't worry, sport! anyone with a little knowledge and lots of eagerness can write a Timeline! even you!

    Now, lets look at some useful advice you should read first before embarking on the great business that is writting Alternate History...

    1. Write about what you know...you know a lot of French history? do you have freakingly enormous amounts of knowledge about Roman Generals? do you know what was Churchill's favorite dish? excellent! write about that and make it alternate! don't feel the need to do a TL about something you don't know or care about just because its popular...

    2. Do your homework...this is an Alternate history site with lots of people with history degrees and even more free time than you to research, and just for fun, they will pick at your TL and say it sucks...I know because I do it too! try to avoid obvious mistakes and if someone notices some small ones, they are either nipticking or have even more insanely big amounts of useless trivia than you...

    3. Plausibility is Key...No, the Wehrmatch cannot invade Britain with a POD in 1940, please read point number 2

    4. Butterflies rule, but are not absolute...people will put Napoleon as Emperor of Japan with a POD in 1767 and say "the Butterflies did it!"...it just doesn't work that way, kid! you need to use the cause and effect practice and not the 'Chaos theory' school of thought...every event has a cause and an effect that you need to think about...if you Roosevelt on December 6th, Pearl harbour is still gonna happen on the 7th...

    5.No one cares about your political opinions...Timelines are supposed to be alternate history and history is supposed to be neutral...Chances are that you have an unnatural hate for the Ottoman Empire and an insane love for the United States...please, don't let us know...try to write a fair and balanced Timeline...if you're a really, really devout evangelical, don't write a TL about the entire world being evangelical if its not realistic...same goes for jews, catholics, communists, conservatives, pro-abortion and anti-abortion types, feminists and just plain crazy people...

    6. Have Fun:...this is supposed to be a hobby, not a job!

    7...

    ***********************

    Anyone else?
     
  2. General Zod Banned

    Joined:
    May 19, 2008
    Your guidelines are quite fine, except I'd amend point 5 as follows:

    5. No one cares about your political opinions (but good wanks are welcome) ...Timelines are supposed to be alternate history and history is supposed to be neutral...Chances are that you have an unnatural hate for the Ottoman Empire and an insane love for the United States...please, don't let us know...try to write a fair and balanced Timeline...if you're a really, really devout evangelical, don't write a TL about the entire world being evangelical if its not realistic...same goes for jews, catholics, communists, conservatives, pro-abortion and anti-abortion types, feminists and just plain crazy people... Just notice that it is generally fine to write timelines that let countries, statesmen, religions, ideologies, and political movements, succeed (or fail) much more than in our timeline, as long as the point(s) of divergence and the following developments are plausible. Such TLs, often nicknamed "-wanks" on this forum, are some of the most abundant kinds of TLs ever produced (especially due to the appeal of making famous "lost causes" of history succeed); some forumites are going to dislike them, especially if they look too clichè, but most don't mind, or are going to enjoy them, as long as they are realistic and well-written.
     
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2008
    Gokbay and Ddmkm122 like this.
  3. Berra Friendly Pitchfork Operator

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2006
    7. Order event in cronological order. No life depend on TL writing. Just do it, don't fear critisism. Just learn from it.
     
    Ddmkm122 likes this.
  4. Zyzzyva Was a Teenage Swine-Flu Vector

    Joined:
    Dec 20, 2005
    Location:
    Karl Marx Cholm, Bygrad
    I'd argue about #4, personally. Yes, you can't butterfly Napoleon into being Emperor of Japan given 30 years head start. (Moric Benowsky, on the other hand... ;)) But you can make a good argument that every single person born after the POD would be different, and frankly I think history is far more of a chaotic system in a mathematical sense of the word - small changes have big differences, and sooner than you'd think.
     
    Fuchsia, Ddmkm122 and QueenofScots like this.
  5. Sachyriel Banned

    Joined:
    Feb 7, 2008
    Location:
    In the heart of the enemy citadel
    So, these are made by a high-and-mighty king of alternate timelines? :p

    Well, the rules are thrown out the window by ASBs! [Anarchist Space Bats...]
     
    Ddmkm122 likes this.
  6. Nicomacheus Member, Sociedad Thrasybulo

    Joined:
    Nov 15, 2007
    They do have big differences, but I think that Maverick's point is that there are really two takes on the idea of "butterfly-ing".

