If you read my blog that counted down my personal top five fantasy series, you might have seen something that was unique in the justification for R.S. Belcher’s novels. Aside from writing a great, growing series, Belcher has also published two novels - Nightwise and Brotherhood of the Wheel - which share the same universe. And I have a confession: I love shared universes.
To set the record straight, let’s figure out what differentiates a series of books and a shared universe. A series of books is a line-up of work that has some kind of joining factor. More often than not, it is an overarching storyline but can also be connected by character, conflict, etc. Books that share a universe are not bound by this rule. They can be completely separate storylines or have none of the same characters. What they do need, however, is to be set in the same world. The rules have to be the same between all stories, the lore must not deviate. If there is magic then it has to be treated the same.
So why is it that I love shared universes so much? There are a number of reasons!
Easter Eggs and References - Starting out strong, this is the most satisfying reason to read multiple works in the same universe. When you catch references to other events or perhaps hear a passing rumour about the main character in one of the other books. It excites you, it is rewarding, and it adds depth.
It Creates a Deeper World - You might have a million ideas buzzing around your head, but not all of them fit comfortably in your story or series. Sure, your post-apocalyptic hellscape might include a clan of cannibals that will work in exchange for human flesh. But if they are on the other side of the world, who cares? In a shared universe, your second story might take place on the other side of the world and your mercenary cannibals not only get to shine, but they contribute to make the world a more rich place. Readers crave for the ability to enhance their experience, to make a world seem less fictional and more immersive.
More Stories - This seems straightforward, but hear me out. It’s not just the ability to write more books, but a shared universe allows the author to examine the world they have built from different perspectives. Except in the most incredible of circumstances, your protagonist’s story is not the only one that is going on in the entire world (or worlds). Sure, John Doe may be off killing a demigod in Tokyo, but that doesn’t mean that Jane Jones can’t be taking care of hordes of the undead in Rio. Again, this fleshes out your world, makes it more compelling for the reader, and allows you to branch out in your own creation.
There are some very popular books and movies that exist within shared universes. One universe that has been a mainstay in my life growing up was the Forgotten Realms world. This is a shared universe on a massive scale with numerous authors contributing their own unique stories. You can also see an example of a shared universe in the extremely popular superhero movies that have been building their world for years now, the Marvel Cinematic Universe being chief among them. The MCU is a brilliant model of a shared universe done right, but can be extremely complex, as shown in the diagram below.
Will the world of Archangel and the Shadow’s Advent series eventually turn into a shared universe? Potentially, it may be a little early to tell just yet. But let me know in the comments below what your favourite and least favourite parts of a shared universe are, perhaps it will help me build one in the future! Universal Studios are beginning to launch their shared monster universe in film, which begs the question to you, dear reader: Do you even like shared universes?
See you on Thursday.