Deep Dive Into Building Inclusive Worlds

Header Worldbuilding

When: September 9 – October 9, 2022
Where: Online — Available everywhere and at your own pace
Price: $500

Worldbuilding for speculative fiction and games can be a daunting task; even moreso for writers who want to create inclusive cultures filled with diverse characters without unconsciously replicating colonialist structures and viewpoints. This class offers writers a deep dive into key aspects of building inclusive worlds — Creating Cultures, Ideology, Religion, Cosmology, Sociobiology, Language, Research, and more — with a dream team of outstanding builders of speculative worlds: Steven Barnes, K. Tempest Bradford, Kate Elliott, Max Gladstone, Jaymee Goh, Lauren Jankowski, Pam Punzalan, Nisi Shawl, and Juliette Wade.

This four-week class includes video lectures and interviews plus extensive discussion and Q&A. Students will leave the class with a deep worldbuilding toolset and resources for further study.

special offer bullhornSpecial Offer available until August 10: Register for both Building Inclusive Worlds and Research Skills for Fiction Writers and get a $150 discount. Click Here For Details

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Course Format, Schedule, and Time Commitment

The class does not have set meeting times. You can access lectures, other class materials, and group discussions at any time from anywhere in the world as long as you have an Internet connection. All Q&As and class discussions will take place in a private online forum.

Students will have exclusive access to video lectures and interviews (closed-captioned with transcripts available) diving deep into issues around worldbuilding and inclusion. Each week students will have the opportunity to ask our instructors questions based on the lectures and interviews or students’ own works in process. See the schedule below for details. In addition to the lectures, there will be discussion posts and writing exercises.

The last week of class includes a final chance to ask all participating instructors questions.

Full Schedule

Week 1 (September 9 – 16)

  • Video Lectures
    • The Bones of the World: Ideology, Genre, and the Foundations of Story lecture by Max Gladstone
    • Creating Religions and Cosmologies interview with Nisi Shawl and Andrea Hairston
    • Sociobiology and Worldbuilding interview with Steven Barnes
  • Q&A with Max Gladstone, Nisi Shawl, and Steven Barnes

Week 2 (September 17 – 23)

  • Video Lectures
    • How To Write Science Fiction And Fantasy Cultures Without Using Analogs lecture by Kate Elliott
    • It’s Language All the Way Down: Building Blocks for Prose, POV, and Your World lecture by Juliette Wade
  • Essay: How Do We Begin Making Inclusive Games? by Pam Punzalan
  • Q&A with Kate Elliott, Juliette Wade, and Pam Punzalan

Week 3 (September 24 – 30)

  • Video Lectures
    • Building a World Without Love Hierarchies lectures by Lauren Jankowski
    • Cultural Appropriation: What It Is and How To Avoid It lecture by Nisi Shawl and K. Tempest Bradford
    • Historical Research Sans Colonialist Frameworks lecture by Jaymee Goh
  • Q&A with Lauren Jankowski, Nisi Shawl, K. Tempest Bradford, and Jaymee Goh

Week 4 (October 1 – 7)

  • Discussions and Writing Exercises

Last Weekend (October 8 – 9)

  • Final Q&A with Steven Barnes, Kate Elliott, Max Gladstone, Jaymee Goh, Lauren Jankowski, Pam Punzalan, Nisi Shawl, and Juliette Wade.

Click here to read all the lecture descriptions and instructor bios.

The time commitment each week will depend on your level of participation. Lectures run from 45 minutes to 1.5 hours and go live on Saturdays around 7am Eastern. Discussion threads tend to be wide-ranging, so students should try to check in at least once a day or every other day and set aside up to an hour for participation. Writing exercises will be given but won’t need to be turned in.


The lecture videos are closed captioned and transcribed; the text will be available to all students. The private forum uses WordPress with a theme specifically geared to accessibility and compatibility with screen readers. We strive to make all classes as accessible as possible, but if you need any extra considerations or have a question about accessibility, please contact us.

Who Should Take This Class?

This course is specifically designed to benefit writers of speculative fiction and games — Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and all sub-genres, interstitial genres, and weird fiction — whether you write for Adult, YA, or Middle Grade audiences. This class will benefit writers across multiple mediums — Prose, Playwriting, Screenwriting, Comics/Graphic Novels, Games — at any point in their career from newbie to professional.

Full and Partial Scholarship Opportunities

Help Us Offer More Scholarships

Donate and sponsor a scholar today!

Five $100 donations gets us another scholarship spot. Two $250 donations gets us a whole other scholarship spot! One $500 donation will completely cover a scholarship spot. W00t!

Thanks to the generosity of donors and the continued support of our Patreon backers we are offering 10 full and partial Vonda N. McIntyre Sentient Squid Scholarships for this class. (If you’d like to contribute, you can make a donation on the right.)

