Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Building a Multi-Book Universe

Greetings all, John J. Horn here.

If you have been alive during the last few weeks you've probably heard about Avengers: Age of Ultron. This post does NOT address whether or not that was a good movie, whether you should watch it, etc. The reason I bring it up is because I'm fascinated by the way that Marvel has built a multi-character universe that stretches across storylines and media channels.

Marvel started with comic books, has released animated movies, video games, and film series, started a chain of blockbusters in 2008 with Iron Man, and is churning out traditional TV and Netflix original series.

Marvel's universe is populated with a host of heroes and villains. Characters have individual storylines which intertwine with each other, so there are stories with one headline hero (like Iron Man) and then stories that combine characters and/or villains (the two Avengers films).

I love the idea of a "universe" where characters operate independently and together. By "universe" I don't mean a fantasy world, just a story world which transcends a single plot (and, in Marvel's case, most other forms of media).

This is something I have explored with my own novels.

My first two novels, The Boy Colonel and Brothers at Arms, follow completely different characters and plots. But in Secret of the Lost Settlement my characters join forces, and in my next book they will share another adventure. I also have plans for the individual adventures of other characters I've introduced in those three stories.

One beauty of a shared universe is that each book can be built-in marketing for other books in the series. Sure, that's how normal book series work, but a normal book series sticks with a central cast of characters and/or a fairly linear plot progression.

With Marvel's universe, a person may not be interested in Iron Man, Hulk, or Thor, but may really like Captain America. So when everybody gets together for an adventure, the Captain America fan will invest time in a story that give hours of screen time to other characters, will probably get interested in some or all of the other characters, and bingo, Marvel has built a crossover fan who is now interested in other members of the universe.

I think that's a pretty neat idea.

Once again, this post is NOT about the Marvel universe. Just what we can learn from the overarching concept that has made that franchise billions of dollars.

What do you think about story "universes"?


  1. Great post! I like the idea a of a multi-book/multi-character universe - thanks for sharing!

    Oh! Another adventure with the Stoning twins and Nobody! (Will Lawrence let himself be dragged along?) ;)


  2. I think we need a new John J. Horn book out... Just saying'. ;)

  3. I love multi-book universes! I've dabbled in it a little (mostly just making references to characters or places from another of my stories), but I would like to get into it more. Thanks for a very interesting post!


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