Worlds Worth Revisiting

Back again, kid? My freakshow is the best in all the land. It’s worth a second look, and you of discerning taste already now that! Again I will show you a woman who writes stories with the back of her head! A snake who only eats the tails of other snakes, and never its own! A blanket made of the souls of righteous men!

…but you liked them so much last time you visited!

…you want something more of the same, but different?

Look, kid, this ain’t a sequel. You either get the same world, down to the last syllable, or you can pick a different tent on the Midway to explore.

Sheesh. These kids, so demanding these days! They’ll rip through the world you give, and demand another world. They want to know what happens next! But you better watch out! They want different, but not too different!

Sir, you have refined tastes, as do you, madame. What do you look for if you revisit a world?

Well, yes, you want to find out what happens next. Bet let’s say you’ve made a few tours of a world that resembles, say, feudal Japan. Lovely place. Sepuku and tea before breakfast. The main character’s a lovely chap. You’d love him. Grim and gritty, great with a sword and terrible with the ladies. You’ve made a few tours of that world, following him on his quest to avenge his fallen lord.

And then you pick up the next book in the series, and halfway through H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds comes to visit.

You satisfied?

But it’s what happens next! The author’s been seeding hints of this since book one, that it would all come down to the main character having to decide between honor and avenging his fallen lord, or aligning himself with the former antagonist for the survival of the world!

(Now I want to see that story. Someone go write it! Oh, wait, Stan Sakai already did in Usagi Yojimbo: Senso. If this little idea appeals to you, seriously, go check it out.)

Ah, you see, a complete change in tone often destroys continuity. You know this without me having to explain it. So do comic book fans. X-Force changed its tone a number of times. It would often lose a number of its fans when it did so and would have to start over from scratch. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it didn’t.

It’s not just what happens next; it has to flow logically and consistently with what came before. And for my dollars, it needs to introduce new wrinkles of the world, not just re-exploring old ones. Empire Strikes Back had to show us both new worlds and new things with the Force, not just giving us another big space station to explode and revisiting all the old highlights (cough cough Force Awakens cough cough).

I may be the master of the Midway, but Neal Shusterman is a master of expanding worlds in further visits. Unwind showed us a terrifying world where teenagers could be “unwound,” taken apart piece by piece and every part of them donated to other people – liver, kidney, bones, teeth. The first sequel, UnWholly, brought some new wrinkles: What if someone tried rebuilding a teen from all those different pieces? And what happens when teens start fighting back violently? It followed the setup logically, but took us to new places.

Scythe, by the same author, shows us a world with no death. Every human is brought back from the dead unlimited times. There are scythes, though – people that are to glean humans when the time is right. Some scythes act nobly; others are in it for bloodthirsty theatrics. Conflict arises. Go figure. It was an excellent world to visit. I just started reading Thunderhead, the second book in the series. Here we see the characters from the first book grow, but now the sentient computer system that rules the planet is getting involved. New wrinkles that sprout from within the conflict of the first book.

If you’re into crafting worlds and you want to create a series of tours for your readers, then go read a bunch of series that do this well. Harry Potter. Pretty much any series by Neal Shusterman. Temeraire. Peter Prellwitz‘s novels. Or go read some long-running comics to see how they do it. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s run on Fantastic Four, or Mark Waid‘s run on the same series. I already mentioned Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo. Robert Kirkman’s Invincible (I’ve only read through volume five of that series, though). John Byrne’s run on Superman. Take notes. What works? How do the writers continue what works while introducing new concepts?

And then look at your world. What makes it so attractive? Don’t take that away! But don’t just wash and repeat. Grow it. Develop it. Let’s see it from new angles. How do other people react to it?

And you’ll make a world worthy of many repeated tours.

Published by Jon

Jon lives in Kentucky with his wife and an insanity of children. (A group of children is called an insanity. Trust me.)

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