Worldbuilding for Masochists

Worldbuilding for Masochists header image 1
October 13, 2021  

Episode 61: Worldbuilding: The Search for Intelligent Life ft. MARTHA WELLS

From aliens to AI, from dragons to dwarves, from to nebulous clouds to sapient mushrooms, how do we conceive of non-human intelligence in our speculative worlds? Martha Wells joins us to discuss the various considerations in building a culture from a perspective entirely unlike our own, perhaps operating on different levels of consciousness, or through a hive mind, or dealing with entirely different biologies and ecologies.

How do you on-board a reader to something beyond the human brain? Is that culture in conflict with human culture, or in peaceful coexistence, or do humans even exist in their world? How do we apply some of our basics of worldbuilding to this kind of crafting?

Our Guest: Martha Wells has been an SF/F writer since her first fantasy novel was published in 1993, and her work includes The Books of the Raksura series, The Death of the Necromancer, the Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy, The Murderbot Diaries series, media tie-in fiction for Star WarsStargate: Atlantis, and Magic: the Gathering, as well as short fiction, YA novels, and non-fiction. She has won Nebula Awards, Hugo Awards, and Locus Awards, and her work has appeared on the Philip K. Dick Award ballot, the BSFA Award ballot, the USA Today Bestseller List, and the New York Times Bestseller List. Her books have been published in twenty-two languages.

Transcript for Episode 61 (Thank you, dear scribes!)

September 29, 2021  

Episode 60: Worldbuilding: The Never-Ending Story

Worldbuilding is often considered part of the pre-writing process -- but sometimes, more worldbuilding happens mid-manuscript or even mid-series.

What do you do with those interjections? Can you graft them in, or do some of them need to be deferred? What happens when answering one worldbuilding need knocks something else askew? How much can you retcon in, and what do you do if you've written yourself into a corner? In this episode, we examine the ongoing process of worldbuilding, once the plot is already in motion.

We also look to our co-created world and consider what gaps and glaring omissions we currently have in our worldbuilding there!

Transcript for Episode 60 (with thanks, as ever, to our lovely scribes!)

September 15, 2021  

Episode 59: Ooooh, Shiny! Crafting a World from Shiny Ideas

Worldbuilding can lead an author to generate a lot of fun ideas. But how do you figure out which of those ideas can actually be integrated into your story? Is there an upper limit on how many shiny notions the weight of the narrative will bear? In this episode, we discuss the balance in worldbuilding, as well as discussing how that balance is different in novels vs role-playing games.

We also return to our collectively invented world and spend some time applying the concepts explored in recent episodes to our personal nations and our geopolitics!

Transcript for Episode 59 (with thanks to our glorious scribes!)

September 1, 2021  

Episode 58: L’Etat, C’est… Quoi? ft. C.L. POLK

Most speculative fiction takes place in a society that has a government of some kind. But what, exactly is a state? And how does it come to be? C.L. Polk joins us to discuss the making and breaking of nations within your fantasy worlds.

From farmboy kings to scheming dukes with surprisingly benevolent control of their printing presses, from the trials and tribulations of parliaments to the somewhat horrifying implications of magical lobbyists, we hope that you'll find ideas in here to help you craft a government to your preferred level of wonkiness.

Transcript for Episode 58 (with thanks to our lovely scribes!)

Our Guest: C. L. Polk (they/them) is the author of the World Fantasy Award winning novel Witchmark, the first novel of the Kingston Cycle. Their newest novel, The Midnight Bargain, was a finalist in the CBC Canada Reads Competition, and was nominated for the Nebula, FIYAH Ignyte, and World Fantasy Awards.

After leaving high school early, they have worked as a film extra, sold vegetables on the street, and identified exotic insect species for a vast collection of lepidoptera before settling down to write fantasy novels.

Mx. Polk lives near the Bow River in the traditional territories of the Blackfoot Confederacy (Siksika, Kainai, Piikani), the Tsuut’ina, the Îyâxe Nakoda Nations, and the Métis Nation (Region 3). They keep all their stuff in a tiny apartment with too many books and a yarn stash that could last a decade. They ride a green bicycle with a basket on the front.

They drink good coffee because life is too short. They spend too much time on twitter. You can subscribe to their free newsletter on TinyLetter, or subscribe to their Patreon for content writing nerds like.

Mx. Polk is represented by Caitlin McDonald of the Donald Maass Literary Agency.

August 18, 2021  

Episode 57: Ask a Necromancer ft. AMANDA DOWNUM

How do people in your world handle death? Spiritually, financially, emotionally -- and, as may be relevant to your plot, how do they deal with actual dead bodies? Amanda Downum joins us to discuss the details of the deceased -- and she's both a writer and a licensed mortician, so she can answer some of the questions you've been afraid to Google, lest you end up on a government watchlist!

Transcript for Episode 57 (thanks to our scribes!)