If you do not have the financial means to pay for all or part of the registration cost for this class, we encourage you to apply. We have a broad definition of financial need that ranges from writers who do not have the money at all to writers who have the funds but can’t afford to use them for a writing class. We especially encourage writers who have been financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic to apply. Wherever you exist on the financial needs spectrum, don’t self reject! (Still not sure whether you should apply? Read this post.)

Additionally, in acknowledgment of the difficulty Palestinian writers may have in accessing resources and the obstacles their voices face in being heard, we have set aside scholarship spots specifically for writers of Palestinian heritage.

IMPORTANT: We set aside scholarship spots ahead of opening registration. Even if the class sells out before the deadline, scholarship spots are still reserved. If you plan to apply for a scholarship you do not need to register below.

If you can afford to pay for part but not all of the registration fee, please apply for a partial scholarship. Under this financial aid plan you can let us know the amount you can afford. If you cannot afford to pay at all, please apply for a full scholarship.

To apply, please fill out this form by 11:59PM Pacific August 20, 2022. You’ll be asked to provide:

  • A brief (300 or fewer words) statement of financial need. If you’re applying based on COVID-19 financial hardship, we will not ask you to provide proof of impact.
  • A brief (500 or fewer words) description of a work or works in progress that you hope the class will help you create.
  • If you customarily identify as POC, BIPOC, BAME, or Palestinian, you may indicate that if you wish.

Deadline: 11:59PM Pacific August 20, 2022. We will notify all applicants of their standing by August 26. If you have any questions, please use our contact form to ask!

Worldbuilding Lectures & Interviews

The Bones of the World: Ideology, Genre, and the Foundations of Story with Max Gladstone

Max Gladstone

Storytellers tell stories in traditions. We write about psychics or magic swords or unicorns because we grew up reading about them. But when we write our own stories, we must not unthinkingly follow in the footsteps of tradition. To gain mastery, we must know what those stories and their forms meant when they were first deployed, and what purpose they serve. Sometimes a storytelling tradition may perpetuate ideologies to which we don’t subscribe—or operate in a deeply damaging way. Also, if we do not understand the ideologies underpinning a story world, we may not understand just why it spoke to us so persuasively. This lecture will analyze the underlying ideological structures of worldbuilding—and encourage students to engage with those foundations in their own writing, producing new, vital perspectives on genre.

Max Gladstone is a Hugo-, Nebula-, and Locus Award winning author who has been thrown from a horse in Mongolia and once wrecked a bicycle in Angkor Wat. He is the author of many books, including Empress of Forever, the Craft Sequence of fantasy novels, and, with Amal El-Mohtar, the internationally bestselling This is How You Lose the Time War.

Creating Religions and Cosmologies with Andrea Hairston and Nisi Shawl

Cosmology is a model of the universe: how it’s made, what it’s made of, how it works. Religion and spiritual practices are how people live their lives in light of their cosmology. Even if you think your world doesn’t need religion, the cultures in it still need a cosmology. Whether you’re creating cosmologies, religions, or spiritualities from whole cloth or basing them on existing cultures, it’s important to understand why and how they develop and to avoid colonialist and stereotypical foundations in your conceptions. In this interview, Nisi and Andrea discuss non-dominant religions and cosmologies, exploring their roots and fruits and riffing on how their representation looks.

Andrea Hairston

Andrea Hairston is a playwright, novelist, and scholar. She has published three novels: Will Do Magic For Small Change, a finalist for the Mythopoeic, Lambda, and Tiptree Awards, a Massachusetts Must Read, and a New York Times Editor’s pick; Redwood and Wildfire, winner of the Tiptree and Carl Brandon Awards; Mindscape, winner of the Carl Brandon Award. Lonely Stardust, a collection of essays and plays, was published by Aqueduct press. Andrea has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Massachusetts Cultural Council. In her spare time, Andrea is the Louise Wolff Kahn 1931 Professor of Theatre and Africana Studies at Smith College and the Artistic Director of Chrysalis Theatre. She bikes at night year round, meeting bears, multi-legged creatures of light and breath, and the occasional shooting star.

Note: Andrea Hairston will not be available for Q&A this session.

Nisi Shawl

Nisi Shawl is the author of Everfair, Talk Like A Man, and dozens of short stories, many of which can be found in the James Tiptree, Jr. Award-winning and World Fantasy Award-nominated collection Filter House. Nisi is the co-editor of Stories for Chip and Strange Matings: Octavia E. Butler, Feminism, Science Fiction, and African American Voices. On their own they edited the multiple award-winning anthology New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color and they’re currently working on New Suns 2. Nisi is a founding member of the Carl Brandon Society and have served on the board for the Clarion West writing workshop.

