There is one part of fiction that has always bothered me. I mean, it makes sense if you think about it, but it’s a strange quirk. It’s what I like to call the curse of the infinite universes. Every story has to have its very own version of history. It’s not particularly obvious in fantasy worlds, but modern stories become copies of our current world with minor changes. No other modern story gets to exist in that copy. They need to have their own copies with their own minor changes.
But why does every story need its own unique world? As readers, our favorite characters can never interact. They live in their own versions of New York City or they have their own magical secrets behind the knights Templar. But why can’t Sherlock Holmes investigate murders in the same London that a captain of industry closes the black gates to Oz? And if we read about the most scandalous secret history of the Illuminati’s use of voodoo magic, why can’t our characters live in that world’s future?
Everyone reading this will quickly quip that we simply can’t have that. Copyright and IP rights might be annoying, but they protect the value of a creator’s works. Adrienne Monk is never going to find the real killer behind a murder falsely attributed to Hannibal Lecter. But much more realistically, Jack Ryan can never walk past the Treadstone office. Not only is it important that the owner of the IP keep creative control to prevent other people from ruining his vision of that world, but the popularity of that work is not going to artificially inflate someone else’s story. It’s important to protect the rights of a writer, financially and creatively.
The creative protections give us the canon of the story. Derivative works, both authorized and not, are not going to change or limit the real story. Many examples I’ve used are the kinds of stories that fanfiction sites create. Cross overs designed to take the most important parts of stories and intertwine them. But the concepts of fanfiction and official canon do not properly represent the topic at hand.
What we really should be able to see are common building blocks and histories. Imagine that one writer’s interpretation of vampires is incredibly innovative and fun, but the story focuses entirely on a few vampires and how they interact. It would be great if another writer could take this great interpretation of vampires as a historical piece in their world. No characters or places of that work are particularly important, just the concepts. And quite frankly, this happens, but always with minor changes. And those changes work as terrible lampshades designed to prove a difference. What we get are generic tropes, not flavorful concepts.
I’m not suggestion that copyright is wrong. I’m not saying that we consumers of fiction suffer from mean spirited writers out to get us. What I’m saying is that writing enjoys a certain freedom with public domain works. An almost countless number of stories are based on the cthulu mythos or a mysterious world found down a rabbit hole. What we need are more and more public domain works to build from.
I’ve always had a goal in life to put together a place for writers to add their own new public domain works. A place where writers don’t have to add an overpowering curry spice to a favorite background just to be allowed to use it. Instead, that writer can find their favorite public domain vampire history to build upon. It would be full explanations for Stonehenge and origins of primal magic lost in the forgotten stories of prehistoric titans. Ideas that can flow into new ideas with the freedom of creativity lent to everyone who wishes to use those stories.
I see this as being a place to establish a specific genre and allow multiple writers to contribute to it. A group of writers putting together new aspects of a steampunk world. A single devotee dedicated to the wintry world of snow faeries. The collaboration that adds layers onto the stories that can be used and omitted as seen fit, never being forced to change the real concepts behind the canon that they use just to meet a fair use requirement.
The idea of what would be required for this is a bit scary. It can very easily be another dead site on the internet without much activity, but it could very well be a popular starting place, especially for those practicing their craft. This uncertainty is why it continues as only a goal. Something that will eventually make its way into reality whenever I’m ready to risk that effort for it. In the mean time, I hope more and more people can come across the idea and think just how cool it will be when many stories can be common across the same universes. Making their ability to really use concepts to their liking.