When: November 1 – 30, 2019
Where: Online — Available everywhere and at your own pace
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
- Course Format, Schedule, and Time Commitment
- Required Text
- Who Should Take This Class?
- Payment Plans, Sliding Scale, and Scholarship Opportunities
- Instructors and Contributing Lecturers
- Refund Policy
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.
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.
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.
Before class, please purchase and read:
- Writing the Other: A Practical Approach by Cynthia Ward and Nisi Shawl
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.
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.
If you can pay for the class but need to pay in installments we have payment plans available. Requirements:
- You must be able to pay at least $50 to secure your spot in the class.
- You must be able to pay in full by October 20, 2019.
If you meet these two criteria, please email firstname.lastname@example.org 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!
(click on an image to see names and bios)
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.
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.