Shared universe

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A shared universe or shared world is a set of creative works where more than one writer (or other artist) independently contributes a work that can stand alone but fits into the joint development of the storyline, characters, or world of the overall project. It is common in genres like science fiction.[1]

It differs from collaborative writing where multiple artists are working together on the same work and from crossovers where the works and characters are independent except for a single meeting.

The term shared universe is also used within comics to reflect the overall milieu created by the comic book publisher in which characters, events, and premises from one product line appear in other product lines in a media franchise.

The term has also been used in a wider, non-literary sense to convey interdisciplinary[2] or social commonality,[3] often in the context of a "shared universe of discourse."[4]


Fiction in some media, such as most television programs and many comic book titles, is understood to require the contribution of multiple authors and does not by itself create a shared universe and is considered a collaborative art form. Incidental appearances, such as that of d'Artagnan in Cyrano de Bergerac, are considered literary cameo appearances. More substantial interaction between characters from different sources is often marketed as a crossover. While crossovers occur in a shared universe, not all crossovers are intended to merge their settings' back-stories and are instead used for marketing, parody, or to explore "what-if" scenarios.[5][6]

It can become difficult for writers contributing to a shared universe to maintain consistency and avoid contradicting details in earlier works, especially when a shared universe grows to be very large. The version deemed "official" by the author or company controlling the setting is known as canon. Not all shared universes have a controlling entity capable of or interested in determining canonicity, and not all fans agree with these determinations when they occur.[7] A fanon may instead find some degree of consensus within the setting's fandom.[8]

Some writers, in an effort to ensure that a canon can be established and to keep details of the setting believable, employ tools to correct contradictions and errors that result from multiple contributors working over a long period of time. One such tool is retconning, short for "retroactive continuity", which resolves errors in continuity that came about through previously-written conflicting material.[9]

Readers may also object when a story or series is integrated into a shared universe, feeling it "requir[es] one hero's fans to buy other heroes' titles".[10]

Originating in novels[edit]

The expansion of existing material into a shared universe is not restricted to settings licensed from movies and television. For example, Larry Niven opened his Known Space setting to other writers initially because he considered his lack of military experience prevented him from adequately describing the wars between mankind and the Kzinti.[11] The degree to which he has made the setting available for other writers became a topic of controversy, when Elf Sternberg created an erotic short story set in Known Space following an author's note from Niven indicating that "[i]f you want more Known Space stories, you'll have to write them yourself".[12] Niven has since clarified that his setting is still to be used only "under restricted circumstances and with permission",[13] which Niven granted to the several authors of the Man-Kzin Wars series. By contrast, author Eric Flint has edited and published collaborations with fan fiction writers directly, expanding his 1632 series.[14]

A setting may also be expanded in a similar manner after the death of its creator, although this posthumous expansion does not meet some strict definitions of a shared universe. One such example is August Derleth's development of the Cthulhu Mythos from the writings of H. P. Lovecraft, an approach whose result is considered by some to be "completely dissimilar" to Lovecraft's own works.[15] Less controversial posthumous expansions include Ruth Plumly Thompson's and later authors' sequels to L. Frank Baum's Oz stories and the further development of Isaac Asimov's Foundation universe by Greg Bear, Gregory Benford, and David Brin.[16]

Many other published works of this nature take the form of a series of short-story anthologies with occasional standalone novels. Examples include Robert Lynn Asprin's Thieves' World,[17] C. J. Cherryh's Merovingen Nights[18] and Janet Morris' Heroes in Hell.[19]

Universes in literature[edit]


Universes in films[edit]

Universes in television[edit]

The spin-off media extending of the universe originating in Doctor Who has relatively little consistency given its division into audio plays produced by Big Finish and the BBC, the New Adventures universe novel, or a universe based on comics published in Doctor Who Magazine and other publications.[28]

Originating in comics/based upon comics[edit]

Promotional poster for Crossgen Chronicles, listing some of the interconnected titles in the Sigilverse.

Within comics, the term shared universe has been used to reflect the overall milieu created by the comic book publisher in which characters, events, and premises from one product line appear in other product lines in a media franchise.

