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We all know that a story needs a “setting,” but the universe of your story is one of the most overlooked power tools in the novelist’s toolbox.

As a novelist, defining the universe is both a responsibility and an opportunity. Simply by changing a single rule of the universe, you can fundamentally alter the impact of your story.

ASSIGNMENT: Continue to brainstorm your three ideas. Begin to brainstorm the universe of your story.

Where and when is this story happening? Why is that important? What are the rules that govern what’s normal and what’s exceptional in the context of this story?

What’s your “real world” and how will you show your reader that value set?

FOR FURTHER STUDY: Explore these ideas further with The Novel Matrix book at You can also take the Novel Matrix classes at Writers.Company.

Watch a movie and see if you can identify the rules of the universe. How are the storytellers showing you the rules, rather than just explaining the rules? As a thought experiment, how would the story change if you modified some of the rules?