I'm writing a story featuring a plot element which is a variation on A Christmas Carol involving the multiverse. A character is escorted to other timelines, where she looks at where those versions of herself ended up due to what choices she made, and in turn she learns about herself. Enlightenment is just one time warp away!

Referring to these "alternate versions" is challenging, particularly as the story is ye standard medieval fantasy and I have no sci-fi vocabulary at my disposal. I'm not using "timelines" for one, instead I've been calling them "fates". And besides avoiding modernisms, I want to avoid making up terms that make this timeline exploration device and its trappings feel like a formal system, like an industry. To the PoV character, it is an unexpected, unique, life-changing fever dream. She shouldn't have proper nouns for most these things, except fate.

On to terminology. Alice enters a new timeline as ghostly observer, and she sees Alice-but-slightly-different inhabiting that timeline, doing different things. What's the word? I've reluctantly used "version" once or twice but for my main use, dialogue and action tags, I've started using "the Alice", "this Alice" to differentiate from just "Alice". That may be too easy to miss in reading. You be the judge:

Alice watched the room form out of mist, much like how a painter would draw one. A shade of brown came first, and it steadily refined itself into the wooden walls and furniture she knew to be a physician's workshop. A central bed held a young man she couldn't quite place, and stretched over it was "herself". This Alice was slightly taller, better fed, and had put her life in service of public health.

"Why can't you accept what we are?" the patient moaned. "You spend two times as much time with me as with any other guy!"

"Only because you get into twice as many accidents," the Alice said sharply. She then, with the absolute minimum of conviction, faked a yawn. "My shift is over for today, John. Guess you'll have to hobble around on one foot till tomorrow."

Alice stifled a chuckle herself. This version was doing well.

  • 1
    Calling them 'doctor-Alice', 'tall-Alice', 'married-Alice', 'angry-Alice' and so doesn't work? Sep 18, 2023 at 5:30
  • 2
    @CarlosMartin hadn't thought of that. In the context of a scene, with close 3rd person PoV, that would mean naming them after their first distinguishing feature.
    – KeizerHarm
    Sep 18, 2023 at 7:00
  • 1
    I think it would be easy for the reader. People use those references all the time. I've read other books that call these characters 'Big Nose', 'Clever Thug' or 'Axeman'. Sep 18, 2023 at 8:02
  • Re: the close-vote; I'm not asking for a rephrasing of my sample paragraph, rather for a general tactic to refer to alternate versions of characters.
    – KeizerHarm
    Sep 18, 2023 at 12:02
  • @KeizerHarm The close vote is from me. You are asking very specifically for words to use in your narrative ("how to refer to", "What's the word?"). That is asking what to write. — Generally, if answers to your question will only help you with your story and no one else, because they only apply to your specific story, the question is likely asking what to write.
    – Ben
    Sep 18, 2023 at 13:40

2 Answers 2


The way you're doing now is perfectly fine. It isn't confusing if it's only two Alices at a time and using "this Alice" to refer to the alternate fates.

However, if more than once fate is destined to collide, there is the possibility of complication. In that case, I'd name them after a distinguishing feature (as the comments say "Doctor Alice" etc.)


Firstly, I would like to say that I deeply enjoyed your sample writing. It included details and comaprisons that made such a beautiful picture in my mind, and I think you have great potential as a writer. Anyway, that's besides the point. I think that one way your story could seem more like fantasy than sci-fi is if, when Alice is going between "fates," it seems like there's something magical like a portal or space with magical doors that lead to the other fates. Let's say, for example, Alice hops into a machine to transfer which fate she's in. This will most definitely be seen as sci-fi. But if one boring morning, Alice wakes up to a not-so-boring glowing door replacing her old one at the foot of her bed, then that will make it seem more like fantasy.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.