If you’re a regular reader of my books like Isis,The Temptation of John Haynes, The Thetas, the Isis series and the E’steem series you’ll notice that events from each of these books are interconnected. And that’s by design. With each story I’m building a universe The SJS DIRECT Universe.
A long time ago in a ghetto far, far, away I wanted to be a comic book writer. As a teenager I spent several years studying the Marvel and DC Universes and even the Milestone, Archie and Ninja Turtle Universes down to the last nuance. Learning about every secret identity. Learning about every story event in even the poorest selling title. Getting ready for the moment when I could jump right in and start writing comics.
Unfortunately, when the comic book industry collapsed 20 years ago I was forced to change my plans and start writing novels.
I always wanted to use my skills to build a Universe similar to that of Marvel or DC Comics, a series of stories tied together in continuity. Learning lessons from the 3000 comics I read, books like Stan Lee’s Origins of Marvel Comics, Son of Origins, Bring on the Bad Guys and The Superhero Women, along with books like Syd Field’s Screenplay and Robert McKee’s Story I got an understanding of writing fantasy fiction and the story model for it. And when I studied blogs like Jim Shooter’s and Bob Layton’s official site it helped me understand the delicate work writers do in not only building a universe of characters, but also maintaining those characters and keeping their stories relevant and accessible to new readers.
When I first started writing fantasy fiction in 1999, my goal was to create a Universe model for my similar to Marvel and DC’s Universes. But I wanted to keep it accessible, where every story was an entry point for new readers. The way I designed and structured each book in the shared universe a new reader could pick up any book and just start reading. If they liked what they read and were curious to see what happens with that character or other characters, they’d have the option of picking up other titles. While events from a past story or stories are mentioned in a new book, each individual story is a single and self-contained volume with its own beginning, middle, and end.
Building a Universe is a challenge. It’s slow painstaking work. And it takes a clear understanding of structure, form and story models. Each story in a universe model is another brick in a larger mosaic, and I need to tell just the right stories to form a clear picture of the characters. To make that picture I have to be careful about what I write and publish to build that mosaic. Once a story is published, it can’t be taken back.
Yeah, I’ve made my share of mistakes and published some weak stories. But from what I’ve learned from my experience in constructing a universe of characters is not to ret-con the mistakes, but to just move on. For every not so great story like Isis: Death of a Theta or The Politics of Hell, there are other stories like Isis: The Beauty Myth or E’steem: Demons Anonymous that readers will get into. The goal in universe building is to make sure that the great stories get readers excited about reading the adventures of the main characters. That gives them extra incentive to try other titles.
And what I find is when readers read the great stories like The Temptation of John Haynes or The Thetas they go right back to the stories like Isis: Death of a Theta or The Politics of Hell to find out what happened in the past with previous supporting characters like Lucifer or Colleen’s mother. And even though the stories aren’t the best, readers come to understand about the motivations of those characters and how it relates to a current story. Each story in the larger universe kind of evens out and gives the reader a balanced view of the characters.
Right now the SJS DIRECT Universe is a small world with a handful of characters. And I’d love to add on to it in the future with some new characters. But I’m taking my time and taking it one story at a time. I want to add characters to that universe that will enhance the world, not take away from it. Every story is an entry point for a new reader, and I want to make sure each story is a great one.