Abaddon Open Subs month: creating shared worlds
2 years ago
As we spelled out in the submissions guidelines, the main reason this is a Work For Hire gig is the potential to invite other writers to play in your world.
We don’t do this with all our properties – Toby Venables’ Hunter of Sherwood trilogy, for instance, and E. E. Richardson’s Ritual Crime Unit stories – and we don’t necessarily need your submission to be suitable for sharing, but we’ve had enormous fun expanding and enriching our universes before, and we’re likely to do it again. Heck, Tomes of the Dead and The Afterblight Chronicles have racked up a dozen authors each!
So you’ve decided that’s you. You were gonna pitch for the open subs month anyway, but actually, you really want your project to inspire us to bring in other writers. I mean, there’s a certain satisfaction in knowing you’re laying the groundwork for other people’s work, further down the line, right? Eric Brown, writing about his work on Weird Space for Abaddon X, asked “Who wouldn’t, given the opportunity, want to play God?”
How do you pitch a story for a shared world? Well, let’s see.
MAKE IT BIG…
The most important thing is scope. When we read the pitch, we should be thinking, “This is cool! But what about the other stories?” There should be worlds left to explore. The setting should feel vast, and nuanced, and believable; like something that exists in its own right, beyond serving as a backdrop for your plot.
Your UK-centric alt-history should leave us wanting to know what’s been happening in the US, or Europe – or Africa and Southeast Asia, for that matter. Your epic fantasy war between satyrs and dwarves may hint at the greater role the satyr nation plays in the fay courts – and the crucial importance of dwarvish trade to the Fay Empress. Your Mars-based police procedural could allude to the widely-corrupt, privately-run justice systems of smaller colonies.
…BUT LEAVE LOTS OF ROOM
But give us the space to dream in. Don’t pin the world down too much; set themes and a tone, sketch a few details and create a framework, but we don’t need to know every detail of every corner of the world. Give your future collaborators breathing room.
Everything in moderation, of course; the parts you need for your story you can detail as finely as you need. And if there’s a corner of the sandpit you want to fence off and say, for instance, “I don’t mind how you use the warrior-rabbit-folk, as long as you don’t make them some sort of tonedeaf Asian pastiche,” then we can totally talk about that when we put together a world bible.
MAKE IT DISTINCTIVE…
There’s always a temptation to make shared worlds kind of bland, precisely to offer the sort of blank canvas we’re talking about; but that’s no good.
First off, who wants bland anyway? We need readers to want to buy this! Secondly, it risks tonal confusion. If you write a grittily realistic drama, we’re unlikely to want a future contributor to add a slapstick farce to the same world; the setting should steer stories to fit in it. But third and most importantly, it needs enough to hang future books off. Gods and Monsters is a fairly generic gods-live-among-us world (with some curious features, like the Usurper and the Chroniclers), but there’s a spirit of punky revolt to it that fires up the neurons of our contributors and helps the series hang together.
Find the heart of your world; the thing that, blank canvas aside, informs everything in the setting and gives future books as yet undreamed-of a uniting feel.
…BUT NOT TOO CONSTRICTIVE
Okay, does this feel like I’m repeating myself? It’s sort of the same advice on two different fronts. Whatever it is about your setting that will inspire readers to buy books and future writers to want to pitch in – its voice and tone, a hook in the history, a quirk in the culture – don’t make it so tight everyone has to clone your book to fit in.
The Afterblight Chronicles has a unifying setting (a global plague that targeted blood types), themes (duty, faith vs reason) and voice (sort of angry/principled), but Spurrier’s bleakly brutal road movie, Andrews’ defiant coming-of-age story and Kane’s dynastic saga all hang together within the setting perfectly comfortably.
And that’s it, I guess. It’s one of those middle-of-the-road “balance in all things” sort of answers, but hopefully it’s provided food for thought.
Next up is the Sample…