Tuesday, February 22, 2011

World-Building, Like Toppling Dominoes

This post is a bit of a meander, I know and I apologize. It's kind of like what happens when I research. Going off on a tangent? Who, me?

Writing alternate history is a lot like starting with one of those huge arrangements where dominoes are set up to topple and knock one another down to create a design and then you take a handful of tiles and move them. And you realize that in order for the moved tiles to knock others over, you have to keep moving tiles. Sometimes you can leave tiles in their original position, but most you have to change. Eventually you end up with an entirely different design using the same tiles.

The first glimmer of my current project came about when out of the blue one day I wondered what would the world be like if Queen Victoria hadn't lived to be 82 (domino #1) and what if she hadn't married Prince Albert (domino #2)? Writing any kind of historical fiction—even alternate universe historicals—requires a certain amount of research and it's funny where that research can take you. Because you can't just change one or two things in history (Victoria and Albert) and expect everything else to happen the way it did in our world. So I kept researching and making more changes until I felt I'd done enough to allow for the end result I wanted.
By the time I was done I had a three-day headache, a completely different set of British monarchs starting with William and Mary in the mid-1600s, and a North America and Europe—heck, an entire world—that looked nothing politically like our world looked in 1920. That's a whole lot of dominoes to move!

Let's switch gears slightly and play a little game. Off the top of your head, do you know the difference between a Zeppelin, a blimp, and a dirigible? How about when the first known submersible was built, or the first military submarine? No? Well, I didn't either before all this research. Don't worry—I'll give you the answers at the end of this post.

What do Zeppelins and submersibles have to do with anything? Well, I knew I wanted fantastic devices and Zeppelins or dirigibles or blimps (and aren't they all the same?) in my world. I wanted to get the details right, or at least understand the basics so I'd know where I wanted to change things. And let me tell you, keeping track of the changes is no picnic, either. There are times when I'm so immersed in the world I'm creating that I have to stop and remind myself which history really happened and which is made up.

Do you ever get so involved in the world you're creating, or even a world of someone else's creation while reading a book, that it seems a bit more real than reality? (hmmm...maybe I shouldn't admit that...)

Oh, yeah, the answers. :-)

Well, Zeppelins, blimps and dirigibles are all forms of airships. The differences are: Zeppelins are rigid airships with full skeletons (originally pioneered by Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin). Blimps are small airships without internal skeletons. Dirigible is simply another name for airship (or "lighter-than-air" aircraft). Therefore, all Zeppelins and Blimps are Dirigibles.

The first recognized submersible was built in 1620 in England. The first military submarine was the Turtle built in 1775 and used in the American Revolutionary War by the Continental Army. Imagine that!


Paty Jager said...

Fun post and information, Debbie! I can get caught up in the research and the time in which I'm writing. But I'm always conscious of the history especially with the book I"m writing now to make my story fit the history. But ith making up your own history... now that would be fun! Looking forward to reading this book. I've always been fascinated by the dirigibles.

Genene Valleau said...

Debbie, how fun to make up your own history! And I can so understand how complex it is to keep track of the changes.

I'm not changing history, but my nine-book series has a lot of overlapping events within one family. Of course, each event affects each family member--perhaps in a major way or just a small blip. However, I have to keep track of all those events to keep my stories accurate. So right now, I'm writing on five of the different books at the same time as they move through overlapping events.

At least I haven't called any of my family by my characters' names (yet!) but I can also understand how your alternate reality could be more real than real history. :)

Thanks for a fun post and for the fun facts on airships and submarines. I had no idea submarines had been around so long!

Sarah Raplee said...

Debbie, This is a timely post for me to read! My next book is a steampunk with an alternative history. I've been reading everything from Civil War Chronicles to Coal: A Human History to Jenny Was No Lady (about the early biplanes) in preparation while I finish my current project. The information is truly fascinating. Thanks for this post!

wavybrains said...

Oh my gosh your current project sounds good! Have you read Iron Duke yet? That alternate history looks really good.

Alice Sharpe said...

Debbie -- I agree with everyone -- your book sounds wonderful. Hurry up!

I laughed when I read: "There are times when I'm so immersed in the world I'm creating that I have to stop and remind myself which history really happened and which is made up."

Yes! With me it's usually later when the dh and I will be discussing some aspect of a past trip and I will have to stop and ask myself if the things I'm remembering come from the book I wrote using the trip as inspiration or from the trip itself.