In a new project I’ve taken on, working title The Time Tinker, I’ve been dabbling into some alternate history. This is something I’ve played with in the Fan Fiction realm, but never in real life.
Well, the history I’m most interested in isn’t what one might call ancient history. I’m particularly fascinated with people and events from the 60’s and 70’s, and forward from there. A historical “rule of thumb” that I feel too many people are ignoring these days is that history shouldn’t be written about until 50 years have passed, so you can gain perspective and have the most information compiled before passing any kind of judgment. You want a complete, unbiased picture.
Well, fifty years have passed since the 60’s, but beyond that? And writing alternative history often involves writing about high profile people, and in fiction you’re not really attempting to show them as they really were, necessarily, but a version that fits the story you’re telling. What if you offend their family, their fans, the actual people in question?
Some people? Not a big deal. But I’m going to write about the Beatles, Princess Di, Michael Jackson. Some of my artistic changes will be flattering, others not so much.
I finally decided, when the story wouldn’t stop unfolding in my head, that artists cannot be afraid to write the truth they see, knowing that it’s not going to be historical truth, and knowing that not everyone will be happy with it. The likelihood anyone actually related to these people will read my work is negligible, and if I am so lucky that my work would reach such heights, well, then it’ll probably have a lot of merit to back it up, won’t it? So they could hardly argue with the artistic vision.
And anyway, it’s fiction. Fiction isn’t about historical accuracy, or even accuracy of any kind. It gives us license to decide what details need to be correct and what details need to be how we see them in our heads. Sometimes, we need that house to be the actual house on the actual street in the actual city, right next to the river. Other times, the house is a fabrication of dreams and desires, in a hodge-podge of how the city should have been, with the river running around it in a curly-q.
You write the history you want to believe. Or the alternate history you want to believe. We are not historians.