Building Inclusive Worlds | Master Class

Building Inclusive Worlds Master Class

When: February 2 – 24, 2019
Where: Online — Available everywhere and at your own pace
Price: $315
Register Now

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 Master Class offers writers a deep dive into four key aspects of building inclusive worlds — Ideology, Sociobiology, Research, and Creating Cultures — with four outstanding builders of speculative worlds: Max Gladstone, Steven Barnes, Jaymee Goh, and Kate Elliott.

This three week class includes video lectures by each instructor and extensive discussion and Q&A with each. Students will come away with resources for further study as well as access to a database of sensitivity readers.

Scholarships for this Master Class are sponsored in part by:

Odyssey Writing Workshop

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 blindly 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.

Sociobiology and Worldbuilding 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. Have your own theory of how cultures develop in response to this pressure, and you have a killer foundation for your worldbuilding!

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.

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.

In addition to lectures, the class also includes:

Cultural Appropriation Q&A with Nisi Shawl and 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 doesn’t include it. Students will have access to resources that explain what cultural appropriation is and is not, the difference between appropriation and exchange or influence, and strategies for depicting cultures sensitively plus an opportunity to ask detailed questions about the readings.

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.

In the first two weeks of class students will get access to the video lectures (closed-captioned with transcripts available) on the weekends and have one week to ask in-depth questions of the instructors. The last week of class includes writing exercises, readings, and a final chance to ask all four instructors questions.

Full Schedule

Friday Feb 1: Class begins
Feb 2: Max Gladstone and Steven Barnes lectures go live
Feb 3 – 8: Q&A and In-depth discussion with Gladstone and Barnes
Feb 9: Jaymee Goh and Kate Elliott lectures go live
Feb 10 – 15: Q&A and in-depth discussion with Goh and Elliott
Feb 16 & 17: Cultural Appropriation Q&A – with Nisi Shawl and K. Tempest Bradford
Feb 18 – 21: Discussion of selected readings from resources, daily worldbuilding-focused writing exercises
Feb 22 – 24: Final Q&A with Gladstone, Barnes, Goh, and Elliott

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.


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 Master Class?

This class 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 Master 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 $50 to secure your spot in the class.
  2. You must be able to pay in full by January 15, 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 register, please email with the amount that you can afford (you may also split this into two or more payments). 

If you do not have the financial means to take this class and feel that you will benefit from it, we encourage you to apply for a 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, send an email to with the subject WtO Worldbuilding Scholarship Applicant, and include in the body:

  • A brief (300 or fewer words) statement of financial need
  • A brief (500 or fewer words) description of a work or works in progress that you hope the class will help you write.

Deadline: 11:59PM Pacific January 15, 2019. We will notify all applicants of their standing by January 20. If you have any questions, please use our contact form to ask!

Scholarships for this Master Class are sponsored in part by:

Odyssey Writing Workshop

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 January 2, 2019, you will receive a full refund minus a service fee.

If you drop by January 9, 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 January 23, 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 January 24 or after you will not have your registration fee refunded. However, you will be able to enroll in a future class for a discount.

Register Below

Want to buy this class as a gift? You can! During the registration confirmation process check the appropriate box to let us know you’re purchasing this course for someone else.

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