Alright, so this week I’m back with another fantasy sub-genre post! Next Friday, we’ll be taking a look at some more mapping concepts, but for this week, let’s take a look at alternate fantasy!

Defining Alternate Fantasy

As usual, we’ll start out with a definition of the genre before diving into how to write it! So, what makes alternate fantasy its own sub-genre?

The key defining points of alternate fantasy are that the story retells historical events and that it includes magic or other elements of fantasy in the retelling. This means that the people, places, and events featured in the novel or short story may resemble or even copy real people, places, and events from our world.

Of course, while the events, places, and people may mimic our history, there’s the element of the fantastical and magic to consider. After all, without a bit of a fantastical twist and a dash of magic it wouldn’t truly be fantasy.

Writing Alternate Fantasy

Now you know what alternate fantasy is, but what about writing it? There are many elements that are the same as writing fantasy in general, but two aspects are unique for alternate fantasy: historical aspects and the degree of magic.

Historical Aspects

Let’s begin with the historical aspects. Since alternate fantasy requires altering the timeline, you don’t have to strictly stick to the facts. But this doesn’t mean the work is any easier.

When you begin altering the timeline, other thimgs will change with it. Introduce magic, and the inventions of the past won’t be the same. One thing changes, and so do many other things.

For example, if I have a novel set in Victorian England, but I introduce magic that allows for science ahead of the time, all sorts of things would change. Say that, furthermore, magic in this world is a secretive thing kept in the dark. I now have advanced inventions that are sold on the black market because they operate with magic.

I only changed one small thing, but the entire atmosphere and technological field changed in response. This means that you need to think over each change you make to your chosen time period to make sure affected areas change as well. Do your research and take careful notes to keep track of any changes necessary.

The Extent of Magic

One of the important decisions you have to make with alternate fantasy is the extent to which magic affects your world. Does it permeate everything? Or is it under the rug? Does everyone know about it or is it a secret guarded closely?

You likely won’t have a system where magic is everything since it’s an alternate history for Earth that weaves in magic and fantastical elements. But it may be a widespread, underlying part of life. You have to make this decision while working on the changes in your historical period since it will affect some of those changes.


Well, that’s it for this week, everyone! I hope you’ve found this helpful if you’re considering writing alternate fantasy. If you’d like to read some books in the genre, check out the list below.

Further Reading

Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan

Naomi Novik’s His Majesty’s Dragon

Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon

Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

Vonda M. McIntyre’s The Moon and the Sun

Beth Cato’s Breath of Earth