I have recently announced I will make maps for anyone, I like doing it. Sick in the head you say? Boring as hell you say? Yes to both, but we all have our little issues. However, I realized for the first few new mapping projects I have done, for Worktroll’s Army Books, Jaim Magnus’s Star League Reborn AU and Knightmare’s Age of Chaos AU, that they all were relatively easy.
It seems the answer is that all three authors knew what they wanted, put broad ideas out first and then got down to the detail later. I think those three elements are what make an AU get going, whether it’s good or bad, as with a general overview as your starting place, you can fit new ideas in and later mold and change details as your vision narrows.
The problem I see here and there, as others develop AU’s, is that they go nuts on the detail form the get go. Now all that work shows a great level of dedication and a significant application of energy, but it quickly turns the AU into a dense mass of material in which the message or story gets lost.
An important aspect of getting an AU off the ground is explaining the setting, the atmosphere and the key differences to cannon early on. These are the elements that will capture the interest of the AU fan base. Having them lost in reams of data, masses of alternate rules or pages of unit listings, will cause the whole thing to stagnate early. However, you do need all this material, so the question is: Where does it all go and how do you best organize all the data and get the AU’s vision up front and grabbing attention.
Here is a little guide to help when you get to putting your ideas on the boards. See some earlier posts and the Alternate Clans series for notes on actually developing an Alternate Universe. It can be a big step putting your creative talent out for the world to pick apart, so this may help a newbie get through without too many bumps.
STEP 1: Statement of AU Premise
When you first start the story, make a statement in your first post briefly explaining when it is set, why you have taken that path and what you are exploring or plan to explore in the story. It does not have to be long, just enough so that a potential follower can quickly grasp the basics of your idea.
STEP 2: Set the Scene
In the KU I set the scene over the course of the first 6 chapters, all written together, introducing the main players, their motivations, relationships and goals. Another useful method is the timeline, which brings the reader up to date on what has changed from cannon in your AU’s past, and gives them grounding in what has occurred so far.
Some AU’s, like Dragon Cats excellent Alternate Timeline with Thanks, or Liam’s Ghost’s Hypothetically Speaking, follow the timeline format for the entire narrative, which works when done properly.
The other method, which I followed, is the introductory chapters, which need to remained focused on the main characters, the primary theme and the setting of the antagonist’s goals, before you begin to branch out and add in sub-themes, plots and minor minions in detail.
Too many interwoven and intricate details early can make the AU too heavy a read early on, driving away those who might otherwise be captured by your idea. Once you have them drawn in, they will stay on until you drive them off.
STEP 3: Respond quickly
This is PR. If people ask questions or throw ideas at you, respond quickly and positively, even if you disagree or cannot use their ideas. This makes people feel part of the process and leaves them with a positive feeling about you and your project.
With regards to cannon lawyers and those whose opinions should remain with them in their parent’s basements, humor them, but when they get out of hand, a little PM to say thanks, but no thanks, this is my story and vision, if upsets you please stop reading, is usually the best way to go. Remember, it’s about fun, not an adventure into someone’s insecurities.
STEP 4: Dealing with Detail
All that background material you are dying to share can overwhelm your narrative, if you are not careful,l and there are a myriad ways of bringing this to the readership. One method is short summaries, like our own Terran Times, that accompany the story and provide more detail on wider events should readers want them.
The heavy duty in depth analysis, like our Year in Review, should be kept out of the main story and offered up for the real addicts, so that the casual reader, interested only in the story, is not turned off by having to wade through miles of text to find the next installment of the story.
However, providing this detail can be an important way of building the AU, its setting and developing side stories and future plot elements. The KU’s detailed fluff has led the story to some places we might have otherwise avoided, but have been good fun to have as part of the story.
So hopefully that might help a budding writer, with a big idea, but who is unsure just how to present their AU in all it’s glory and gain a bit of a following.