By 1961, Marvel Comics writer and editor Stan Lee, working with artists Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, merged the bulk of the publisher's comics characters into the Marvel Universe.[10] Marvel sets its stories in an increasing number of alternate realities, each with an assigned number in a greater "multiverse".[29] DC and Marvel have also periodically co-published series in which their respective characters meet and interact. These intercompany crossovers have typically been written as self-limiting events that avoid implying that the DC Universe and Marvel Universe co-exist. Exceptions include the twenty-four comics released under the metafictional imprint Amalgam Comics in 1996, depicting a shared universe populated by hybridizations of the two companies' characters. Marvel has since referred to this as part of its setting's greater multiverse by labeling it Earth-692.[29]

Although DC and Marvel's shared universe approaches to comics have set them apart from competitors in the industry,[30] other companies have attempted similar models. Valiant Comics and Crossgen both produced titles primarily set from their inception in a single, publisher-wide shared universe, known respectively as Unity[31] and the Sigilverse.[32]

Universes in comics[edit]

Action Lab Comics
Amalgam Comics
  • Amalgam Universe
DC Comics
Image Comics
IPC Magazines
Malibu Comics
Marvel Comics
Top Cow Productions
  • Top Cow Universe
Valiant Comics
  • Valiant Universe
  • Vertigo Universe

Comic strips[edit]

Originating in video games and the Internet[edit]

The influence of the Internet on collaborative and interactive fiction has also resulted in a large number of amateur shared universe settings. Amateur authors have created shared universes by contributing to mailing lists, story archives and Usenet. One of the earliest of these settings, SFStory, saw its spin-off setting Superguy cited as illustrative of the potential of the Internet.[34] Another example is the furry-themed Tales from the Blind Pig created at the Transformation Story Archive which some limited publication.[35][36] Other early examples include the Dargon Project, Devilbunnies,[37] and the popular SCP Foundation wiki.[citation needed]

Universes in video games[edit]




Square Enix[edit]

Take-Two Interactive[edit]



Microsoft Studios[edit]

Other games[edit]

Universes in animation[edit]



Time Warner[edit]

21st Century Fox[edit]




Other shared media franchises[edit]


Multimedia franchises[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Dragnet, Noah's Ark, The D.A.'s Man, Pete Kelly's Blues, Adam-12, The D.A., O'Hara, U.S. Treasury, Emergency!, Hec Ramsey, Escape, Chase, Sierra, Mobile One, Little Mo, Project U.F.O. and Sam
  2. ^ Guiding Light and spin-off Our Private World, As the World Turns, Another World, Somerset, Texas, Days of Our Lives, The Young and the Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful.
  3. ^ General Hospital, Port Charles, General Hospital: Night Shift, The Young Marrieds, One Life to Live, All My Children, Ryan's Hope, Loving, The City and What If....
  4. ^ Full House and sequel Fuller House, Perfect Strangers and spin-off Family Matters, Step by Step, Boy Meets World and spin-off/sequel Girl Meets World, and Meego.
  5. ^ Law & Order, Exiled: A Law & Order Movie, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Law & Order: Trial by Jury, Law & Order: Los Angeles, Homicide: Life on the Street, New York Undercover, Deadline, Conviction, In Plain Sight, Jo, and the Chicago franchise (Chicago Fire, Chicago P.D. and Chicago Med).
  6. ^ NYPD Blue, Public Morals, The Practice, Ally McBeal, Brooklyn South, Gideon's Crossing, Boston Public and Boston Legal.
  7. ^ That's So Raven and spin-off Cory in the House, The Suite Life of Zack & Cody and spin-offs The Suite Life on Deck, Jessie and BUNK'D; Hannah Montana, Wizards of Waverly Place, I'm in the Band, Good Luck Charlie, Shake It Up, Austin & Ally and Liv and Maddie.
  8. ^ Same universe as Earth-12041.
  9. ^ Same universe as the Disney Channel Sitcoms.
  10. ^ The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang, Laverne & Shirley in the Army, and The Mork & Mindy/Laverne & Shirley/Fonz Hour


