Creating a Co-Authored World

Cover of the first Thieves' World, nabbed off of Goodreads
Cover of the first Thieves’ World, nabbed off of Goodreads

How do two people create one world?

Legacy of Ash was developed as a “shared world” setting, meaning that most characters or locations in Calus Rukan can be utilized by either Æsc or James, depending on their respective story requirements.

While shared worlds have become ubiquitous (Forgotten Realms, Warhammer, the Star Wars Universe), let’s take a look back at the fantasy series that introduced the concept in 1978:

Thieves’ World.

The brainchild of Robert Lynn Asprin, Thieves’ World drew together such SFF luminaries as C.J. Cherryh, Poul Anderson, John Brunner, David Drake, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Vonda N. MacIntyre, Philip Jose Farmer, Robin Wayne Bailey, and Janet Morris.

The original Thieves’ World series consisted of twelve anthologies, all set in and around the seedy, fringe-of-the-empire port city of Sanctuary. The Rankan empire had turned its attention to the war against its northern neighbor, Nisibis. Home to an ethnically diverse and increasingly desperate cast of characters, the city of Sanctuary languished, all but forgotten by Ranke.

The Thieves’ World anthology was arguably the grandparent of the modern grimdark literary genre – morality, heroism and virtue were all subjective in Sanctuary, and happy endings were never guaranteed.  The series was rebooted in 2002 by Lynn Abbey, the original co-editor and sometime contributor. Three new books were released – set 50 years after the original events – featuring many of the original authors, as well as several new names. – Æsc

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Personally, (this is James speaking now, not Æsc) the first few TW volumes drag on a bit.  There are, of course, more than just two authors trying to establish memorable characters and plot lines.  Some grow, some just fall away, but others usually find a way to cross paths, for the stories to meld, for one writer to give a different perspective or even description for someone else’s character.

Tales from the Vulgar Unicorn, also nabbed off of Goodreads...
Tales from the Vulgar Unicorn, also nabbed off of Goodreads…

And that, I think, is one of the most rewarding aspects of a co-written world.  Not one story written by two authors, but two authors allowed their own perspectives on the same character, setting, or event.  A trait that one author may write as a heroic super power, someone else can write as a flaw.  Furthermore, because we can relate a story through the eyes of someone at ground level, and facts in a fictional city are often conveyed through rumour, unless a character was actually present, perception of an entire event can shift and change.

For example, I can write about a major plot event, changing a country or destroying a whole city.  Within the confines of Calus Rukan, this event can easily become a rumour which takes months or even years to reach someone Æsc may be writing about.  By that time the rumour passes through that many people, facts have been misconstrued and the story has evolved.   (We all remember the ‘telephone game’, right?)   This can be confusing for a reader if not done properly, so Æsc and I try to be very conscious of how we treat something like this, but if it’s done well I think it can be a great tool to convey the vastness of Calus Rukan.

In the later volumes of Thieves’ World, there is a war in the north.  The tale of this war was written by one author, while the events within Sanctuary were still being written by others.  It is quite interesting to think of the dynamics of writing/managing this.  I only hope that once we’re at full throttle, Chris and I manage something nearly half as well. – JD

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