Writing in a Shared World!

I met multi-talented storyteller and writer Stuart Nager via Daily (w)rite earlier this year, and this led to not only a very vibrant, writer-ly friendship, but also, eventually, The Rule of Three Blogfest: a shared-world writing concept. Stuart created this world, the town of Renaissance, which about 60 writers shared for the month of October, creating characters and stories.

Today, he is here to talk about the shared-world writing concept …so take it away, Stuart!

I love the whole idea of a shared world/shared universe in writing. Different writers add their own unique voice to a grounded landscape/concept. I’ve read many series with that concept and have always loved the different take on world building. Sure, many writers will create a whole series of books on their one imagined world (Discworld, Darkover, Ringworld, etc), but it is normally the same author playing in their own backyard.

A shared world allows others to add on while obeying some of the “basic guidelines”. They add, expand, and offer new ideas to other writers. Some of the best of the shared world books I’ve read incorporated places or story beats from other writers, making the work connective and “real.”  This is not fan fiction: it is sanctioned writing within the same construct. Some fan fiction gets the official OK from the author (I know there was at least one Darkover book that Marion Zimmer Bradley endorsed), but what I’m talking about are the ones where the work is part of canon.

My foray into the shared world concept came about through a side door for me. If you saw the #REN3 hash-tag floating around Twitter, or seen postings about The Rule of Three Blogfest, well you can thank/blame my co-hosts and I.  The month long creative writing challenge ran in October 2011, but its roots go back to when Damyanti emailed me in July 2011.

She asked if I would want to co-host a blogfest in October. She and I had become friendly, starting with our mutual postings and commentary during the A to Z Blog Challenge in April 2011. Previously, she even approached me to begin an actual hand written correspondence with her, which we still continue to do, sporadically, but we make the time.

 I was flattered about the request for the blog festival, but really wasn’t sure if this was something I’d want to do. I let it sit for a few days. I’m not that crazy about certain of these blog hops, which seem solely to boost blog numbers. Not at all what I am interested in: I want to write, and I want to connect with others who are serious about writing, not about blogging. There is a big difference, to me.
If I was going to be involved in running a blog fest, then it’d have to be something I’d really want to participate in. I will not join a “Post a Photo of Your Favorite Kitty” blog hop, or other such claptrap (to me: if you like that sort of thing, my apologies).  If it’s creative, if it’s challenging, I’ll do it. That’s what I needed to make myself want to do this. I sent Damyanti my ideas in the hopes we could dialogue it out.

The idea of the Rule of Three came to me first: I am a professional storyteller and have an MA in Oral Traditions. Three is a powerful number, and comes up in religious scriptures, myths, legends, fairy and folk tales, fables…etc. You name it, it’s there. Plus, as a performer, there is also the Rule of Three when doing a set up for jokes and more. Two isn’t enough; four is too much. Examples of Threes: little Pigs; Bears (as in Goldilocks); Billy Goats Gruff; The Tinderbox (three dogs); the witches in Macbeth; the fates/furies; Holy Trinity; etc.

I also love Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon: the same story, told from four different POVs. Which one is the correct one? Why are there variations, from the different perceptions? Who is lying? Who is mainly telling the truth? It’s an amazing movie (and I still have to read the original source material). I thought that it’d be fun to do a series of stories, spotlighting one main character for each story, then tie up the whole thing in one final tale, a coda. Three POVs of the same story? Three characters who may or may not move a story to a conclusion none envisioned? The ideas just excited me.

Next came the shared world concept.  As I stated above, I’ve loved shared world books for a long time: Thieves World created by Robert Lynn Asprin; Wild Cards by George R.R. Martin; Bordertown by Terri Windling.  That is not counting my first love of shared worlds: COMIC BOOKS!! There is a DC Universe, a Marvel Universe, a CrossGen, Image, Valiant, Kirby, etc. universe, where the comic book heroes of the publishers can interact/crossover into other books. I love shared worlds. So many stories to be played with, all from the one cooperative setting.

You need a set “bible” to ground the world they live in, with some of the parameters built in. Once established, it can be open season within these parameters. It can grow more back story than was originally envisioned, expanding the world until it teems with the billion possibilities that stretch far beyond the one writer.  So…I created the town and environs of Renaissance:

Renaissance is an outpost town in the middle of nowhere, but many routes (the TARGE, KRIS, and VILLEIN are the largest of routes, but not the only ones) pass through or by the town. The SCHIAVONA desert is encroaching on one side (to the West), a once lush forest (the CULDEES) lies to the East and South. A large river, the ESPADON, runs through the forest of ASSART, but it is not close by. The ROUNDELI Mountains are to the North, far, far away, and when you look towards them you don’t know if they are an illusion or not. Closer by are the smaller hill chain, the MAIN GAUCHE and the MINOR GAUCHE, that fed the mining, creating caverns (the KASTANES)  and passages (one particular passage is known as  HERIOT’S PASS) lie underground.
The town has had a number of identities throughout it’s history: A trading post; a mining town; a ghost town until it was rediscovered; a thriving community; the scene of a number of great battles; the scene of one great tragedy (that led to its Ghost Town standing); a town of great joys and celebrations, and so much more.
At this point in time, there is a general population of 333. A mixture of a community. It boasts families that have lived there for generations upon generations, but they are in the minority, and are not in positions of power. There are traders who have come back here, at the end of their many travails, to settle in. The new families and power players have taken this as a last refuge for themselves, hoping to rebuild lives torn apart on the way here.

