Where Words Become Worlds

There used to be a slogan plastered across the header of my old website that read: “Where words become worlds.” I made this my mantra not because of my love of alliteration (which is strong), but because of this process wherein words are strung together and turn into worlds. Worlds that come alive. You can people these worlds with characters that you come to know and love, sometimes to loathe, all with more words. Even to those of us who do this on a regular basis, it can seem like witchcraft.

I never thought I would write a story that anyone cared to read. As an avid reader, it’s all I ever wanted to do, but I spent twenty years giving up on writing. I would get through a chapter or two before walking away in disgust or out of disinterest, and the dream of completing a novel seemed unattainable. It took a spark for me to learn that I could do this. It took Caroline Todd on a writing panel telling those of us in the audience to stop thinking about writing, dreaming about writing, talking about writing … and just write.

We all need some kind of spark. For some, it comes by dabbling in other worlds. Fan fiction is like writing with training wheels on, and that’s not meant to diminish what’s involved. Fan fiction helps turn readers into writers by providing a sense of comfort and familiarity. But once you dabble in another’s world, you soon learn that the world is the easy part. Coming up with a satisfying plot, realistic dialog, powerful tension, and a thrilling resolution … these are the hard bits. This is why borrowing from history or the world we currently live in doesn’t make writing any easier. So for those who think fan fiction is cheating, I’m telling you it isn’t. This is real work and real art, which is what fan fiction writers soon come to realize as the training wheels float above the pavement. They realize that they didn’t need them bolted on to begin with.

Fan fiction should be celebrated as a means of increasing writership and also as a means of making literary pursuits more widespread and enjoyable. Really, it’s the literary equivalent of what musicians do as they learn to play their favorite tunes. Or what cartoonists and comic artists do as they grow up drawing their favorite characters. Or athletes who mimic the moves of their idols. You revel in the thing you love, and then perhaps you strike out and do it on your own.

It can even work the other way around. Established authors write fan fiction all the time. Scalzi’s REDSHIRTS is an ode to the world Gene Roddenberry made, but it’s more of a literary nod than full-on fan fiction. Timothy Zahn wrote what are arguably the best Star Wars stories ever told in what we call licensed novels. E.L. James wrote some Twilight fan fiction and skirted legal issues by changing some names and altering key plot points. Nearly every play written by Shakespeare was based on historical circumstances or a previous play by someone else. All of these routes are a little different, but I think all of them should be celebrated. Anything that gets people writing and people reading is a win for all.

That’s why I couldn’t be prouder to announce today that the Wool universe–the Silo Saga–is joining Amazon’s Kindle Worlds program. For those of you who missed the announcement of this program a few weeks ago, Amazon Worlds is a mix of fan fiction and licensed storytelling. It gives those of us who own the rights to a world the ability to bless others with its exploration; they can even profit from their works. I was blown away when I first heard about Amazon’s take on fan fiction. It immediately felt like a natural fit for the world introduced by Wool.

That’s because for the past year, talented authors have been exploring Silos of their own creation. Many of those works of fan fiction have become bestsellers (check out my dedicated fan fiction page for a sampling). The ones I’ve read so far have blown me away, and I look forward to reading more and to crafting some Worlds stories of my own. What Kindle Worlds is going to allow us to do going forward is make these Silo Stories official, give them extra exposure, and invite more readers to put their spin on their favorite Silo and/or characters. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. My hope is that the expanded awareness of fan fiction will turn more readers into writers. I also hope, selfishly, that it’ll give fans more material to gobble up rather than sitting on my website all day clicking “refresh” and waiting for my word count meters to move.

28 responses to “Where Words Become Worlds”

  1. Congratulations Hugh! This is an exciting and innovative move by Amazon, who continuously pushes the publishing boundaries and make both writing and reading more accessible.

    Some of us have jumped the gun a bit on our silo stories (how could we not?), but I’m very pleased this has been made official. Readers and writers rejoice!

  2. Amazing news! And congratulations.

    Thanks for letting us know, Hugh. I’ll be very excited to see the specifics. Just wrapping up another new WOOLfic right now…

  3. Will Swardstrom Avatar
    Will Swardstrom

    Awesome! When I initially read he announcement from Amazon, Wool was the first thing I had associated it with due to the stories already popping up from your universe.
    As I continue to work on my silo story I am glad there will be a home for it.

  4. I’m so glad I virtually knew you before you stepped into this amazing adventure of stardom. It makes me that much more glad for you that all this is happening. You were a really nice, humble guy then…and still are. Congrats.

    1. Thanks, Kay. You are too kind.

  5. In other words…Simpsons did it. :-)

    Rad news! I just bought the parody, Silk. Hopefully, it makes this girl (who just got her wisdom teeth out)smile. But not too big!

  6. Hugh, you have single-handedly taken the stigma away from fan fiction and encouraged a new generation of authors to join you in a world of wonder. Stop it already! We have enough competition out there! ;)

  7. daniel Walker Avatar

    “Where words become worlds”. You literally take ‘words’ and add an ‘L’ to create ‘Worlds’. Double entendre. I so looked up how to spell that…

  8. Loved this discussion and felt compelled to comment. The book I wrote and the series I’m still writing is all based on my fascination with the “ancient alien” phenomena that’s risen in recent decades. After exploring both academic archeology and dabbling with the likes of Erich von Däniken I had a perfect platform from which to build a story filled with characters who were both my own creation and yet fit into the paradigm of ancient mythology, but as Caroline Todd suggested, I had to stop dreaming about writing and just write. I love that you are open and excited about the idea of other authors playing with your realm of WOOL, I hope one day I too can experience such devotion from fans. =)

  9. tempted… mighty tempted :)

  10. That is so cool. I know you’ve already had fanfiction written about your stories. How is it to read your characters and not know what the next sentence, paragraph or chapter, will go for them? It has to be kind of surreal. lol.

