A shared universe is a fictional universe to which more than one writer contributes. Work set in a shared universe share characters and other elements with varying degrees of consistency. Shared universes are contrasted with collaborative writing, in which multiple authors work on a single story. Shared universes are more common in fantasy and science fiction than in other genres. Examples include the Star Trek, DC Universe, Marvel Universe, Star Wars, Forgotten Realms, Man-Kzin Wars, and Cthulhu Mythos.
There is no formalized definition of when the appearance of fictional characters in another author's work constitutes a shared universe. 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. Incidental appearances, such as that of d'Artagnan in Cyrano de Bergerac, may instead be 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.<ref>Template:Cite book</ref><ref>Template:Cite book</ref>
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A is a cohesive fictional world that serves as the setting or backdrop for one or more of fiction. A fictional universe is a type of conworld (structed ) unique to serialized, series-based, open-ended or round robin-style fiction. A fictional universe may also be called a , , , or . Most fictional universes are based directly or indirectly on our own universe. A fictional universe is usually differentiated from the setting of, and the cosmology established by, ancient or modern legends, myths and religions, although there are countless fictional universes that draw upon such sources for inspiration.It can be argued that every work of fiction generates a world of its own; Robert A. Heinlein coined the neologism to refer to such a world. A fictional universe generally consists of a time and place that invoke a sense of a distinct world, one which is unique to the content and context of that it is used to tell. Despite the name, a fictional universe does not necessarily concern an entire universe; for example, most of the television series is set in a single Californian city, and most of the action in the series occurs in and around a single school. On the other hand, a fictional universe may concern itself with more than one interconnected universe; a series of interconnected universes is called a multiverse. The His Dark Materials series takes place in a fictional multiverse.
Fictional universes are most common in, but not exclusive to, the science fiction and fantasy genres. Many universes written in one or both of these genres feature physical and metaphysical laws different from our own that allow for magical, psychic and various other types of paranormal phenomena. Although these laws may not be completely internally consistent, they do allow the author to provide some textual explanation for how their imagined world differs from our own.
Fictional universes are sometimes shared by multiple authors, with each author's works in that universe being granted approximately equal canonical status. Other universes are created by one or several authors but are intended to be used non-canonically by others, such as the fictional settings for games, particularly role-playing games and video games. Settings for the role-playing game are called campaign settings; other games have also incorporated this term on occasion. Virtual worlds are fictional worlds in which online computer games, notably MMORPGs and MUDs, take place. A fictional crossover occurs when two or more fictional characters, series or universes cross over with one another, usually in the context of a character created by one author or owned by one company meeting a character created or owned by another. In the case where two fictional universes covering entire universes cross over, physical travel from one universe to another may actually occur in the course of the story. Such crossovers are usually, but not always, considered non-canonical by their creators or by those in charge of the properties involved.
In most small-scale fictional universes, general properties and timeline events fit into a consistently organized continuity. However, in the case of universes or universes that are rewritten or revised by different writers, editors or producers, this continuity may be violated, by accident or by design. The use of retroactive continuity ( retcon) often occurs due to this kind of revision or oversight. Members of fandom often create a kind of fanmade canon ( fanon) to patch up such errors; fanon that becomes generally accepted sometimes becomes actual canon. Other fanmade additions to a universe ( fan fiction, pastiche, parody) are usually not considered canonical unless they are authorized.
The term has also been used in a wider, non-literary sense to convey interdisciplinary<ref>Template:Cite journal</ref> or social commonality,<ref>Template:Cite journal</ref> often in the context of a "shared universe of discourse."
The modern definition of copyright, especially under United States copyright law, considers the expansion of a previous work's setting or characters to be a derivative work.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref><ref>Template:Cite journal</ref> Especially for material being considered for publication, this often necessitates licensing agreements.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> For this reason, some fan fiction and other amateur works written in established settings without permission, are sometimes distinguished from shared universe writings or even described as a "stolen universe".<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> However, fair use claims have been raised,<ref>Template:Cite journal</ref> and not all authors believe that fan fiction should be distinguished from other literature in this manner at all.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> In a process similar to brand licensing, the intellectual property owners of established fictional settings at times allow others to author new material, creating an expanded universe. Such franchises, generally based on television programs or film, allow for series of novels, video games, original sound recordings and other media. Not all shared universe settings are simply the expansion or combination of pre-existing material by new authors. At times, an author or group of authors has created a setting specifically for development by multiple authors, often through collaboration.
