Open Literary Universes

Has anyone noticed the recent trend of remakes, sequels, prequels, and anthologies flooding the market? How often have you sat and thought something up, and then realized someone already beat you to it? It seems like there is no original thought these days. Creativity can be stifled, because people feel like they can’t be innovative. We are trapped because we get told no, or know someone will say no. Every day, you can find a story of someone or some company claiming that someone else stole his or her idea. Sometimes, they are absolutely right, however, there are times when people just have the same great idea and are a bit slower on the draw.

Now, I’m not here to talk about all the instances of this. I am here to talk about the world of fiction, and an idea I have that really isn’t a new one. In fact, this idea has been around for quite a while. Comic books began the idea of a universe in which many storytellers could weave the tales of different characters. This allowed the creativity of different people to shine in their own way, and could tell different stories. They could be explained as alternate realities, and to this day, comic books are the largest example of fictional literary universes. The stories have branched in to radio, books, TV shows, movies, and games. The possibilities for the universes they created are endless because it is an open field. Larry Niven allowed his Known Space universe to be utilized by other authors, but he began the process of building a strict timeline. As each book was written, it had to be in line with the previous novels. Star Wars mostly followed this pattern as well, but there were some issues that arose with the creation of the prequels and now with the sequels. There is some question as to how the universe will be handled now, but as it stands, there is the pre-Disney universe and the Disney universe. Star Trek follows more of the comic book approach of having an open playing field. Many popular TV shows have serial novels written, which has created an alternate literary universe to fill the gaps from the shows. There are several more examples I could use, but you can see that a literary universe is an outlet for someone to express themselves within an existing story, but with their own twist.

My idea would be to have more of these literary universes. There are hugely popular fictional worlds out there that people would love to add their own ideas to. I once contacted an author about doing a story set in the world of his book series, but would not be related to his story or his timeline, and I got shut down hard by his agent. I was very put off by this, but I understood that he didn’t want anyone tinkering around in his world or causing any possible copyright issues. If more authors allowed their fictional worlds to be an open, I think they could really add some depth to their creations. If you, as an author, aren’t done with the series, you could limit the interaction by other writers to certain time periods, and ask that certain things be included. You wouldn’t be hamstringing them, and you also wouldn’t be closing yourself off. Personally, I feel like I would love to see another writer’s take on a world I create. I think that it would be a good collaboration.

Now, I know that this idea is a bit of a tough thing to pull off. Each author is different, and some of them are very defensive about their work. I am not saying that every world can be open, but I’m saying that it would be nice if there were more willingness by authors to let others work in their universes. It works for comic books and many others. I think it could give some novice writers the courage they need to start on ideas of their own. Sometimes you need a starting point, and being a part of an existing universe can be a big help. I get stifled sometimes because I feel like I can’t come up with anything new, but if I was allowed to give it a go in the world of some of my favorite authors, I might be able to really get going. You would learn from an experience like that, and it would help you learn the processes of being a new author, and then all you have to do is fill in the blanks the next time you write. More open literary universes could be advantageous to young aspiring authors, and I would love to see it happen. What about you?

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