Posts Tagged ‘shared universe’

One of the YouTube channels I follow is Tale Foundry, a channel that breaks down how different genres and mechanics of storytelling work and then uses the lessons gleaned to write original short stories. They present themselves as robots in a foundry that works with fiction rather than metal (hence the name Tale Foundry). Their latest series of videos has been around worldbuilding in fiction, and their latest video, which I’ve embedded below, really got me thinking.

Now, if you didn’t watch the video for whatever reason, let me just quickly talk about one of the methods of worldbuilding they discussed: found design, which to put very simply is when you modify an aspect of the world in order to accommodate or address an issue (or “emergent concern,” as they call it in the video) that’s come up in the course of telling the story. An example would be if while writing your novel about a war between werewolves and humans who hunt them, your beta reader says that the conflict has been done before and that something needs to be added to make the story more interesting (other than a forbidden romance). The something required to spice up the story is the issue or emergent concern, and the integration of whatever you decide to add to the story (a threat to both armies, an original twist to lycanthropy, etc) is the act of found design worldbuilding.

Yeah, it’s a lot to absorb, but whoever said fiction writing was simple?

Anyway, this last method got me thinking, because that’s the method a lot of horror writers use while writing their own stories. As we all know, horror stories are more often than not set in our world, but with modifications to allow for the fantastical things that show up in it. Modifications to allow for something new to be added to the story and its world…sound familiar?

I call this the “build upon” worldbuilding method (if there’s an official name in academic circles, someone please let me know). You take an already-established world, one that many people would already be very familiar with, and add your own twists or details to it so you can tell the story you wish to tell. This is a method used by fanfic writers, anyone dealing with Arthurian lore, and of course, horror writers.

A good example of how this method works is with my own short story, “Car Chasers” (being released in late 2018/early 2019 in The Binge-Watching Cure II anthology from Claren Books). This story is set in a world similar to ours, except ghosts are capable of participating in illegal street races in this story. When I wanted to write that story, I had to not just modify the world so that it was capable of having ghosts (though if you ask me, our world has always had ghosts in it), but I had to add rules to these ghosts, how they interacted with the races/racers and under what conditions they participated in these races. Will all this be evident when the story is finally released? You’ll have to read it to find out, but whether or not it is evident, all that work in designing this world was necessary for it to be written, let alone accepted anywhere for publication.

So as you can see, it’s a handy method to build a world for your story. And if you’re into creating a shared universe across your stories, like Stephen King, HP Lovecraft, or I do, it’s pretty helpful in making that possible. All you need to do is make a slight tweak and you can find ways to connect your various stories together into a fantastic and varied world.

Of course, this isn’t the only method for building a world in horror. But this is the one that I use the most in my stories, and which I’m sure plenty of other horror authors use when they make their stories and their worlds. And it’s not hard to see why: it’s a wonderfully flexible tool for any storyteller, and helps in the act of storytelling every day.

Thanks to Tale Foundry for giving me the idea to write this post, and as always, I’m looking forward to your next video. And I encourage you folks to check out their stuff. From Lovecraft and Junji Ito to Celtic mythology and satire, you’ll find plenty of videos exploring the various aspects of storytelling and how they can be applied.

That’s all for now. I’m off to work a little bit on that novella again. In the meantime, what are your thoughts on worldbuilding in your genre? Any methods that you find helpful? Let’s discuss.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

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You know what there are a lot of these days? Fictional universes where characters from a variety of diverse works are all brought together into a single work or series of works where they interact with one another in various ways. From HP Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, to the many different iterations of DC and Marvel comic book worlds and their film and television counterparts, to the shared elements of Anne Rice’s vampire and witch series and Stephen King’s interconnected multiverse and then some, there are a lot of these shared universes these days. Heck, there’s even theories from everyday people about how different works by certain creators are all secretly part of the same story (examples include this Pixar theory and this theory on the majority of Joss Whedon’s work).

So I’m wondering, what is the reason behind all of these interconnected story worlds? What makes storytellers and creators of all different mediums want to have such expansive universes where everything is secretly connected and you have to create a huge conspiracy layout on your wall with tape and string and stuff?

