Worldbuilding 101— What is an alternate reality/universe?

What is an alternate reality/universe?

An alternate reality is set on earth, but the history has been changed by different choices made. An example of this is Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series. Within it, she made history where vampires, shape shifters, and more are part of society, not just myths and legends.

How alternate are alternate realities/universes?

Not as much as you think. Remember when you were young and you played “What if?” AU is the same thing. “What if— fairies were real?” “What if Hitler won World War II?” “What if the legends on vampires were true?” It’s taking that one point and making it a reality— thus setting the stages of change in the world we know today while not losing anything that we know.
Let’s start with something easy– “What if there were vampires?”

When was it discovered vampires were real? Were laws introduced? What is different about your vampires versus the myths?

Something to note for Alternate Realities/Universes and Worlds—

I don’t mind alien landscapes. In fact, I’ve got a story that will flip people, but I’m trying to make it so it’s still believable AND alien. The best way are reference points.

If you were on this alien planet– what would seem familiar? Always give at least one to two familiar reference points to one unfamiliar point!

What’s different? Why is it different? But please– for the love of gods, sacred objects and keeping readers from killing you– if it LOOKS like a duck, SOUNDS like a duck, and ACTS like a duck— call it a DUCK not a jomanja or some such. Changing names of regular objects to give it an alien or otherworldly feel will not win you points.

In Robin D. Owens’ book, Guardian of Honor, her world has where aural (sounds) are very important. In fact, it’s a specific feel that’s unusual to our normal standard that makes it special. Her way of making sure in each scene there’s something that deals with hearing a sound. Whereas a visual society takes its cues from colours, etc… in this world it’s the music, the sounds that are created. How she presents this otherworldly thinking and aspects are fantastic!

What makes your world alien and unique? Make sure it’s truly something unusual– like an aural based society. In my current story, Games Empaths Play, it’s a world that’s technologically advanced, but has some old notions in regards to empaths and how to treat them. They’re some of the best and brightest, but they’re isolated in many ways in order for the world to “protect” them. There are also group marriages, contract marriages for a year, and permanent marriages. One of the unique things I’ve created to make the world truly alien but real is that there is a double moon and that sound carries, thus making the fact that there are empaths unusual. Alien, but relatable.

Ahh yes……the write what you know thing. Many times when I write, I don’t know, but I do research. Writing what you know makes it easier only when it’s something you want to write. Otherwise, give yourself permission to research and write what you want to know about!

Now back to the question— how much to include of races that don’t play much of a role….hmmmmmm

I play by the rule of three– 3 descriptors, 3 sentences to give information, 3 aspects to be shown. What are the 3 most important things these races give to the story? What are the 3 pieces of information that set the stage for the race and their interaction with the main character/s? What 3 aspects are common to the race as a whole that can be used to describe or generalize the race with common attributes? “As childish as a Kender.”

When you’ve got races that don’t play a major role in the story– ask yourself– do I really need new races or can I make do with what I’ve got? If their place in the world you’re creating is necessary—ask, “Why are they necessary? Where in the story do they fit? What information do they impart about the world, the main characters, and the resolution of the story? Can my story live without them?”   If the answer to the last one is Yes– toss them.

See, the key to worldbuilding is this— What is the least you need to know to make the book work? Once you know the least, then you can plan accordingly. And never ever do too much worldbuilding to where the worldbuilding defines your book. I’ve seen it, I’ve read it and it’s disappointing when you get all about this cool world and nothing about the real story.

Basic things to remember when creating an alternate universe/reality

  • Designate the differences from our world now with the world you’re creating.
  • Define what normal laws are broken along with how and why they are. (If you have mutants, how did they happen and why aren’t they sterile, etc.)
  • What are the limitations on this law being broken? (How far does this ability go before it gets out of control or hits god power?)
  • You’re in a world that’s just like the one we live in; make it feel normal, even with the differences. Think on how Buffy and Angel universe still seemed normal in the midst of the paranormal!
  • Introduce the differences a bit at a time and do so in a normal fashion. Make the reader feel through the characters that “Yes, this is unusual, but it’s acceptable because it’s presented as being the norm.”
  • Follow the new rules you institute in this AU. Do not break them. If you do, you have to have a sound, logical reason and you have to show it’s a once in a million shot– not the norm! There are authors out there who forget this rule and it disappoints many readers because they know the laws inherently through your writing and breaking these rules is sure to lose you fans.
  • If you know the science behind what your AU uses, then make sure you note it down on your paper. Why? Because in case you need something, you can find the theory and science online or in books to help you out of a crisis. There isn’t anything like having a moment with String Theory and writing a scientist in the field and having him write you back with a possible answer to your puzzle.

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