    I think I would love to read fanfiction of my stuff, because honestly, I wrote my books because they were what I wanted to read. I think it would be awesome to read about my characters and not have to sit and write it myself! I’m lazy that way ;-) Although, I’m not sure how I would feel if a character was acting out of character. (Wow,my brain automatically starting writing the fanfic acronym for out of character–OoC.)

  11. Congrats, this is right up your alley. Did you approach Amazon or did they approach you? I am always curious as to how these things work.

    And I agree that Zahn’s books are awesome.

    I’ve never done fan fiction, but my last book has a handful of Star Wars Easter Eggs, and the book I am working on now has a bunch of super hero comic book Easter Eggs. I enjoy adding those for my own enjoyment and amusement.

    I guess if I did fan-fiction it would be a rewrite of Episode 1.

  12. Many Congratulations, Hugh. This is great news! Really great.

  13. Hugh,

    Write a fan-fiction of your own work under a pen name. The press alone once it’s discovered will be incredible.

    Imagine a global Easter Egg hunt on a literary scale.

    But you must never confirm which one it is. Take it to your grave.

    1. I’ve actually entertained this idea! :)

  14. This is another great example of why we are so lucky to have you as one of the faces of self-publishing. You have been so gracious with your lessons learned and now even with the universe you created.

    If I am honest with myself I’m not sure I could be as beneficent as you if I were in your position. We writers invest a lot of ego in the worlds we create – but I hope if I get there someday I can learn from your example. After all – all our story ideas are inspired by the countless stories that have come before us.

  15. Congrats!! I think this is so cool, you definitely have a ton of readers who are all but ITCHING to expand on your world!! :D :D

  16. […] morning while browsing the internet, I read Hugh Howey’s latest blog post “When Words Become Worlds“. He talked about how he’s now put his “Wool” universe up on Amazon’s […]

  17. SpringfieldMH Avatar

    Does this mean that all future Silo related fanfic must be done within the formal Kindle Worlds arrangement… or that can still be done as before, informally, based on original general blessing/permission?

    Thanks either way.

  18. Not at all surprised to see you taking this step. Given that you’ve recommended books written in your world be published this is perfect for you. I would love to learn more about how the process works from the licensor perspective. Will you or someone you designate have some kind of approval of what actually gets published. And of course the big question what do the $% look like for the licensors? Wow, you’ve possibly seen my name on like 4 posts on the net where we’ve both commented on and I’m asking really personal questions. But they’ve been on my mind from day one of Amazons Kindle Worlds announcement. Feel free not to answer its curiosity questions not life or death.

  19. I am interested to know more about how this came about. Did they approach you? Did you approach them?

    What convinced you to move from your existing arrangement on the Wool universe and move it to Kindle Worlds.

    You may not be able to answer. You may not want too. As someone following the Worlds things closely, your reasoning and perspective is very interesting.

    On a side note. Great continued work Hugh. You are a fan favourite for a reason. Top bloke.


    1. They asked me if I would be interested a while back. I think they knew I was already allowing the fan fiction, and that’s what they’re looking for, license-holders who don’t mind opening their worlds up. I imagine they are also looking for worlds with a huge fanbase. I’m sure this will expand as the program kicks into gear.

      1. Carl Sinclair Avatar

        Thanks Hugh.

  20. Honestly, I’m not a HUGE fan of fanfiction but only because I haven’t read many good ones. I picked up the first Wool fanfic (that I’m aware of), Shear Terror and honestly didn’t care for it. However, I’ve also purchased all of the fanfic stories you’ve talked about in your posts because really, how bad can it be when the original author of the series promotes the fanfic? Hugh, I think you’re awesome and I use every excuse to bring your name up in conversation. Thanks for being such a support for readers and writers alike!

  21. Nigel Mitchell Avatar
    Nigel Mitchell

    I’ve been writing fan fiction for years, so I was interested in the Amazon Worlds program until I read the details, and was unimpressed. “Oh, I get to write One Direction fan fiction? Where do I sign up?” This is a major step towards the Worlds program being something real. Your attitude towards fan fiction is something I wish more media properties would embrace.

  22. […] morning while browsing the internet, I read Hugh Howey’s latest blog post “When Words Become Worlds“. He talked about how he’s now put his “Wool” universe up on Amazon’s […]

  23. I so appreciate this post. I’m writing my first fan fiction short story and while I have half written, I have had to re-work the other half for precisely the reasons you outlined…story arc, character development etc. are not a given with fan fiction…all that hard work remains. Makes me appreciate even more the fan fiction already out there, in addition to every good, original story I’ve ever written (including Wool and Shift books!).

    I’m at home with 2 toddlers full-time and write for enjoyment when I’m able…given time constraints and intimidating process involved with writing an actual story, I never, ever would have even started this my short story had it not been a fan fiction attempt…the fact that the Silo world already exists is a huge jump-start and kick-off point which is exhilarating to be a part of, thus an incentive to plow forward. I’m so excited that Wool is now joining Kindle Worlds, to boot!


  24. […] Howey, H. (2013, June 19). Where words become worlds [web log post]. Retrieved from https://hughhowey.com/where-words-become-worlds/ […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *