Friday, May 25, 2018
History and its mysteries always rev my imagination's engine. I just finished watching Ken Burns' The Civil War on DVD (I highly recommend for any history buff). I invested when I heard PBS put out a 25th anniversary edition. I loved the documentary series when it first debuted, so I was just revisiting an old favorite. I didn't expect to get flooded with new ideas for an upcoming project (not, as it happens, about the Civil War).
The ideas came anyway. What happens in a conflict where both sides believe God is on their side, and they see their reasons and causes as completely righteous, and the enemy's as deplorable? What motivates people to choose their side? What are the consequences when all the players are fighting for their world's survival -- and it's the same world? What happens when a third party enters the conflict with their own, different motivations and concerns -- also for the same world?
Building essentially three universes in this project, which is also a continuation of an already-established universe with many other sides, factions and conflicts, is when I shift into multiversing. To do that, I have to maintain a strong core universe that doesn't change, which is the hub. Think of it as the center of a spiderweb. That's what you build on, the world and the rules that always remain intact. Your hub can be anything: the city, country, planet, time period, whatever, but it should be able to serve as the foundation for anything you build on it.
As an example, let's imagine multiversing during the Civil War. You have North and South, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, Abraham Lincoln, and Jefferson Davis. You know the war lasts for four years. You have two armies: the Union and the Confederacy. You know Succession was the official reason for starting the war, and ending slavery was the finishing of it. That's your hub.
All of the elements of the Civil War make great inspiration for multiversing. You can tell stories from the POV of any player, as long as you remain true to your hub (as in, Robert E. Lee doesn't defect to the Union in year two, unless you're writing Alternate History, in which case you can do whatever you like, as long as you carry the change through the entire conflict.) You can introduce all manner of conflicts behind the scenes of the battles, as long as the battles remain the same. You can even offer different, plausible spins on what did happen during the war, such as why Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain ordered the 20th Maine to fix bayonets and carry out a simultaneous frontal and flanking maneuver when their ammunition was running low at Gettysburg. For his heroism Chamberlain was awarded the Medal of Honor.
Some years later one of Chamberlain's subordinates claimed that he never issued that order. So let's imagine that guy was telling the truth. So, who did give the order? Why? What happened to him? Why did they cover it up by saying Chamberlain gave the order? Answering those questions builds a new universe atop the hub.
Now extend the same logic to other, significant events during the battles. What if one of the commanders of the Union army was a Confederate sympathizer? You can tailor your universes to your genre, too. Mystery writers, what if he was being blackmailed? Paranormal writers, what if he was a vampire, a werewolf, or a seer? Romance writers, what if he was in love with a female Confederate spy? Or a runaway slave who had just been captured by the other side? The possibilities are literally endless.
One final bit of advice: the more universes you layer atop a hub world, the more details you have to carry over into the next installment. So create a universe bible or running timeline to keep track of the details that have to stay true. If in the first universe you make all the soldiers carry silver bayonets to kill werewolf opponents, for example, then silver bayonets have to become standard equipment in every successive universe you build on the same hub. What changes has to be carried through, so consider carefully what you want to alter. If you have Robert E. Lee defect to the Union halfway through the war, then obviously he's not going to lead the Confederacy into any more battles. Unless they send him back to work as a Union spy. See, there's always a way to top a universe with another one.