February 20th, 2008
Writerly Wednesday – Writing In Shared Worlds

Writerly Wednesday

Shared World series are quite popular and can be really fun to read. But they can be really tricky (and frustrating) to write in.

A shared world usually starts with a concept or core idea that is built to be the background for the stories in the series. This can be a place, a person, or an event, depending on the idea and vision for the series.

Some shared world series may be limited to a certain number of stories or open ended as well.

Some shared worlds start with the story of the core idea or concept as the first story in the series. These have the benefit of having the story really laid out so authors that follow on with other stories can follow pretty closely and avoid potential collisions or breaks in the world. But for that, it sacrifices the anticipation that can be created by withholding the final resolution or revelation until interest in the series drops off.

Some publishers or authors decide to save the story that is the basis of the shared world until the very end. That actually can make it more difficult for the authors because you have a world that is more in flux. You may want to use or address an aspect that the person in charge of the series has not considered. Can you do it? Is it the right thing to do? Is your addition going to blow things for authors already partially written?

Difficult questions indeed.

Most shared worlds or series have a bible to offer to authors who might want to write in that world. Be sure you get a copy of that bible and be sure you ask for updates if you take a while between original receipt and finishing your story.

How detailed that bible is can vary greatly. I’ve seen some that are a single page of vague information. I’ve seen some that are 20 page tomes. In general, the more detailed, the more you are able to get answers for. But the more detailed, the less freedom the individual authors have to improvise.

Try to read other stories in that world and see how other authors have treated the shared elements. It will also show you how closely in line they are.

Personally, I like to have the rules laid out and not have unfortunate surprises emerge. Those can be a change in the basic workings of the world or characters, imposition of a mythos not previously present or someone being allowed to write as a shared character when the other authors were told not to. All of these can cause huge chaos in the other world stories and can even cause readers to be upset if the different authors are using different versions of that shared world.

I hate to have these mistakes, myself. Inconsistency makes me nuts and though I’ve written in shared worlds, I find myself less likely to do so after some of these have hit me. I’m very Type A.

But, you know, these things DO happen if you are writing in a shared world that YOU do not control. A lot of the time they are not conscious, they are spur of the moment decisions or ones made without thought to the consequences because they seemed fun at first glance. But they disrupt everyone.

There is also the issue that shared worlds and their characters generally belong to the publishing house that publishes them. If you leave that house or they stop the series, you may not be able to resell that work to another house. It’s something to keep in mind.

Shared worlds do come with some great benefits – a shared fan base, other authors to work with, combined promo opportunities, interesting characters and concepts to play with, etc. And they are FUN to write.

Only individual authors can decide if the potential benefits and drawbacks of wrting in a shared world are worth it. Don’t shrug them off without a second thought, but always approach with caution and a bit of “forewarned is forearmed.”

One comment to “Writerly Wednesday – Writing In Shared Worlds”

  1. Good call. Multi-Author series are tough in some respects and easy in others.

    I agree with you on the difficulties in dealing with already established characters. You have to have an open dialogue with the original author and they have to be willing to share their characters.

    On the easier side, you have an already established world so if you need a break from creating your own (extensive world builder here), multi author series are great.