    1) If you consider yourself to writing the TL of a truly alternate universe, then you essentially have to start "rolling all the dice again." All the decisions, people, and interactions will be different.

    2) Because of a lot of small-scale chains of cause and effect, the POD and other changes will have subsequent effects. Sometimes these are track-able: one persons' parent is dead, they never exist. Sometimes they are not: you're 10-15 years post-POD, writing say the first post on a new area of the world. Depending on the level of technology and the level of global inter-connectivity, the situation will probably be different to some extent.

    The difference here isn't absolute, but stylistic, and it changes over time. I personally prefer to try to ground my initial butterflying in some plausible chain of cause and effect. However, after a certain point, that's not really possible.

    Additionally, one has to counterbalance the need to honor the butterfly theory with the demands of writing a story. Even if a TL is not a dramatic work of characters, but is instead driven by events, it will still have something of a story (as much as OTL history does). Furthermore, often times AH is interesting simply because it allows us to consider WIs. If by making one change early on, you quickly free yourself of any need to ground your TL in actual history (even with general trends), then it begins to lose some authenticity. This is due IMO to the opposite of the butterfly effect: what I'd call the insignificant change. What if Lincoln wore a different suit to Ford's Theater? Not much that you could reliably predict will be knowably different about such a TL. [Note that not all details are insignificant: if the play at the Theater had been different, John Wilkes Booth wouldn't have had the same chance to use the applause to mask his gunshot.]

    The same thing goes for events that have complex causes, like, say the French Revolution. Obviously, a TL that has a POD in the 1500s might plausbily avoid any sort of cataclysm in the 1780s; on with a POD in the early 1700s, however, might have some sort of event, but it should be what I'd call an analogue event. Thande' ATL French Revoltution is a good example here. Such analogues have two purposes: 1) to acknowledge the nature of complex causes and 2) to keep one POD from creating a world we wouldn't recongize. The second deserves some explanation: often, an author does want to explore a world markedly different from our own. Just as often, though, one wants to keep certain key points the same in order to compare their interaction with other altered events. Again, a rough, suspensions-of-disbelief test has to be kept in mind.
     
    Ddmkm122 likes this.
  7. Jasen777 Paid to fake it Donor

    Joined:
    Aug 22, 2006
    Location:
    in a traveling band
    Join a contest and force yourself to update often.
     
    Ddmkm122 likes this.
  8. Nekromans Mernber

    Joined:
    Mar 25, 2006
    Location:
    Leicester
    Don't force yourself to write huge chunks at once. If you're doing a chronological AH, write a few years every night - say, three to five. If you're doing an Excerpt AH, write a paragraph or two.
     
    Ddmkm122 likes this.
  9. Dr. Strangelove a very bad, bad person Banned

    Joined:
    Sep 26, 2005
    ...but force yourself to write something each day, or it will stall sooner or later. Don't worry about how it sounds, you can always correct it later before posting it. But write. I try to force myself to a daily page. [except not this week. I'm having an exam on Monday]

    8. Plan ahead. Don't ever try to write a timeline -much less a detailed timeline-without knowing what will happen later. Your characters can afford that, you can't. This is specially true in timelines centered about a war. If you just start writing hoping that ideas will come as you write, you will reach a dead end sooner or later, and your timeline will start looking sloppy. When I write I always have three text files: one for writing the actual updates that will be posted here, another one for random ideas and fragments that I want to use later and would probably forget [even though my current TL is stalled in 1941, I've got fragments set in the 80's there], and another one with a bare script of what I want to happen. I've got a script of how I want *WWII to unfold, and more detailed scripts for each theater. I even have scripts for important campaigns that I want to cover in detail [it sounds imposing, but it's as simple as writing "May-August 194x: this shit happens. and this. and this. In the posting file, these three notes become 4 our 5 pages of text]. It is the only way I've found to be able to write a timeline with detail.

    9. Become obsessed. I've found out that thinking about plot issues and small details to add to the timeline is great for fighting boredom in boring classes, going to church and traffic jams. :D
     
    Fatboy Coxy and Ddmkm122 like this.
  10. Slamet Speaks to Coffee in Javanese

    Someone should sticky this in the Alternate History Media section. It's good stuff for people who have historical facts, a POD and are new but don't know how to write a proper timeline.
     
    Ddmkm122 likes this.
  11. Scarecrow Dieudonné

    Joined:
    Aug 27, 2004
    I agree with both of those points that DrS.

    10. (related to 8) always have at least have the next one or two chapters written when you post a chapter. That way you know where you are going. Its what I should have done with Song of Roland and its what I'm doing with Clavis Angliae.

    11. Keep a Dramatis Personae, updated after each chapter. Its all so that you don't end up chasing your arse. Family Trees are also good.
     
    Fatboy Coxy and Ddmkm122 like this.
  12. Slamet Speaks to Coffee in Javanese

    I agree completely with point 8.

    12. (Related to point 9) For those who are students, allocate appropriate times. Becoming obsessed is fine, but the problem remains that you have to stick with the OTL world with all its homeworks, essays and exams. Otherwise you'll have half-baked grades (and possibly) a half-baked timeline.
     
    Ddmkm122 and FancyHat like this.
  13. Grey Wolf Writer, Poet, Publisher, Cat-sitter

    Joined:
    Jan 1, 2004
    Location:
    Deepest Wales
    I would completely disupute this

    The whole fun of writing a timeline is in seeing how the world develops - if I already know, I won't be enthused to bother writing it

    People seem to enjoy this approach; at least, I have a fair few readers for the decades of the 'Elventh Hour' timeline

    Best Regards
    Grey Wolf
     
    Ddmkm122 likes this.
  14. Grey Wolf Writer, Poet, Publisher, Cat-sitter

    Joined:
    Jan 1, 2004
    Location:
    Deepest Wales
    I would dispute Point 1 on the basis of Point 2, viz :-

    "Write about what you are willing to research"

    I don't know about half the stuff that ends up in a timeline, but it is fun researching things I've never needed to know before and working them in

    Best Regards
    Grey Wolf
     
    Ddmkm122 likes this.
  15. Dr. Strangelove a very bad, bad person Banned

    Joined:
    Sep 26, 2005
    Me too- but once you see how the world develops, you need some ahead planning to write coherently. Maybe not that much using your format, but definitely using mine.
     
    Ddmkm122 likes this.
  16. arctic warrior Scandinavian die-hard

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2006
    Thats actually one of the interesting aspects when I discover a twist from researching that may screw up my intentions and then have to rework things.

    Or it may yield some minor detail that will change things a lot when seen in the greater pespective.
     
    Ddmkm122 likes this.
  17. maverick Banned

    Joined:
    Jul 30, 2006
    Location:
    Los calidos Laberintos selvaticos de la frontera
    So, Wanking is good, but not in excess...


    I thought Jared was the King of Timelines...:p
     
    Ddmkm122 likes this.
  18. Tyr air in space

    Joined:
    Jan 2, 2004
    Location:
    欧州
    A big one I think:

    Lots of land != powerful
     
    Ddmkm122 likes this.
  19. SunilTanna Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jan 26, 2007
    I take issue with 4.

    It is now very popular to make analogies between history and chaos theory. It's in vogue.

    However, until recently, it was popular to talk a lot about historical inevitability (e.g. Marxist theory is one example). The idea was that if history went off track, then after a while it would eventually right itself. You see this a lot for example, in serious histories (e.g. Arms race caused WW1, Versailles caused WW2), and in time travel stories. (A)

    There is probably some degree truth in both versions. How much is a matter of debate. Personally I lean towards butterflies controlling the detail, and some big events, but big trends, at least in the short term, being the result of big historical movements (e.g. colonialism, capitalism, etc.)

    Anyway my point is nobody really knows where exactly the line around butterflies/inevitability lies, and for entertainment purposes, sticking historical characters can sometimes add a lot of fun (and also make the story more comprehensible). WW2 wouldn't be WW2 without Hitler and goose-stepping Nazis, California needs a Nixon, even if he's used-car dealer, and so forth.
    ----------
    (A) BTW the same thing has also happened in geological history - e.g. going from inevitable rise of vertebrates and eventually mammals (e.g. older evolution text books, most museum displays), to a view more centered around chance and historical contigency (e.g. Stephen J. Gould's)
     
    Ddmkm122 likes this.
  20. Dr. Strangelove a very bad, bad person Banned

    Joined:
    Sep 26, 2005
    I am shocked, shocked! that no one has still added this to his sig. :p
     
    Ddmkm122 likes this.