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.
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.