Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Your Own Universe

I was in a bookstore the other day, browsing the titles as I'm wont to do, and something struck me.  The Star Wars section was on display, still reveling in the success of the newest movie, and I realized just how many titles from that universe were out there.

This caused me to wander the store to see just how many other universes were represented.  Let's just say that they are numerous.

The two best known are Star Wars and Star Trek, but they aren't the only ones.  From Dungeons & Dragons to Zorro, the sheer volume of books set in certain universes is staggering.  I started pondering why such a thing would be so enticing.

I get it - setting a story in an already established universe is easier on several fronts.  First, the characters are already written, so you don't have to spend time developing them too much.  Everybody knows who Luke Skywalker is, so you can go right into the story you want to tell.  Second, there's already an established fan base - write a halfway decent story and the fans of that universe will likely buy your work.

However, I dislike this.  Don't get me wrong - there are many stories like this that are pretty good(chief among them, in my opinion, is the Heir to the Empire Trilogy from Timothy Zahn).  Still, as a writer, I find such things limiting.  For one thing, a character's direction is already set, so you can't do things too far out of the ordinary or people will abandon you.  That's the drawback of eschewing character development, that it allows little room for development you might like to see.  Additionally, you have to abide by the rules of that universe.  It's hard to stray too far outside of what's seen as "normal" in such a setting or you'll also be written off.  Finally, in addition to adhering to the general rules of that universe, there are consistency issues that mean you have to know what has happened in that universe so you don't contradict its history(sure, you can do it, but it creates problems of confusion for readers).

Maybe it comes down to a matter of imagination for me.  I feel trapped by working in something someone else made.  I prefer to design my own story and see if the reader will accept it or not.  Bluntly, I view using another's universe as lazy.  Yes, we all want to see what happens in stories we've already taken a shine to, but it takes a great deal less effort to write in one.  Shouldn't we be seeking to set ourselves apart rather than join the faceless morass of other writers?

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