Comic books have a long history of being set in a “shared” universe, and that has, in recent years, bled over into the movies and TV series made from them. Witness Marvel’s numerous offerings, how they all interconnect. Characters cross over, as can villains and plotlines. Major story events can reverberate through half a dozen individual series. (DC tried this, too, but they can’t seem to get it right the way their biggest rival does.)
In the world of “real” books, this kind of thing is not too common. That doesn’t mean it’s unknown, however. And there are a couple of ways to go about it. One might say that the Dune setting, for example, is a shared universe, as it has multiple authors working in the same world, under the same general constraints of style, characterization, and overall feel. The (now-defunct) Star Wars Expanded Universe is another good example: dozens of books, all able to build off one another, but still able to tell individual, independent stories.
The other option is a single-author universe. In this case, the meta-setting isn’t shared by multiple writers, but by multiple series. For this, the best example has to be Stephen King; The Dark Tower was his way of connecting all these disparate stories. Another example of an author placing lots of stories into the same universe is Brandon Sanderson, with his “Cosmere” setting. Again, the general principle is the same: multiple stories, all acting independent, but with signs that they are, in fact, set in the same world. (Or worlds, in this case.)
Even considering something like this is a massive undertaking, but…that’s just what I’ve been doing lately. And I’m fast coming to the conclusion that I’ve already started creating a shared universe for some of my works.
Let’s start with Otherworld, since it’s my biggest work yet. All along, I did intend it to be a place that could be shared. There’s a lot of worldbuilding and backstory that has absolutely no bearing on the main plot of the lost expedition. In fact, I’ve gone so far as to create a language for a race that won’t even show up in any of the planned 50 novellas and short novels that make up the “primary” Otherworld series. But that’s okay. In my mind, that gives me more room to try other stories. And I don’t even mind others trying their hand at something set in the universe. (Seriously. Just ask, and I’ll tell you all you need to know.)
One series does not a universe make, of course, but that’s where it starts getting bigger. My Endless Forms series of paranormal thrillers will soon see its second full release (next month in paperback and ebook formats), and I have slipped in a vague reference to one of the Otherworld “bridge” stories, specifically “The Control Variable”. It’s not overt, and it could easily be explained away as a chance coincidence, but I know the truth. And I know I should probably regret it. Now that I’m writing the third entry in Endless Forms, Change of Heart, I may end up adding more nods to Otherworld.
So that’s two, but not all. In November 2017 I wrote The Soulstone Sorcerer, the first entry in a series I’ve codenamed Gateway. The timing doesn’t work for it to reference either of the two above—it’s set in 2018, the others after—but I have gone the other way. The Second Crossing and Point of Origin, two of the 2nd season Otherworld novels you’ll see this year, both have oblique references to The Soulstone Sorcerer. Again, it’s not so obvious that you can’t miss it. No, this is nothing more than a mention. But it may grow into something more.
Shared universes don’t have to be connected through direct links like this, though. Thus, if I’m going to be doing this, then I have no problem saying that, for instance, Heirs of Divinity is set in the same world. There’s about 300 years of difference between it and any of the others, but it concerns essentially the same idea as Otherworld, Endless Forms, and Gateway: things on this planet are not as they seem.
That one’s a decision for later. The same could be said for “Fallen”, the novella I released for free last year. And “Miracles”, since it’s a direct spin-off of Heirs. Some others I have on my to-do list might also end up being in this shared setting, but we’ll see.
Obviously, not everything I write can fit this mold. Nocturne and The Linear Cycle quite obviously aren’t set on our planet. They’re fantasy stories in fantasy worlds. Orphans of the Stars is meant to be “harder”, so it’s out, too. The same goes for Before I Wake, although I may have made it a book that exists in the shared setting.
Hidden Hills is a tough one, though. On its face, it fits the fantasy theme the same as Nocturne. If you look at it the right way, however, it might actually be a far-future sequel to Orphans of the Stars. Okay, maybe I wouldn’t go that far, but if you read the two, you can see how they could, in theory, be connected.
In other words, even the notion of a shared setting can lead to false friends, stories that look like they’re linked, but really aren’t. Also, I have to resist the temptation of drawing stories closer together when they’re meant to remain separate. I’m not ready for crossovers. I don’t think they’d fit my writing style at all, and they feel a little too…campy for my tastes.
Still, it’s something to think about.