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  • Writer's pictureChristopher Menkhaus

First Steps to Creating a Universe

I've always wanted to create a universe. I bet we all have, really. Long before shared cinematic universes were all the rage, I discovered things like the works of Hugh Cook, discussed in the previous post, and "Wild Cards" a long running book series of mostly mosaic novels, written by many different authors who all work to tell a huge story. I discovered Star Wars novels (eventually called the EU, and more eventually de-cannonized), and Dune (all 6 books, mind you, not just the one). All these different universes were both inspiring and overwhelming. I wanted to create one.

But, I lacked the knowledge, ability, and confidence, in varying degrees for decades. I would keep lists of story ideas and always meant to begin crafting my universe, but something was always more important. More like, I always made something more important so I would have an excuse not to do it.

I had spent most of the previous decade listening to podcasts on publishing and marketing and had read more books than I can remember about story crafting. I had even tried in the previous years once or twice to draft a novel, but something was always missing. Then, two years ago, June 2021, I finally ran out of excuses. I was finally at the intersection of knowledge, ability, and confidence.

I took my list of ideas plotted them on a spreadsheet. It was overwhelming. Too many ideas to tackle. I had ideas for trilogies, for serials, and even a pretty good idea for a cozy mystery series. I had to take the hardest step before creation. I had to limit my ideas to ones I could tackle and put everything aside for later.

Now, I am obsessed with looking at lists of works from authors that will never see the light of day and wondering about them. Hugh Cook had an outline of 50 books past what he ever published. I love that document. Brandon Sanderson has a list of books he wrote before he got his first contract. I love looking at that list too. I felt like "Imitating Iguana" from the "Sweet Pickles" books. "Me, too. Me, too. I want to create a universe, too"

So, I picked 4 ideas. From those ideas, I would write 6 novels. They would be my "trunk" novels. Only I would publish them. They would be my Phase 1. I figured that with the feedback I'd get off of them, the novels from Phase 2 would be even better. That's where my favorite ideas were put. Far enough away that I could improve in my writing to tackle them, but not too far away that I would never get to them. Phase 3 is too exciting to think about right now. All the other ideas were left on the spreadsheet. Hopefully, I will be able to get to them someday.

Most authors who give writing advice, say to write "in a series". I figured that there would be plenty of time for that after I honed my craft. So, I created goals for each of the first 6 novels and began outlining a drafting, editing, and publishing schedule for them.

Originally, the first 3 books were to come out in 2022, and the following ones in 2023. That changed pretty quickly when I found about the disparity between wanting to produce something and actually producing something. The "actual" part took a lot longer than I had planned.

It didn't help that I had also planned to publish 3 novelettes with each book. One would take place before the main story, one would take place during the main story, and the final one would serve as a mini-sequel for some of the minor characters. This wasn't necessary, but I wanted to do something different. Novelettes would not take as long to write as additional novels and they would serve to flesh out each story in new and interesting ways.

So, what were the goals of the 6 books?

  1. The goal of the first book was structure and storytelling. I wanted to write a page turner. To make it as simple as possible, I made the main characters cats. I had purchased a pre-made cover years before that showed six cats. That was perfect. With cats as characters, I didn't have to worry about a lot of things that come with writing about humans.

  2. Believe it or not, the second book was intended to be a love story. It still is, but it is a strange one. The premise was: what if every time your family moved, your neighbors moved as well? This one was not only about humans, but a group of neighbors, as well as two groups of secret agents who are in the middle of their own private war, and a protagonist who was ignorant of most of what was going on around her.

  3. The goal of this book was to tackle a different POV. So, I told this story in first person. That necessarily limited the scope of the story, which I was able to expand in the three companion stories. I also wanted to dip my toe in the science fiction genre, so this story takes place at a secret school on the moon.

  4. This is the book I am currently drafting. It is my first attempt at a sequel.

  5. The idea behind this one is a travel-log, but with a twist.

  6. This idea behind this one is to write a war novel. It will be a sequel to book 3 and take place on a certain red planet.

That's it. The first two books have been published. Book 1 became "The Chorus". Book 2 became "Neighbors". Each was published with three companion stories. Both of these books turned out better than I ever expected. I love them. And the companion stories turned out even better. In fact, they are pretty much required reading and contain many fun elements that just didn't make it into the main books.

Book 3 is being edited, and book 4 is being drafted. The first three novels all take place during different times and in different places, but I have found ways to weave in clues that show they are all taking place in the same universe. I have even left some breadcrumbs to stories that I will tell after the 3 phases that I have planned out are complete.

There's much more to tell, but that would be telling.

Here's the link to my page where you can find the novels and companion pieces:

After many years and a few false starts, this universe is finally up and running, and it's ready for you to jump into.

Enjoy the journey!

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