Deep Dive Into Building Inclusive Worlds

building inclusive worlds heade

When: November 1 – 30, 2019
Where: Online — Available everywhere and at your own pace
Price: $500

Worldbuilding for speculative fiction can be a daunting task, even moreso for authors who want to create inclusive cultures that don’t unconsciously replicate colonialist structures and viewpoints filled with diverse characters that aren’t stereotypes or caricatures. This class offers writers a deep dive into key aspects of building inclusive worlds — Creating Cultures, Ideology, Religion, Cosmology, Sociobiology, Research, and  more — with eight outstanding builders of speculative worlds: Max Gladstone, Kate Elliott, Nisi Shawl, Andrea Hairston, Tananarive Due, Jaymee Goh, Lauren Jankowski, and Steven Barnes.

This four week class includes video lectures and interviews by the instructors and extensive discussion and Q&A on each topic. Students will leave the class with a deep worldbuilding toolset, resources for further study, and access to a database of sensitivity readers.

Worldbuilding Lectures Include:

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

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

Creating Religions and Cosmologies with Nisi Shawl and Andrea Hairston

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.

Note: Andrea Hairston will not be available to do Q&A for this session. Author Tananarive Due will join Nisi to answer student questions.

Historical Research Sans Colonialist Frameworks with Jaymee Goh, PhD

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.

Building a World Without Love Hierarchies with 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.

In addition to lectures, the class also includes:

Sociobiology and Worldbuilding: an Interview with 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.

Note: Steven Barnes will not be available for Q&A this session.

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 get access to the video lectures and interviews (closed-captioned with transcripts available) on Fridays and have one week to ask in-depth questions based on them. Each week there will be an additional discussion post and optional writing exercises. The last week of class includes a final chance to ask all participating instructors questions.

Full Schedule

Friday Nov 1: Class begins. Max Gladstone and Kate Elliott lectures go live
Nov 2 – 8: Q&A and In-depth discussion with Gladstone and Elliott
Nov 8: Nisi Shawl and Andrea Hairston interview and Jaymee Goh lecture go live
Nov 9 – 15: Q&A and in-depth discussion with Shawl, Tananarive Due, and Goh
Nov 15: Lauren Jankowski lecture and Steven Barnes interview goes live
Nov 16 – 22: Q&A and in-depth discussion with Jankowski 
Nov 23 – 28: In-depth discussion of Exposition and Cultural Appropriation plus writing exercises
Nov 29 – 30: Final Q&A with Gladstone, Elliott, Shawl, Due, Goh, and Jankowski 

The time commitment each week will depend on your level of participation. Lectures run from 45 minutes to 1.5 hours, so set aside at least 2 – 3 hours on weekends for watching them and taking notes. 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.

The writing exercises are timed and take 30 minutes or less to complete. Readings will be short.

Required Text

Before class, please purchase and read:


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 — 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. 

However, if you haven’t taken a Writing the Other class before, you should read the book and get through as many of the resources offered on this website before the class begins. 

Payment Plans, Sliding Scale, and Scholarship Opportunities

If you can pay for the class but need to pay in installments we have payment plans available. Requirements:

  1. You must be able to pay at least $50 to secure your spot in the class.
  2. You must be able to pay in full by October 20, 2019.

If you meet these two criteria, please email to register. 

If you can afford to pay for part but not all of the class, we have Sliding Scale/Pay What You Can Afford enrollment. Under this plan you can pay any amount, but we do request that you pay at least $50. To request a sliding scale spot, please fill out this form by 11:59PM Pacific October 12th. We’ll let you know the status of your application by October 19th at the latest.

If you do not have the financial means to pay for this class, we encourage you to apply for a Vonda N. McIntyre Sentient Squid Scholarship. We have several spots set aside for scholarship applicants and 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. Please don’t hesitate to apply wherever you exist on that spectrum. (Still not sure whether you should apply? Read this post.

To apply, please fill out this form. You’ll be asked to provide:

  • A brief (300 or fewer words) statement of financial need.
  • A short (1000 or fewer words) writing sample. This can be an excerpt from a longer work or something short–as long as it represents what you feel is your best work.

Deadline: 11:59PM Pacific October 12, 2019. We will notify all applicants of their standing by October 19. If you have any questions, please use our contact form to ask!

Instructors and Contributing Lecturers

Max Gladstone

Max Gladstone is the author of the Hugo-nominated Craft Sequence and critically acclaimed works of interactive fiction. He regularly consults as an interactivity specialist and has given talks at Google and Pixar on generating novel approaches to political, economic, and social problems through defamiliarization and research. He has been thrown from a horse in Mongolia, wrecked a bicycle in Angkor Wat, and sung in Carnegie Hall.

Kate Elliott

Kate Elliott has been writing science fiction and fantasy fiction and non-fiction for thirty years. Her twenty-seven books include her recent YA trilogy Court of Fives, the Afro-Celtic post-Roman alt-history fantasy adventure with lawyer dinosaurs the Spiritwalker trilogy (Cold Magic), the science fiction Novels of the Jaran, the Crossroads fantasy trilogy (Spirit Gate), Black Wolves, and the massive and complete seven volume epic fantasy Crown of Stars (King’s Dragon), 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.

Nisi Shawl

Nisi Shawl is the author of Everfair 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 editor of New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color and co-editor of Stories for Chip and Strange Matings: Octavia E. Butler, Feminism, Science Fiction, and African American Voices. She edits reviews for The Cascadia Subduction Zone, a literary quarterly from Aqueduct Press. She is a founding member of the Carl Brandon Society and has 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.

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.

Jaymee Goh

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.

Tananarive Due

Tananarive Due is an author, screenwriter and educator who is a leading voice in black speculative fiction aka Afrofuturism. Her short fiction has appeared in best-of-the-year anthologies of science fiction and fantasy. She is the former Distinguished Visiting Lecturer at Spelman College (2012-2014) and teaches Afrofuturism and Black Horror in the Department of African-American Studies at UCLA. She also teaches in the creative writing MFA program at Antioch University Los Angeles and the screenwriting program at Antioch University Santa Barbara.

The American Book Award winner and NAACP Image Award recipient is the author or co-author of twelve novels. Her short story collection, Ghost Summer, won a 2016 British Fantasy Award. Due also wrote The Black Rose, a historical novel about the life of Madam C.J. Walker, based on the research of Alex Haley. Due also co-authored a civil rights memoir with her late mother, Patricia Stephens Due, Freedom in the Family: a Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil Rights.

Lauren Jankowski

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.

Steven Barnes

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 BaywatchStargate SG-1, and Andromeda. In addition to Lifewriting, he teaches webinars on Afrofuturism and Black Horror.

Refund Policy

If you find that you need to drop the class, you may do so by contacting our GMail or emailing via the website.

If you drop by October 1, 2019, you will receive a full refund minus a service fee.

If you drop by October 8, you will receive an 80% refund minus a service fee plus a chance to enroll in future Writing the Other Master Classes at a discount before general tickets go on sale.

If you drop by October 22, you will receive an 40% refund minus a service fee plus a chance to enroll in future Writing the Other Master Classes at a discount before general tickets go on sale.

If you drop on October 23 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.

Register Below

If you have a coupon or discount access code, please click “Enter Promo Code” in the box below before you begin the registration process. Alumni, before you register check your emails or the Slack for the code.

Click here to register on our Eventbrite page.