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.
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?