Nisi developed the Writing the Other workshop with Cynthia Ward, and has taught it for over a decade in person and online.

Sociobiology and Worldbuilding: an Interview with Steven Barnes

Steven Barnes

Culture, psychology, economics, mating rituals, rules, and laws all relate to survival and reproductive imperatives within a constructed world. While a culture is more than “mere” reproduction and survival, a huge amount of what we are today can be traced back to this single aspect. When the environment or technologies change, the social inertia can take generations to catch up. Change a single factor, and it will ripple through the rest of the culture, influencing religion, language, mythology, and more. Sexism, racism, tribalism, homophobia…all these and more can be traced back to this single aspect, and understanding how this must impact your worldbuilding requires that you understand how our ancestors “got here” in the first place. In this interview, Steven Barnes talks to K. Tempest Bradford about how having your own theory of how cultures develop in response to this pressure gives writers a killer foundation for their worldbuilding.

Steven Barnes is a New York Times bestselling, award-winning novelist, screenwriter, and creator of the Lifewriting writing course. He has been nominated for Hugo, Nebula, and Cable Ace awards, won an Emmy for the “A Stitch In Time” episode of The Outer Limits, and an NAACP Image Award as co-author of the Tennyson Hardwick mystery series with actor Blair Underwood and his wife, Tananarive Due.

Steven has written three million words of published fiction published in seven languages, including comic books and over 20 novels. His television credits include Baywatch, Stargate SG-1, and Andromeda. In addition to Lifewriting, he teaches webinars on Afrofuturism and Black Horror.

How To Write Science Fiction and Fantasy Cultures Without Using Analogs with Kate Elliott

Kate Elliott

Analog cultures — human cultures whose history and culture is a thinly disguised version of an historical Earth culture or non-human races in speculative fiction who have a small set of distinguishing cultural characteristics that seem analogous to a known human culture — litter the fantasy and science fiction landscape. When authors do this well it can provide powerful analogies and metaphors in their work. When they do it badly, allowing unconscious or conscious biases to lead to cultures mired in offensive stereotypes, it harms both readers and authors alike. This lecture analyzes how analog cultures have been used in SFF, and offers strategies for how to create cultures that aren’t badly or offensively done.

Kate Elliott has been writing science fiction and fantasy fiction and non-fiction for thirty years. Her thirty books include her recent “gender-swapped Alexander the Great in space” Unconquerable Sun, epic fantasy novella Servant Mage, YA fantasy trilogy Court of Fives, as well as a short fiction collection. Her work has been nominated for the Nebula, World Fantasy, RT, Norton, and Locus Awards. Kate was born in Iowa, raised in Oregon, and now lives in Hawaii, where she paddles outrigger canoes and spoils her schnauzer, Fingolfin, High King of the Schnoldor.

It’s Language All the Way Down: Building Blocks for Prose, POV, and Your World with Juliette Wade

Juliette Wade

How, exactly, does language build a world? Writing classes often treat prose styling and linguistic worldbuilding in isolation, but the two share the same foundation. Words don’t “transfer” from a page to a reader’s head. Instead, language evokes complex layers of meaning in the mind of an audience. A dash of psycholinguistics can help you understand how words gather definitions and connotations.

In this lecture, you’ll learn more intentional ways to evoke the context and detail of your world. You’ll learn the linguistic basis for point of view, and discuss how the social contexts of colonialism and oppression influence language use.These surprisingly simple tools can help you make your writing, your characters, and your world come alive.

Juliette Wade is an acclaimed writer of sociological science fiction, author of The Broken Trust series from DAW. Her fiction explores issues of linguistic and cultural difference. Her short fiction has appeared in Analog, Clarkesworld, F&SF, and Rich Horton’s 2019 Year’s Best Science Fiction anthology. She holds a Ph.D. from UC Berkeley in Education in Language, Literacy, and Culture, and an M. A. in Linguistics from UC Santa Cruz. Her undergraduate studies were in Anthropology and Japanese at Stanford. She has lived in France and in Japan, and draws on these experiences to enrich her work. She believes in deep, culturally grounded worldbuilding and characterization, and leverages her skills in Discourse Analysis to tease out biases hidden in text. She lives in Melbourne, Australia with her family.

How Do We Begin Making Inclusive Games? with Pam Punzalan

pam punzalan

How we play and what we play already says so much about us. What we build on the pretense of playing alone or with other people says even more. The game worlds we build are direct reflections of who we are and the contexts we are in. Beyond that, there are critical points of difference between games writing and other narratives that don’t often get discussed. In this lecture, queer indie game designer Pam Punzalan will offer wisdom on how to apply what students learn in the other lectures to game creation, gameplay, and game systems.

Pamela Punzalan (The Dovetailor) is a game designer, events organizer, sensitivity and cultural consultant, editor, and community lead from the Philippines. Her personal projects are explorations of queerness, the fringe, rebellion, and reclamation.

Her published work now includes D&D: Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel, The Islands of Sina Una, Spire, Starfinder, Thirsty Sword Lesbians, and Hunter: The Reckoning. She has been nominated for the DJA: Emerging Designer Award, and for DJA’s Excellence in Gaming Award as part of the core team for Session Zero.

Building a World Without Love Hierarchies with Lauren Jankowski

Lauren Jankowski

There has been a push to get more asexual and aromantic representation in literature, particularly in the speculative genres. However, with this push, we’re still seeing the same tired romantic tropes playing out. Authors are frequently plugging ace and aro characters into romances, thus creating characters who are ace and aro in name only.

In order to accurately represent asexuals and aromantic people, authors need to tackle the issue that has dogged both communities: love hierarchies. How does one do that when we live in a world with an incredibly narrow view of what love is and what sort of love is important? This lecture will help writers understand how to build a world that isn’t reliant on love hierarchies. It will touch on ways characters can platonically show love to each other and challenge students to face their own preconceived notions of love in the worlds they create.

Lauren Jankowski, author of Sere from the Green and other books in The Shape Shifter Chronicles series, is the founder of Asexual Artists and co-founder of Pack of Aces. She holds a B.A. in Women and Gender Studies from Beloit College. Her presentation on asexuals in media, “Where are the Asexual Voices,” debuted at C2E2 in 2016.

Cultural Appropriation: What It Is and How To Avoid It with Nisi Shawl and K. Tempest Bradford

K Tempest Bradford

Most writers want to avoid Cultural Appropriation but worry that they don’t fully understand what it is or how to ensure their work does not include it. They wonder what the difference is between appropriation and exchange or between appropriation and influence. And they hope avoiding cultural appropriation doesn’t mean only writing stories about people from their same race, culture, or ethnic group.

In this lecture we’ll offer concrete answers to those questions and guide you through resources that will help you navigate these tricky waters.

K Tempest Bradford is a speculative fiction writer, media critic, reviewer, and podcaster. She’s one of the principal teachers for Writing the Other, which she’s been organizing since 2014. Her debut middle grade novel Ruby Finley vs. the Interstellar Invasion will be released while this class is still going! Tempest’s short fiction has appeared in award-winning magazines (Strange Horizons and Electric Velocipede) and best-selling anthologies (Diverse Energies, Federations, In the Shadow of the Towers); her essays and criticism have appeared on io9, NPR,, Chicks Dig Time Lords, Chicks Unravel Time, and The Usual Path to Publication. Currently, she serves on the board of the Carl Brandon Society, an organization dedicated to increasing racial and ethnic diversity in the production of and audience for speculative fiction.

Historical Research Sans Colonialist Frameworks with Jaymee Goh, PhD

Jaymee Goh

This lecture will offer tips and tricks on the practicalities and pitfalls of doing historical research. We will go over the definitions of concepts like colonialism, Orientalism, and whiteness, grounded in academic research. We will also discuss types of texts, and the best approaches to dealing with them. The aim of this lecture is to provide a clear definition of the unconscious biases and problems that come up, both in the researcher and in the research.

Jaymee Goh is a writer of fiction, poetry, and academese from Malaysia. Her creative work has been published in Strange Horizons and Lightspeed Magazine, and her non-fiction has appeared in publications such as Steampunk III: Steampunk Revolution and Science Fiction Studies. She co-edited The Sea is Ours: Tales of Steampunk Southeast Asia and edited The WisCon Chronicles Vol. 11: Trials by Whiteness. She is a graduate of the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing Workshop and holds a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of California, Riverside. Her dissertation was on whiteness and multiculturalism in steampunk, a topic she has written and presented on at various conventions across North America, and she blogs about postcoloniality and steampunk at Silver Goggles.

Refund Policy

If you find that you need to drop the class, you may do so via Eventbrite.

If you drop by August 15, 2022, you will receive a full refund minus a service fee.

If you drop on August 16 or after you will not have your registration fee refunded. However, you will be able to use the registration fee as credit for future classes.

Special Offer: $150 Off Worldbuilding + Research

Writers who register for both this class and Research Skills for Fiction Writers (October 14 – November 9) by August 10 will get $100 off Building Inclusive Worlds and $50 off Research for a combined cost of only $550 — normally $700. Choose the Special ticket in the box below to get this discount.

Note: Gift Cards can be used to register for this special discounted combo. The Alumni discount cannot be used for this special offer but can be used for regular registration.

Register Below

If you have a Gift Card, discount, or code to access tickets, please click the “Enter promo code” link in the Registration box below before you begin the process. If the box below gives you trouble, click here to register on our Eventbrite page.