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  2. ^ Smith, Harvey L. (Jan 1958). "Contingencies of Professional Differentiation". The American Journal of Sociology. 63 (4): 410. doi:10.1086/222264. 
  3. ^ Tannen, Deborah (1987). "Repetition in Conversation: Toward a Poetics of Talk". Language. Language, Vol. 63, No. 3. 63 (63): 574–605. doi:10.2307/415006. JSTOR 415006. 
  4. ^ *Blumenthal, David R. (1993). Facing the Abusing God: A Theology of Protest. Westminster John Knox Press. pp. 34–. ISBN 978-0-664-25464-3. Retrieved 5 August 2015. 
  5. ^ Reynolds, Richard (Mar 1994). Super Heroes: A Modern Mythology. University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 978-0-87805-694-1. 
  6. ^ Magnussen, Anne and Hans-christian Christiansen, eds. (Apr 2000). Comics & Culture: analytical and theoretical approaches to comics. Museum Tusculanum Press. ISBN 978-87-7289-580-2. 
  7. ^ Pustz, Matthew (1999). Comic Book Culture: Fanboys and True Believers. University Press of Mississippi. 
  8. ^ Moore, Rebecca C. (Apr 2005). "All Shapes of Hunger: Teenagers and Fanfiction". Voya. 
  9. ^ Jones, Nick (Feb 2002). "Retcon Tricks". Star Trek Monthly Magazine: 18–21. 
  10. ^ a b Burt, Stephen (Winter 2005). ""Blown To Atoms or Reshaped At Will": Recent Books About Comics". College Literature. 32: 166. doi:10.1353/lit.2005.0004. 
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  12. ^ Niven, Larry (1980). The Ringworld Engineers. Holt, Rinehart and Winston. 
  13. ^ "Ladies and Gentlemen, Dr. Larry Niven". Slashdot. 2003-03-10. Retrieved 2007-01-13. 
  14. ^ Eves, David (Sep 2005). "1632: About this Site". Retrieved 2007-06-14. 
  15. ^ Tierney, Richard L. (2004-09-09). "The Derleth Mythos". Nightscapes. Retrieved 2007-01-14. 
  16. ^ "Following Asimov's Foundation". Cyberhaven. 1999. Archived from the original on 2007-08-11. Retrieved 2007-06-14. 
  17. ^ Silver, Steven H. (Oct 2002). "A Conversation with Lynn Abbey". SF Site. Retrieved 2007-06-14. 
  18. ^ Cherryh, C.J. "C.J.Cherryh's Book Order Page". Retrieved 2007-01-10. 
  19. ^ a b Orson Scott Card & "How to write science fiction & fantasy" Writer's Digest Books 1990, p. 126.
  20. ^ Rothschild, D. Aviva (1995). Graphic Novels: A Bibliographic Guide to Book-length Comics. Libraries Unlimited. pp. 34–. ISBN 978-1-56308-086-9. Retrieved 1 August 2015. 
  21. ^ Barron, Neil; Burt, Daniel S.; Barton, Tom (October 2003). What Do I Read Next?: A Reader's Guide to Current Genre Fiction. Gale. ISBN 978-0-7876-6182-3. Retrieved 1 August 2015. 
  22. ^ Han, Angie (April 12, 2016). "'MIB 23' Is the 'Jump Street' / 'Men in Black' Crossover Title [CinemaCon 2016]". /Film. 
  23. ^ Davies, Russell T; Cook, Benjamin (25 September 2008). The Writer's Tale (1st ed.). BBC Books. ISBN 1-84607-571-8.
  24. ^ "Slang-age in the Buffyverse". Feb 18, 2004. 
  25. ^ "Exclusive: The CW plotting 'One Tree Hill'/'Life Unexpected' crossover event!". Retrieved February 21, 2014. 
  26. ^ Rice, Lynette (November 5, 2010). "Exclusive: 'Prison Break' baddie confirms he's doing 'Breakout Kings' for A&E in early 2011". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved November 5, 2010. 
  27. ^ Stack, Tim (October 31, 2014). "Ryan Murphy on the different seasons of 'American Horror Story': 'They're all connected'". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved January 18, 2015. 
  28. ^ "Gary Russell two". BBC. 2004-01-01. Retrieved 2007-01-14. [dead link]
  29. ^ a b writer, Kit Kiefer. (2004-11-24). Marvel Encyclopedia Volume 6: Fantastic Four. Marvel Comics. ISBN 978-0-7851-1480-2. 
  30. ^ Fowler, Brant W. (2006-06-05). "Myth Conceptions: 'Summer Blockbusters'". Silver Bullet Comics. Retrieved 2007-01-10. 
  31. ^ Smith, Andy (2006-07-10). "The Valiant Comics F.A.Q.". Sequart. Archived from the original on 2006-10-23. Retrieved 2007-01-12. 
  32. ^ Lander, Randy. "Negation War #1". The 4th Rail. Archived from the original on November 20, 2006. Retrieved 2007-01-12. 
  33. ^ Collinson, Gary (July 9, 2015). "Action Lab announces Actionverse shared superhero universe". Retrieved July 31, 2015. 
  34. ^ Engst, Adam C. & William Dickson (1994-01-15). Internet Explorer Kit. Hayden Books. ISBN 978-1-56830-089-4. 
  35. ^ "Index". Anthro. Retrieved 2006-12-03. 
  36. ^ "Stories". TSAT: Transformation Stories, Art, Talk (21). Apr–May 2002. Retrieved 2006-12-03. 
  37. ^ Miller, Steve (Jul 1994). "". Wired (2.07). Retrieved 2007-05-13. 


  • James Lowder. Shared Worlds // The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy: Themes, Works, and Wonders / Edited by Gary Westfahl. Advisory Board Richard Bleiler, John Clute, Fiona Kelleghan, David Langford, Andy Sawyer, and Darrell Schweitzer. — Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2005. — 1395 pp. ISBN 0-313-32950-8, ISBN 978-0-313-32950-0