Alternative Timelines

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Alternative Timelines
by KateCoe

It's only a tiny change...but everything's different.

What is an alternate timeline? And what's so interesting about them when you're writing fanfiction?

First, check out this article by paintpastel for more information on timelines! Basically, with a standard timeline, you're fitting your characters into the canon world. You're not changing what's there; the canon characters and events exist, and you're working around them in whatever way suits you.

But with an alternate timeline, you're taking things up to the next level: there's been a change. It might be big or it might be small, but the canon isn't quite what you expect it to be.

And in your fanfic, you get to write the story of what happens because of those changes.

In short, you're playing with "What if...?"

Using Alternate Timelines

Making an alt timeline is a lot like dropping a pebble into the pool, and watching the ripples work their way out...

Historians have a lot of fun with past timeline changes. "What if the Nazis had won a specific battle? What if the Internet had been created earlier? What if the space race had continued?" Using a "what if...?" is a really good way to analyse what did happen, because you then have to consider what factors went into actually making those events take place, and it also highlights how many of the future changes came around because of those original events.

Writers have even more fun with timeline changes: "What if aliens had been discovered at Roswell? What if superpowers worked? What if time travel existed and we built a car with a time machine in it? What if I hadn't caught that train on that particular day?" They get to add the fantastic and theoretical factors in, and watch as everything becomes that little bit stranger.

And sci-fi writers get to play with "what if...?" with an extra dimension: what if we took our current technology and extrapolated it forward? What if the future contained aliens? What will life look like if we live on Mars? What could happen based on what we currently have?

Alternate universes? Alternate timelines? Alternate realities?

Well, they're all pretty much the same thing!

As a basic rule of thumb, alternate timelines tend to focus on the canon characters and plotlines, with changes that keep them roughly in line with the existing canon; alternate universes tend to introduce much larger changes, where the entire canon may not exist, but the universe is recognisable as from that canon.

The alternate universe scope also includes crossovers (where characters switch from one universe to another), and reality swaps, where fictional characters end up in our universe or vice versa.

However, if you use "alternate universe" or "AU" then fanfic knows what you're getting at.

Alternate timelines in Fanfic

There's a couple of different ways that you can use an alternate timeline when you're writing fanfic.

- an EVENT went differently in the canon timeline

This is taking an existing event and changing the outcome. In all those just-in-time scenarios, what would have happened if they weren't in time, and the bomb went off? How about if Voldemort succeeded in killing Harry, or went for Neville first? This approach often reveals extra information, or lets you explore the current characters; for example, what if Peter Parker had made a different choice, and Uncle Ben hadn't died? How would that have affected the character of Spiderman?

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