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Creating Worlds to Share

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Author: Michael Bard

So, you want to create a shared Story Universe and have lots of people writing in it. Well, with the new column, and due to the story mix within TSAT, I've started thinking about this question, and have come to some thoughts and conclusions to share. Note that I'm referring to information specific to the creation of universes for others to write in, rather than to the details of a consistent story universe (which is a fairly widely touched on subject). For those who are actually reading of course...

The first step is to examine some existing story universes. This listing is not complete, and the conclusions are my own. Your hoofage may vary, etc.

1. The Blind Pig: This is one of the longest lasting and most enduring of universes. Just past the turn of the century, a virus was brought back from Mars on the Beagle II space probe which gave victims the Martian Flu, this flu spreading into a worldwide epidemic. The majority of victims were unaffected, but a few become various 'morphs', most animal like. Most stories involve an avatar (the writer in a desired body form) of the writer simply transported 30 years into the future (there are exceptions of course). Also, most stories consist of an intro of a character in a dream form for the writer, maybe one or two encounters, and then a fade to obscurity. There are exceptions to this of course, and the intros are only a slim majority of the stories. However, if you look at the ones outside this grouping, almost all are by four or five authors. The other interesting observation is the average tech level of the stories. Most have the same tech level as today -- gasoline cars, roughly the same level of computer/internet/AI, etc. -- although a few try and deal with possible changes. In fact, in this humble centaur's opinion, if the Martian Virus occurred in 1960, almost all of the stories could be set in 1990 without any changes other than the mention of the date. Think about it. There are numerous archives, the largest at the Transformation Story Archive <http://tsa.transform.to/worlds/tbp/index.html> and Mia's Index of Anthro Stories <http://www.fanarchive.net/miavir/stories/titles_b04.html>.

Conclusions:

- Most stories are introductions of an Avatar.

- Most stories could be set in the current day rather than 30 years in the future.

2. LTF (List Transformed): A universe that exploded for a while, and has since pretty well died. On one day late in January, all members of the TSA mailing list were transformed into their preferred form. As one might expect from the premise, every story (as far as I can tell) was about an individual's avatar in the current day. An archive can be found at Cubist's Story Site <http://transform.to/~cubist/LTFdata/LTFwho.html>.

Conclusions:

- All stories are introductions of an Avatar

- All stories are set in the current day

3. NMF (No More Fakes): This ran for a while and then more or less died. The idea is that a costume party occurred where everybody was transformed into their costumes, this occurring in the mid 1990s. There were a number of stories written, the majority involving created characters. A careful time table of events was kept and maintained, and stories were more or less internally consistent and relative to each other. I believe that there have been a couple of attempts to resurrect this, but the complexity of the timeline has caused negative discussions about its viability (I do consider myself one of the descendents of Chiron, rather than of those that were invited to the Lapiths). There is unfortunately no publicly available archive of these stories.

Conclusions:

- All stories contain created characters

- All stories are set in the common day

- Careful track of story interactions was maintained

4. Metamor Keep: The other 'big' shared universe. The stories occur in a fantasy world were a magical event has cursed Metamor Keep so that inhabitants become either animals, animal morphs, or undergo a sex change. This universe currently has a small group of writers that continue writing in it. Other writers, many of whom wrote only one story, usually wrote about their avatar within the fantasy setting. Stories can be found at The Metamor Keep Story Archives <http://transform.to/~metamor/index.html>.

Conclusions:

- Only a small number of writers with almost no new writers

- Avatars are used, but are not common

5. Winds of Change: Another large universe that has largely died off although it occasionally spurts to life. The concept is that on one day in the mid 1990s, three universes merge so that all the inhabitants of the earth became a morph of some kind with some kind of animal, and some gain supernatural powers. The originally background had a reduced population due to a plague at the end of the 2nd World War, and a noticeably higher tech level. Most stories involve an avatar undergoing the transformation into his/her new form and living happily every after, and most stories could be set in our world without any changes (other than the occurrence of the world merge of course). An archive can be found at <http://xepher.net/~woc-archive/>

Conclusions:

- Avatars are almost universal

- Stories are set in the current day, and most could be moved into our world without any significant changes

What does all this mean?

Let's look at the common factors:

A. Avatars of the writer can easily be used

B. Stories can be sent in the current day on our earth

So what you think, well, it all depends on what kind of story universe you want to create. If you want to create on and let only yourself write in it, then you can ignore all this. If you want to create a universe with funny rules, careful timeline, or set in a science fiction or fantasy world, then you need to limit yourself to a small group. Most people will not want to write in it.

And, if you want the widest possible writership, then you need to create some kind of transformation mechanism that allows the interested to write themselves becoming what they want within their current life. Even if you fudge the background a bit, writers will tend to modify the background to fulfill these conditions.

There you go.