Well, I think some part of it is money. At the end of the day, most storytelling is a business (except for maybe some of what appears on YouTube), and if two characters in separate stories are making profits for a creator or their business, they may try to bring the characters together if it’s feasible and if the fans want to see it. Heck, that’s kind of the reason for most comic book crossovers and the movies based around those crossovers. Fans enjoy seeing Superman and Batman work together or Tony Stark mentor Spider-Man or whatever, so the companies give them what they want and get a profit back.

That’s not to say that all of it is money or that money’s the biggest motivator (unless you’re a Hollywood studio, of course). Another big part of it is the creators. They love their characters, and many would like to see those characters they’ve invested time and effort in come together in an awesome story. How would they play off each other? What sort of trouble would they get into with each other and how would they pull themselves out of it? And how would they grow after meeting each other? I think a lot of writers create these crossovers just so they can answer these questions. They may make multiple volumes to continue asking those questions, adding new characters or situations to continue creating exciting new stories and dynamics. It can be pretty enticing to do that with characters you love so much, and I bet audiences enjoy it as well.

In fact, I’ve imagined doing that with Snake and Laura Horn. Yeah, I have. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve wanted the story of the Snake to continue, and I’ve planned sequels not just for Snake, but for LH as well, including one where the two characters meet and get into a crazy adventure together. And I may be a few books and several years from that crossover, but it’s there if I want to write it, and eventually I will write it. It just sounds like too much fun to pass up.

snake front cover

I really have to get around to that sequel someday soon.

Another reason that creators may do crossover works is just because it makes things easier. Now, I hear you typing in the comments already “How the heck does a crossover or shared universe make things easier?” I know it seems counter-intuitive, but let me give an example: Anne Rice introduced in Queen of the Damned, the third book in her Vampire Chronicles, the Talamasca, an international organization of scholars interested in studying the paranormal. Now, try as I might I could not find any information on why, but when Rice wrote her Mayfair Witches trilogy, she brought in the Talamasca society. Why? Because at some point in the first book she details the entire family history of the Mayfair family and its dozen-plus matriarchs and I guess it made sense to just bring in the Talamasca as an explanation as to why there was an entire history of the family when the family itself isn’t very interested in its history. And it helped with the later books in certain ways to have the Talamasca. See? It was easier to bring in an existing fictional organization concerned with the paranormal than make up an entirely new reason for a third party to document an entire mystical family’s history.

I’ve also heard that’s why HP Lovecraft created the Cthulhu Mythos. He didn’t intend to create an entire cosmology, he just decided it might be easier to work with some familiar characteristics when creating all-powerful monsters, and from there it wasn’t too hard to make the jump to connecting Cthulhu to Yog-Sothoth and any of the other Old Ones. Now, I’m no Lovecraft expert, but I’d buy that explanation.

King’s references are so crazy! Check out this chart!

Of course, some authors do it because it’s fun to have a shared universe, for a variety of reasons. You can return to familiar characters and locations by doing so. You can make your readers marvel and go back to another story to say, “Hey, that matches up with so-and-so.” You can create a cosmology or a special reason why a character or characters or place or places appears in so many stories (I’ve got a character or two like that, I just haven’t been able to put them into any works yet. I tried with the human Barbie story and Evil Began in a Bar, but I couldn’t fit them into the former and I haven’t figured out how best to edit the latter yet, so…). And sometimes, it’s just fun to mess with your readers and make them wonder what the heck it all means (I’m pretty sure that’s the reason Stephen King references his other works so much, and the Dark Tower books simply grew out of a desire to create a complex story out of all that messing about).

Whatever the reason someone creates a shared universe, it’s pretty clear that there are plenty of reasons to do so, and that shared universes are here to stay. And whatever the reason behind them, as long as they’re done with love and people enjoy them, I see no reason not to keep doing them. Besides, I may have one or two I’d like to create someday.

Do you have a shared universe in your fiction? Why’d you create it? What has been the result of that?