Writing is fun, challenging, therapeutic, cathartic and exciting for many reasons, and I have posted before about why I love writing so much. But I was thinking the other day about something that has begun to happen by accident with me and my writing. And that is creating a universe.
Now, if you are writing a fantasy, sci-fi, dystopian or even a horror story, then you’ll be well aware of the need to create a universe. What do we mean by universe? By ‘universe’ we mean a fictional world made up of locations, events and characters that differ from this world.
As you can see, this makes perfect sense when writing in certain genres. You need to create a specific world because your story is not set in this one. However, creating a universe within writing can also mean something else. For example, stories set in the same town or place, whether real or imagined, or stories using the same characters but in separate stories, or characters that cross over from one story to another. Think of spin-offs, for example!
This is something that has happened quite by accident to me. Most of my books now exist in the same universe to some extent. And the universe keeps growing.
Out of the fifteen books I have published, eleven of them are set in the same ‘universe’ and are in some ways connected to each other. These books are The Boy With The Thorn In His Side 5-part series, The Mess Of Me, Elliot Pie’s Guide to Human Nature, the Holds End trilogy: A Song For Bill Robinson, Emily’s Baby and The Search for Summer, and This Is Nowhere.
This Is Nowhere is slightly different because it is the only book I’ve written where I’ve kept the locations real. It is set where I currently live and I have used the same houses, streets and other locations and kept everything as it actually is in real life. However, it does connect to the other ten books mentioned because the location is used for part of the story in Elliot Pie’s Guide to Human Nature, and one of the characters lives next door to characters from This Is Nowhere.
So, how do the other ten books exist in their own universe? The main way is through location. In all those books I have mostly used places and locations that actually exist and I have changed the names, or fictionalised them. For example, I used to live on a council estate called Townsend. In A Song For Bill Robinson and the rest of the trilogy, I’ve changed the name to Holds End but kept most of it the same. In The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series and the Holds End trilogy, I use a location called Belfield Park. This is loosely based on an area nearby known as Boscombe. In The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series and in The Mess Of Me I created a seaside town called Redchurch, which is pretty much a fictionalised version of my area, Christchurch.
I didn’t create this universe intentionally, but linking up my books in different ways has always been really enjoyable, and those links just keep getting stronger. For example, when writing The Mess Of Me, I thought it would be interesting to have the main characters mention and discuss the violent incident that happened between Danny and his stepfather, Howard, in The Boy With The Thorn In His Side books. The Mess Of Me is set after this series, but the incident happened locally to them and Danny is somewhat of a legend or hero in their area. He even went to the same school as them and scratched his name into a park bench they know of.
Elliot Pie lives on the Holds End estate, and is actually a neighbour of Bill Robinson and his family. Elliot’s mother pops up briefly in Emily’s Baby, and Bill is seen by Elliot striding away from their street with his guitar on his back. Elliot also travels to Redchurch and Belfield Park in his story, as well as Hurn, which is a real place (my village) and is the main location for This Is Nowhere. In my upcoming four book series The Day The Earth Turned, I have used Hurn and Christchurch as my main locations, and have changed Hurn to Heron and Christchurch is again, Redchurch.
I find it makes it easier for me to fictionalise locations I already know. It’s easier to describe them and get across the tone of them if they are places I am familiar with, but fictionalising them makes it even more fun. I can add things that are not there, for example, things that I need in my story, and I can play around with them and bend them to my advantage. I usually change the names, though sometimes keep them the same. For example, Barrack road in Redchurch is mentioned in a few of my books, and this is a real road.
The universe also contains infamous places such as Chaos, the nightclub Danny discovers in Belfield Park when he is a teenager. It plays a large role in the series, and eventually, as an adult, Danny becomes the DJ and owner of the club. In the Holds End trilogy, Chaos is mentioned as the club to play in if you are a new band and want to try and get signed. Bill Robinson’s band eventually get an audition, followed by several gigs at the club, which plays live music on certain nights. They even meet an older version of Danny, who appears briefly in a few scenes.
As you can imagine this is tremendous fun. I love all my characters; they are in fact my best friends. To play with them and move them around this fictional universe I have accidentally created, is the best thing ever. It is starting to feel like a real place, a separate place I can go to when this world creates stress or anxiety. At the moment I am working on the spin-off book to The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series, so I am in my element and quite addicted to it.
I’m back in the same universe, with some of the same characters and events, and of course, places like Redchurch, Belfield Park and Chaos are all popping up here and there. It’s like having a secret place that is all mine, that I created and am in complete control of. There is something really quite special and exciting about that.
This universe doesn’t have a name. I guess it is just Chantelle’s world, where most of my characters live. There is another universe on the horizon though. I created a town called Black Hare Valley when I recently penned the first draft of a YA supernatural story. It’s having a rest at the moment, but I am very keen and excited to get back to it when the time is right. It really is very separate and different to my other universe and I can’t see any way these characters could link up or cross over with my others, but I do feel like the Black Hare universe could continue to grow. With this one, it would be through time. I have vague plans, depending on how things go, of course, to eventually extend this story with prequels and sequels, set in the same town, the same universe, but at different points in time.
I’m still learning a lot about creating a universe in writing, because I only recently realised that’s what I have done. My top tips so far would be these:
- be consistent. When writing a new story set in the same universe, you are going to need to go back to the old ones and check you are keeping location, road names etc the same
- keep an eye on the timeline. For the same reason you need to keep track of place names, you need to make sure events happen at the right time, if you have already mentioned them in other stories.
- read through previous stories to remind yourself of the characters and to get a feel for them again if they are going to show up somewhere else
- don’t link up stories or characters for the sake of it. There has to be a point to it, for example, it made sense for Danny to appear in Holds End because Bill is a singer and Danny’s club hires live bands
- make sure each story works just as well on its own. It is great fun creating a universe where the same characters can link up or appear in each other’s lives at different times, but each story has to stand on its own two feet as well… I’m very conscious of this at the moment with my spin off book. These characters showed up half way through book five and we only had a glimpse of their personalities and back stories. In this book we are seeing how they ended up at that point and got mixed up in Danny’s criminal activities, so there is a lot more back story and character development. And although there are scenes that cross over, I am writing them purely from these characters points of view, as this is their story, not Danny’s.
I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about the universe I didn’t realise I was creating! Has this ever happened to you? If you write, do you enjoy linking your stories up in some way? If you’re a reader, do you like it when you find books that are connected to each other by location or character? Feel free to leave a comment!