Avoid placing ‘used furniture’ in your story

One of the most common mistakes novice genre writers make is failing to be creative enough with their new universe. Many have developed a great plot and intriguing characters, but their setting is uninteresting – despite that they’ve taken great pains to describe the landscape and appeal to multiple senses.

The problem is that haven’t really created a unique universe. Instead, they’ve set the story in an all ready established universe have merely changed the names to give it semblance of originality. After all, how many science fiction stories boast a spacecraft armed with quantum torpedoes and that represents a great interstellar alliance that is exploring the galaxy? The crew is largely human, except the alien first officer, who hails from Alpha Centauri. If the universe sounds like the USS Enterprise of “Star Trek” fame, it is, albeit with a couple of not so subtle variations.

When writers set a story in another author’s universe – whether it be science fiction, a western, or a mystery sent in a cozy cottage town – and then changes the names to conceal it, they are guilty of using used furniture. It’s a term from screenwriting in which furniture and props from other productions are reused in a new episode or show.

Readers generally feel cheated when a writer borrows another universe, especially in the science fiction genre. Think of it this way: Science fiction can take the reader to utterly new worlds and vistas; it’s one of the appeals to readers of the genre. Reading a story set a universe one has already experienced often is like getting the same meal for dinner that you had for lunch. Sometimes a sequel works, but more often than not it’s a lot like eating leftovers.


My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.