EVERYONE has a secret!
Welcome to Renaissance.
Enjoy your stay.

Damyanti took to my ideas, and we just went from there. I’ve had to tweak a few things here and there. I didn’t name all the geographical things at first, which was silly of me, and Damyanti wisely pointed it out.  I wish I HAD created that ONE Saloon/Tavern in Renaissance, a place any of the characters could wind up at one time or the other. I still might.

We wound up with Sixty-five writers sharing stories set in Renaissance. A few dropped out, but what we had was amazing. The authors added to world, week by week. Our Atlas/bible grew, and the world around Renaissance was enhanced, waiting for further fleshing out.  

 I love shared worlds. I wonder where this one will take us.


To read more of Stuart’s creative fiction work, go to his Author’s Page on Amazon  , and his blog Tale Spinning . Stu writes about creativity, arts in education and more on his BornStoryteller blog

I love comments, and I always visit back. Blogging is all about being a part of a community, and communities are about communication! Tweet me up @damyantig !


Add Yours
  1. Guilie

    It's so great to see you guest-blogging here, Stuart! I'm so sorry I missed the Rule of Three 'fest–sounds like a blast, and I'm definitely looking forward to seeing what comes out of this shared-writing project.

    Happy Sunday!

  2. Michael Offutt

    Shared worlds are awesome ways to explore stories. I know that I've been a fan of the Dungeons and Dragons world "Forgotten Realms" and have read many of those books. As well, I love the Star Wars expanded universe. The problem though (especially with Star Wars) is that the creator (George Lucas) can come and undo a lot of the shared stuff and that messes up the continuity. But still, I am a fan.

  3. L'Aussie

    Woh, this was a fabulous post. I'm in a hurry so will come back to finish it. It was rather longish. I need to read all of your Rule of Three in a row too Damyanti.


  4. Stuart Nager

    GE…I set it up in part two and part three of mine…and it WILL be explored at a later time…I gots me a plan!!! Glad you enjoyed the whole thing.

    Angela: Bob is pretty gentle.

  5. The Golden Eagle

    The shared world concept intrigued me when I first heard about the blogfest; I'd never tried writing in a setting that had been pre-defined by someone else, and it sounded like an interesting challenge.

    Great post!

    (And I have to wonder what might have happened in a saloon/tavern in a place like Renaissance . . .)

  6. Stuart Nager

    Thanks Donna & Kelly.
    @Dhole: I have ALL the Thieves World books. It is an acquired taste. If you like Superheroes, try Wild Cards. If you like Punk Fantasy, Bordertown.

    or just read DC Comics 🙂

    Glad you enjoy it. I also love Ro3; as a storyteller, it pops up all over the place. Glad you joinwedx in.

  7. kelly

    I'm completely new to the concept of blogfests and found all of them overwhelming, so this one wouldn't have even caught my eye if it had been on anything other than the Rule of Three. I wrote a research paper on the subject in one of my theatre classes, while we were studying Hamlet. Fascinating topic! One I want to keep studying the rest of my life.

    Thanks for this! I wrote a comment elsewhere that I don't think showed up for some reason, but this blogfest really made a huge difference in my writing. I intend to come back for seconds!

    ps. I'm (as usual) having trouble commenting, because wordpress doesn't play nice with blogger. I am http://kellywrites.wordpress.com

  8. Donna Hole

    I read a couple Thieve's World novels and couldn't get into them. But I had a blast writing within Renaissance, and was very sorry to see it end.

    The world building was what drew me into this blogfest – like you Stuart, I prefer writing to follower building. I got caught up in several of the awesome story concepts, and loved seeing familiar places in differing contexts.

    Thanks to all four of you for setting this in motion, and making it a rewarding experience.


  9. Stuart Nager

    Thank you so very much, Damyanti. This has been a pleasure, curse of the REN3 Hosts notwithstanding.

    @RihardL if you like to read, check them out. All the seriesare kinda hard to find now ( I have them), but they are re-releasing the orignianal Wild Cards. Worth reading.

    @Li…you are most welcome. It's been wonderful.

    @Angela: thank you. Btw: Bob is not a costume. He is an ogre, and a great hugger. Just sometimes too strong. 😉

  10. Richard

    I've not heard of or had anything to do with some of the things you talk about, but I enjoyed The Rule of Three. It was a challenge every week, and I learned a thing or two about myself as a writer.

  11. Li

    I think REN3 turned out as a huge success, and I felt grateful to be invited onboard for the ride 🙂 Thank you, Damyantig and Stuart.