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Sunday, June 21, 2015

Guest Post: The Allure Of Shared Worlds by Erin M. Evans


There’s something about shared worlds—settings that any number of different authors participate in—that intrigues writers. Maybe it’s that shared pot of readers you can tap into. Maybe it’s the opportunity to bounce off other creators, like improv for writers—“yes, and!” Maybe it’s not so much intrigue as fascinated horror—how do you let go of control of the setting and still tell a great story?

Shared worlds are certainly popular: Forgotten Realms. Thieves’ World. Star Wars. Halo. Warhammer. Wild Cards. Golarion. Eberron. It’s enough to make an author want to build a universe of their own and invite some colleagues to come play! But I’d argue it’s not as simple as just creating a setting that would be at home in a book and running with it. Here are four factors that can make or break a shared world:

 1) Openness — A shared world needs to be able to share. (Duh.) If there’s not enough space for authors to bring their stories to life, it’s going to be hard to entice participants to your project. When you’re writing a setting just for you, you can make decisions without an eye for what opportunities you create or close off—after all, your story is the only one impacted. But if you’re going to share the stage, the more openings for stories and for other authors to bring their ideas to the table, the better.

 2) Limits — On the other hand, you need to have parameters to help shape your stories. If everyone can write whatever they want, why do it under the umbrella of your world? The best shared world fiction I’ve seen takes its cues from the boundaries of the setting—even if it pushes beyond them. If magic works like this, then what happens when someone makes use of that loophole? If this culture is considered the “big bad” of the setting, what do you get when you try and see things from their perspective? Here’s this big event in the past of the world—what did it look like for someone on the ground? Shared world fiction has a lot in common with historical fiction—there are amazing stories to be found between the elements that can’t be moved.

 3) Continuity of experience — The goal of shared world fiction is to create a variety of stories that have something in common. A reader enjoys my story, they’ll give yours a try. All the pull of a series, but expanded! Every author brings their own voice to the table, but the most successful shared world maintains a particular feel. Star Wars novel to Star Wars novel, you can expect to see a focus on good and evil, how you find that line and what it means.

There’s an eye to the theme of legacy, and of course, lots of acknowledgments to the films that started it all. In Forgotten Realms, you can get fantasy with a lot of modifiers—horror, epic, romance, S&S — but there will always be an element of adventure, an element of the heroic, and a good dose of magic and fighting from its Dungeons & Dragons roots. Readers will always have their favorite authors, but that continuity of experience will keep them coming back to give new stories a try.

 4) Something Special — Most shared world settings are speculative or fantastic in nature, and there are a lot of big invented worlds out there. What makes your special? Eberron's a post-war setting with pulp overtones and lots of magic-tech, while still being heroic fantasy. Golarion provides a massive world with lots of detail and a game system to boot. Just like any other work of fiction, your world needs something that catches the interest of readers.

A shared setting can seem like a daunting project or a fun adventure, but with a little forethought, it can be a great place to tell stories for years to come.


Official Author Website

GUEST AUTHOR INFORMATION: Erin M. Evans got a degree in Anthropology from Washington University in St. Louis and promptly stuck it in a box. Nowadays she uses that knowledge of bones, mythology, and social constructions to flesh out fantasy worlds. She is the author of The God Catcher and an ex-editor for Wizards of the Coast. She currently lives in Washington State. Checkout the Kickstarter for Champions of Aetaltis: A Heroic Fantasy Anthology in which Erin has a Forgotten Realms story.

The project will end on Tuesday so make sure to checkout all the tier levels and be sure to back the project.

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