Especially when a shared universe grows to include a large number of works, it becomes difficult for writers to maintain an internally consistent continuity and to avoid contradicting details in earlier works. The version that is 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 willing to determine canonicity, and not all fans agree with these determinations when they occur.<ref>Template:Cite book</ref> A fanon may instead find some degree of consensus within the setting's fandom.<ref>Template:Cite journal</ref> 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", where later adjustments result in the invalidation of previously-written material.<ref>Template:Cite journal</ref> The most severe form of retcon involves a wholesale rewrite of the groundwork for the entire setting. These reboots, most closely associated with DC Comics, are not always effective at resolving underlying problems and may meet with a negative reaction from fans.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> Contributors to expanded universes, also known as tie-in writers, have sometimes been stereotyped as "hacks" because such writing is perceived as less creative or of consistently poor quality.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> These stereotypes have been disputed by authors who consider contributing to a larger setting "intellectually demanding."<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>
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"<ref name="BurtCL">Template:Cite journal</ref> or leads to mischaracterizations and inappropriate comparisons.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>
==Expansion of existing material==
In 1941, writer Gardner Fox at All-American Comics (later part of DC Comics) created the Justice Society of America in All-Star Comics #3, credited with being the first superhero team-up and laying the groundwork for the DC Universe, the first comic book shared universe.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> 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.<ref name="BurtCL" /> Both settings have suffered from the creative difficulties of maintaining a complex shared universe handled by large numbers of writers and editors. DC has substantially altered its in-universe chronology several times, in series such as Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985, Zero Hour in 1994, and Infinite Crisis in 2005. As of 2007, Marvel has rebooted its continuity only once, in Spider-Man: One More Day. They instead set stories in an increasing number of alternate realities, each with an assigned number in a greater multiverse.<ref name="MarvMulti">Template:Cite book</ref> 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 24 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.<ref name="MarvMulti" />
The Star Wars franchise takes a unique view regarding the canon properties of its expanded universe, introducing a four-tier system based on compatibility with the six films. Star Trek canon is less well-defined, generally excluding not only licensed works such as books and video games and acknowledging that "even events in some of the movies have been called into question".<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> Furthermore, both franchises have blurred the lines between canon and non-canon content by adopting unofficial material into later official productions.
<ref>Template:Cite web</ref><ref>Template:Cite web</ref> The spin-off media making up an extension of the the universe originating in Doctor Who is particularly complex due to the permissive stance on licensing and canon taken by the BBC. This Expanded Universe 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.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> Reviewer Robert F.W. Smith attempted to summarize the conflicting continuities:<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>
Template:Quote Even Smith's summary does not address spin-offs such as the Bernice Summerfield novels and the Faction Paradox series that are legally distinct from the origins of their characters in officially licensed novels. Many fans consider only the television series canon and all other media apocrypha. The television series has never explicitly acknowledged any of the spin-offs, partly because the BBC's status as a public service broadcaster prohibits them from producing a programme that can only be fully understood by those who have purchased licensed products.
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 to prevent him from adequately describing the wars between mankind and the Kzinti.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> 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".<ref>Template:Cite book</ref> Niven has since clarified that his setting is still to be used only "under restricted circumstances and with permission",<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> 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.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>
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.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> 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.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>
Although DC and Marvel's successful shared universe approaches to comics have set them apart from competitors in the industry,<ref name="Fowler">Template:Cite web</ref> other companies 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<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> and the Sigilverse.<ref name="Lander">Template:Cite web</ref>
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<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> and C. J. Cherryh's Merovingen Nights.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>
Role-playing games are inherently designed to include some aspects of the shared universe concept, as individual games are derived from the core material. Campaign settings, such as Dungeons & Dragons's Faerûn, Dragonlance and Eberron, provide a more detailed world in which novels and other related media are additionally set. Living campaigns, including the RPGA's Living Greyhawk<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> or the AEG-sanctioned Heroes of Rokugan,<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> provide an opportunity for individual games hosted worldwide to take part in a single continuity.
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.<ref>Template:Cite book</ref> Another example is the furry-themed Tales from the Blind Pig created at the Transformation Story Archive, which differs from many amateur settings both by having an organized effort to maintain consistent canon<ref name="AnthroAbout">Template:Cite journal</ref> and by having seen at least limited publication.<ref name="AnthroIndex">Template:Cite journal</ref><ref name="TSAT21">Template:Cite journal</ref> Other early examples include the Dargon Project and Devilbunnies.<ref>Template:Cite journal</ref>
At least one publisher has introduced a division specifically for encouraging and handling shared universe fiction.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>
An animated universe is a derivative of the shared universe that applies to animated works, including animated television series and films, which share the same characters and continuity with each other; it may also derive from the characters and continuity of previous literary serial works, including comics, and may thus be termed by the literary work from whence it derived. Notable examples of the animated universe include:
* DC animated universe (1992-2008)
* Marvel animated universe (1992-2000)
* Gundam "metaseries" (1979-present)