Author Toolbox Blog Hop: Sharing a World

It’s time for the Author Toolbox Blog Hop! The hop takes place the third Wednesday of every month (minus November/December) and focuses on the sharing of resources and learning tools for authors.

Stop by the hop page and check out all the participants and their posts this month! Also check out #AuthorToolboxBlogHop on Twitter.

A Common Theme

Many times authors don’t just write one book with the same characters and world–series, sequels, trilogies, quadrilogies and more are pretty common in a variety of genres. They’re often found in sci-fi and fantasy, and in the genre I write, romance. It’s also common in the mystery world, with multi-volume series that focus on one sleuth or detective. It’s this last example that brings me to what I want to talk about today:

The shared world series.

A “shared world” is usually written one of two major ways: either the main character or several major characters appear in every book, but the books only interconnect insofar as they take place in the same universe; or, every book has different characters but takes place in the same world with the same premise. Personally, I’m writing about this subject right now because I’m currently writing a shared world series. Mine is in the second format: every book has different characters, but they all have similar experiences in the same universe, revolving around the same premise. The first book in this series will come out this spring–I can’t wait!–but I’ve also written several more books in this series already.

Shared worlds, no matter how they’re written, have a few key components:

  • The books can be read in any order and still make sense–they’re not dependent on each other the way sequels and trilogies are. It’s not a single story told across multiple books.
  • The same characters or same premise/subjects appear in each book.
  • The set-up of the universe generally has to be explained in every book, to make them stand-alone.

As I write this series, I’m finding the last point to be the most challenging. Even though by this time I know everything about the world I’m writing in, and it’s been presented in every book so far, I have to explain the key components over again in each book no matter how annoying it is for me. That’s because every book could be the first book the reader picks up. The hard part is that I have to do it without repeating myself to the point a reader reading EVERY book would feel like I’m just being repetitive, and do it in a creative way that makes it non-invasive and part of the story. I’m trying to do this by adding new details to the setup every time and varying things a little. Yes, it’s a challenge–but it’s fun!

I know a lot of readers enjoy a shared world series. It’s great to write too, because you get to explore new characters and stories but with an established background already in place. Do you read books like this? Do you write them? Let me know in the comments!

28 Comments

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  1. Congratulations on your upcoming book release! I am thrilled for you. I would say the bulk of what I read uses a shared world. I can really understand your struggle about rehashing the world building in fresh ways. Reading another rehash of the same information is one of the few things I dislike about reading shared world books. I know authors must for new readers. I have seen it done well and poorly even by the same author.
    Personally, as a reader, I think “less is better” or “a new perspective” are the two methods that have worked best for me. I find when it is the same information revealed in the same way, I start to skim, which I hate to do because I know how much time went into crafting the novels. If less is revealed the skimmed section is shorter, or if it is shown from a new perspective (with new insight), I don’t resort to skimming. Best of luck with making your shared world. I know I will be struggling with these same challenges in mine!

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  2. I read a fair amount of romance — and other women’s fiction where there are shared worlds….for me as a writer, I can definitely see the appeal and challenges of working with the same world, cast of people and a different story….know of writers who work within a certain time period or geography for that very reason. So, I like reading them and am writing one right now as a totally unanticipated sequel to a story that I’m not quite finished with yet….so this latter book will actually help set up what needs to happen in the first. Terrific post!

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  3. Shared world series are a lot of fun. I have an idea for two spin-off series that are for the shared world concept. The first shared world series spin-off will have a few books, each a standalone story in the same world, that will follow a “normal” series of 4 books with all the same characters and continuing plot. Then there’s another spin-off series to this series later that jumps into the future, which has it’s own shared word spin-off series. Confusing. I know. lol

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  4. I love the idea of a shared world series. My problem is I’d want to use the same characters too, and then I’d feel like the first book had to be read first to introduce them. Maybe I’ll figure it out some day!

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  5. I don’t write romance or same world (only) and can’t imagine filling in a reader repeatedly. That would be the challenge for me. I’ve only done the mystery series and the challenge within it is using subplots that link the overall series. I know Marvel does same world and Michael Connely. Good Luck with series. 🙂

    Anna from elements of emaginette

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  6. Interesting post. Glad to hear someone else faced the dilemma of how much set-up to include in each book of a series. I’ve written only one three book series, but wanted them to stand alone. It was difficult given the main character(s) reappeared and were obviously changed by what they experienced in the previous book. To this day, I don’t know how well I succeeded, but I’ve talked to several people who have read only the final book. So far, no negative comments.

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    1. That’s good! It can be difficult, and I think sometimes the best way to clarify things to readers is to refer back to events in the other books throughout the story, not just in one lump. As long as there’s a good explanation for why someone is acting the way they are, I think the reader can still understand it without having read a previous book.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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  7. I love when books can stand alone or be part of a larger series/world. Though I can see how setting up the world in every book can be difficult. To be honest, some series that I’ve read recently do this, even though they’re not exactly standalone novels. The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon is actually so interesting in that I can immediately remember the previous books, even if there’s been a lull between reading them, because she’s able to set up the world again so effectively in those first few pages. It’s not exactly the same as a shared world series, but it’s impressive how much she’s able to set up in so little time.

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    1. Ah, I’ve actually just started reading the first book! I thought as a romance author I would be voted off the island if I didn’t eventually read those books LOL! I know what you’re saying though–it’s a real pleasure when the author can set up the world fast and efficiently and you can just get on with the story. The reader isn’t confused and they can just enjoy it.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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  8. Hi Megan. I have read several series with shared worlds. The vampire academy series and the series by Sarah J. Maas. I do have to say I tend to fall in love with the initial voice and I don’t t enjoy shared world books as much as the originals but once I am hooked I am hooked 🙂

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