Your World-Building Franchise

One of my absolute favourite things about writing fiction is that no one, anywhere, anywhen will ever write this exact same story this exact same way (legally, anyway). There’s never just one “correct” way to write anything. The choices are kaleidoscopic, depending on your skill, mood, imagination, daring, health, alcohol intake, etc, and that can be a little daunting at first—you’ve heard of/experienced the author’s dread fear of the blank page.

But the more choices you make, and the more you pile up that word count, the more convinced you become that, hey, maybe there was just one correct way to tell that story after all. Your way. You’ve made the improbable inevitable, and all those other potential ways of telling it—who cares, right?

You’re capturing lightning in a bottle, line after line, page after page. It’s bloody hard work but it’s worth it because your creative decisions are going to stand the test of time. Entire planets, systems, empires take shape. You populate them with characters you’ve gotten to know intimately, who speak to you in dreams, in the shower, on the backs of napkins. Intuition takes its throne. The writing process itself seems smooth now because you’re in the groove, but you’re multi-tasking like crazy on several conscious and semi-conscious levels—mis-en-scene that takes an entire film crew to produce you’re rattling off alone on little more than caffeine and sheer chutzpah for months.

And just like that, it’s finished. Re-written. Beta bruised. Uncrumpled from the waste paper bin. Re-written and sparkling. It’s in the mail or email and out into the universe.

Then you take a few days off. Say hi to the sun. Pig out on calorific treats as if they were Soylent Green because you’ve bloody-well earned it. Maybe even get a regular night’s sleep. Bask in the post-completion glow that makes you feel like Arthur C. Clarke for a while.

And then—

The Blank Page Strikes Back.

What are you gonna do for your next opus? Start that whole Sisyphean routine over from scratch? Build another entire SF universe from the ground up, think every rivet, moon and phlegm-drenched dialect into being all over again? Or does it make more sense to use what you’ve already got? Explore another conflict somewhere in the same universe you’ve designed so intricately?

It’s not really the same as historical fiction. Most of that information is already available, waiting to be assembled. The story and the characters are yours, but the world-building is a essentially a matter of research and selection. But to create a universe, fashion it from your own imagination…

It’s a hard thing to leave behind. A personal investment you want more dividends from. A reservoir of pride you feel like drinking from more than once. It makes sense to use that universe over and over again for subsequent stories—not necessarily sequels, but tales set in other far-flung corners of the galaxy, on different planets—perhaps touching on previous events and focusing on those larger-than-life supporting characters you feel deserve more page time.

Welcome to your world-building franchise. Where nothing need ever go to waste.

Or do you thrive off that challenge of starting anew each time?



  1. There is a happy medium… multiple galaxies in a single universe; starting anew while keeping your options open for conceptual cameos and connections only a dedicated reader would notice. You always have the chance to bring in aspects you’ve already created but you restrict yourself for the sake of the novelty of the current project.

    Your post hits a chord with me. I’ve been in the throes of fleshing out smaller parts of my universe for a while now. I’m far more into pre-production development instead of creating-as-you-write.

    For example, I create reports (sometimes from my perspective, sometimes from that of a character in the story) on cities, species, objects of interest and anything that needs to have a bag of dynamism from which I can sprinkle onto the pages I’m working on.

    1. Fascinating, Aaron. That never occurred to me–using a journalistic angle to help give reality to your creations in the planning stage. I think it’s a brilliant idea. Something I might try for my next project.

      My last few SF novels have been set in the same universe but have addressed completely different aspects–from celebrity life to illegal mineral prospecting–so the world-building is quite layered. With, like you say, both echoes and novelty.

      Thanks for the great feedback!

      1. Check out my blog for some examples. I’m building my universe in a very transparent way, giving readers a view into concepts and backstory that may or may not make it into the book I’m working on.

        I have the luxury of being able to use my concept design background and abilities with certain 3D programs to illustrate my ideas which lets me decrease the amount of word-walls that I have a habit of pushing on my readers.

        I have to admit, I’ve never read one of your works. Your explanations of what you’re doing, however, makes me want to. 😉

  2. I find beginning the new story easy. It’s along about chapter two the troubles start creeping in!

    1. That sounds hauntingly familiar, Cindy. Seven or eight of my WIPs are petrified at the chapter 2/3 stage. In my case, it’s because I’m easily distracted–but maybe that in itself proves something about those projects.

  3. I do both (revisit the same universe and go to another one). Usually, I’ll write an SF, then another genre (like mystery) before I go back to the same world again. I find it makes me look at the SF world with new eyes when I come back to it.

    1. Sounds like a smart approach, Shawn. I’m alternating between SF and steampunk at the moment, and it’s a great contrast–rough and ready versus prim and proper. That’s how they start off, at least.

  4. I’m with Aaron. Staying in the same universe, even on the same planet, but exploring different aspects of it with each book. For a little while, at least 🙂

    Great post, Robert. Lots to think about.

    1. Thanks, Cathy! And well said.

  5. You are right – everyone who writes create their own reality. If we set 20 writers up with the same premiss we would have 20 different stories. 🙂
    For my series I have been exploring an event from different viewpoints along the time line. In this case the first human-extraterrestrial Treaty. Once the event is complete I will have the rest of the galaxy to explore.

    1. Sounds intriguing, Lily. I really like that idea of multiple viewpoints on a major event, spread over different books.

  6. Whether I’m reusing a world or not, the first 10 pages or so are absolutely agonizing! I swear, they take longer than the rest of the book to write. I like to reuse what I’ve built, when it makes sense, if the story fits or if I can make the story fit. But just the fact you can visit different planets or different galaxies in a SF universe often means there’s a lot of flexibility. You can keep everything the same, or you can change things up as necessary. Which, for me, is the biggest lure of writing SF.

  7. Ah, that’s interesting–you have the opposite reaction to Cindy with regards openings. I’ve suffered both ways, but lately I’m in the groove for the whole book after I get the first page down. Agreed on the flexibility of SF–it’s such a huge canvas.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: