Thanks for putting your sage hat on for me, Steven.
Oh, I'm not forgetting Flagg at all.
RF is in a ton of his stuff. Just not all of it, which was my point. (And I think you're missing out. Good storytelling there in the Dark Tower series. The ending pisses me off, but it's the only one that makes sense.)
Seems a bit over-ambitious to start talking about universe creation when most of us probably have less than 1000 pages of script under our belts.
While I do understand the need for shared universes from a business point of view (and from an awesome point of view, sometimes, hell, even Vertigo shares characters around something stupid) there are still other factors. You might want to make a social commentary on something, but it would be too close to the bone to write about the government ignoring the victims of a flood in Louisiana, so you make up a place and change the scenario a little. Hell, that's how sci-fi has always worked [and we are writing sci-fi, aren't we?] Sci-fi talks about big social questions but offers up a red herring setting which we are too enthralled with to think it over too much (and that stops your average audience from saying "I'm not watching this political diatribe about the dangers of Totalitarianism" or "now, if you put this in some bullet-time and gave everyone trenchcoats, I might just be interested in your Postmodernist babble about Hypereality".
One of my projects is set on a council estate in Britain. It's a pretty shitty place. I don't know how you'd describe a council estate but I suppose it's the equivalent of the projects, except they're not always hi-rise, sometimes just old terrace houses or bungalows. Since it draws on experience from my real life work with young people living in that environment, it's important to not get too close to that mark, and keep it at least partially in the world of the fantasy and the bizzare. There's a British TV show called Shameless with a similar setting, again, a fictional council estate, but the writer got a lot of stick for it being very similar to somewhere in the same city with the same name and for supposedly portraying the locals wrong (see: fairly). But I guess then we're talking about fictional suburbs or boroughs or whatever, and not entire fictional cities.
The first paragraph you write, about the first character, still has to take place in some universe. How much you have to flesh that universe out may depend on the scope of the story, but it still needs a place to take place (with all that that involves).
And don't forget - even the setting of your council estate that's "at least partially in the world of the fantasy and the bizzare" is a universe in the sense that's being addressed here (or at least part of one). You've already begun thinking about that setting, the people in it, and how it works, so you're already engaged in universe creation.
Of course now that I digested all the ..ahem... Kitty Norville stuff, I can move on with my reading list. Books then I will read the comics.
As for endings, King may be the man of characters, but his endings suck normally.
Now my mind tends to take this to extremes when I write. I try not to let it seep into my written words though. We used to joke, about me writing a story where a man is signing a form. In that story I could tell you exactly where he bought the pen, where it was made, who worked in the factory, and where the materials were brought in from. To me at the time the pen was just as much a character as the man using it.
Now days I have been able to tone that down. I could not considering writing a story though unless I knew a good portion of where it takes place and how that interacts with with everything around it on at least a basic level.
Perhaps I have a sickness?
I gotta agree with Forby, Calvin, and Martin on the whole need to build your universe first.
When I started my universe it wasn't with an idea of "I'll create this whole giant universe and publish a million books!" so much as it was with an idea of "I want my world to seem real, and have all these potential people, places, and storlines BEFORE I start writing."
It's like before writing The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien created maps, races, histories, mythologies, languages, and geneologies for all of Middle Earth, making it a much more developed and "real" place (full of fictional cities, Forby! ) BEFORE he started the actual "writing" of the stories.
This way, when a new plot development comes up, or a character is introduced, it doesn't have taht forced, "he pulled that outta his @$$" kind of feel to it.
Besides, the REAL stories, the GOOD stories, aren't the ones you sit down to right, but the ones that come out on their own as a result of all that background shit.
Heck, the first of my superheroes set to get published wasn't one of my "main" heroes, in fact, she wasn't even designed to be a second or third stringer....she was meant to EVENTUALLY be introduced for another character's side story, and is the daughter of a character I had invented for as a part of a team that was only ever meant to appear once and be killed as part of yet ANOTHER plot.
Now, this daughter of a throw-away character has been pushed to the front and seems pretty solid.
"Living Robert Venditti's Plan B!"
Now, I'll be the first one to admit, this series of articles has been somewhat bass-ackwards. After the overview, universe creation probably should have been next, with the talk of heroes & villains to follow, and so on. That's my fault, and I apologize. However, once I recognized my error, it was a bit late, and I had no choice but to keep going, and decided to end with the universe talk.
Now, I'll tell you what: while it may seem overly ambitious to you, I'm going to tell you that everyone and their mother has a superhero universe somewhere, just waiting to break free. That universe has to be a shared one, out of necessity. This is no longer the 40s and 50s, with Superman running around (literally, because he couldn't fly yet) stopping bank robbers and car thieves because he had no supervillains to fight. The days of the lone superhero world are extremely over.
Everyone creates superhero universes, and since Marvel/DC is the gateway for most of us, superheroes is generally where we start creating. We may move away from it as we mature, but it's still generally where we got our start.
And to back up what Calvin said, ALL stories take place inside some universe. A story needs a place to be. Even if it's an approximation of our own universe, your story takes place in a separate 'here' than Carrie Vaughn's, which is separate from mine, which is separate from... Every story, big or small, has a place that is its home.
Then, you contradict yourself with your own statement, as Calvin pointed out (without putting too fine a point on it). You're worried about the inner workings of your world, shaping it so that it's more palatable to certain readers.
Universes will always be made. There's no getting around that. However, when it comes to superhero universes, the more organized you are about its creation, the better it will be. You can still have the coolness factor, but you have to be responsible with it.