Our Guest:

Amanda was born in Virginia, and has since then spent time in Indonesia, Micronesia, Missouri, and Arizona, with brief layovers in California and Colorado. In 1990 she was sucked into the gravity well of Texas, and hasn't managed to escape. Yet.

She lives in Austin with her partner and their snake, and can be found haunting absinthe bars, goth clubs, and other liminal spaces. Her hobbies used to include cooking hearts and rock climbing, but now most of her time is devoted to studying Mortuary Science. Her day job sometimes lets her dress as a giant worm. She can be summoned at a crossroads on the new moon, or through Facebook, Twitter, or Patreon.

August 4, 2021  

Episode 56: Word Building ft. SARAH BETH DURST

Let's get granular! How much can your literal language -- the individual words you use, the cadence of your sentences, a conlang, a poetic tradition -- help convey your worldbuilding? Sarah Beth Durst joins us to talk about the fine tool of wordcraft in your prose and dialogue, as well as the importance of white space on the page. She also reminds us that fantasy fiction is always better with talking cats.

Our Guest: Sarah Beth Durst is the award-winning author of over twenty fantasy books for kids, teens, and adults, including Spark, Drink Slay Love, and The Queens of Renthia series. She won an American Library Association Alex Award and a Mythopoeic Fantasy Award and has been a finalist for SFWA's Andre Norton Nebula Award three times.

Sarah was born in Northboro, Massachusetts, a small town that later became the setting for her debut novel. At the age of ten, she decided she wanted to be a writer. (Before that, she wanted to be Wonder Woman, except with real flying ability instead of an invisible jet. She also would have accepted a career as a unicorn princess.) And she began writing fantasy stories. She later attended Princeton University, where she spent four years studying English, writing about dragons, and wondering what the campus gargoyles would say if they could talk.

Sarah lives in Stony Brook, New York, with her husband, her children, and her ill-mannered cat.


Transcript for Episode 56 (thank you, dear scribes!)

July 21, 2021  

Episode 55: Epic GrimDarkPunk Romance

The fantasy genre comes in many flavors -- but how do we tease those apart? How important are they when worldbuilding, and how much are they inventions of the demands of marketing? In this episode, we explore the structural conventions, aesthetic flourishes, and reader expectations the define the many glorious subgenres of speculative fiction.

Transcript for Episode 55 (thank you, wonderful scribes!)

July 7, 2021  

Episode 54: Cyberpunk Worldbuilding ft. PJ MANNEY

When you're building for the near future, how far can you go? Is technology going to doom us, save us, or a bit of both? How does a society make that determination -- and how can your worldbuilding show those choices in action?

In this episode with guest PJ Manney, we explore cyberpunk, technothrillers, and other alternate-near-future fiction. We also spend some time teasing apart the ideas of genre, aesthetic, and plot device, and where they overlap.

Our Guest: PJ Manney is the author of the bestselling and Philip K. Dick Award nominated science fiction technothriller, (R)EVOLUTION (2015), published by 47North in the Phoenix Horizon trilogy with, (ID)ENTITY (2017), and (CON)SCIENCE, (2021). Set as alternate, future American histories, the novels chart the influence of world-changing technologies on power and nations. 

A former chairperson of Humanity Plus, she helped rebrand the organization, launch H+ Magazine and organize the first multi-org conference on futurist topics, Convergence ’08. She authored "Yucky Gets Yummy: How Speculative Fiction Creates Society"​ and "Empathy in the Time of Technology: How Storytelling is the Key to Empathy,"​ foundational works on the neuropsychology of empathy and media. 

Manney presented her ideas to National Geographic, the Producers Guild of America, Directors Guild of America, NASA-JPL, M.I.T., Huffington Post, The H+ Summit, and the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, is a frequent guest on podcasts/webshows including StarTalk, The World Transformed, Singularity 1on1 and Amazing Mind, and has published in BoingBoing, Live Science and She is also the first person to create and transfer a digital autograph for a novel verified by the blockchain. Manney consults for varied organizations about the future of humanity and technology, including artificial intelligence, robotics, cyborgs, nanotechnology, biotechnology, brain-computer interfaces, space, blockchains and cryptocurrencies.

Manney graduated from Wesleyan University double majoring in Film and American Studies. She worked for over 25 years in film/TV: motion picture PR at Walt Disney/Touchstone Pictures; story development for independent film production companies; and writing as Patricia Manney for the critically acclaimed hit TV shows Hercules — The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess. She also co-founded Uncharted Entertainment, writing and/or creating many pilot scripts for television networks, including CBS, Fox, UPN, Discovery, ABC Family and Comedy Central.

Manney lives with her husband in Southern California and is a dual citizen of the US and New Zealand. She is a member of the WGA, SFWA, ITW and PEN America.


Transcript for Episode 54 (with thanks to our scribes!)

June 23, 2021  

Episode 53: Worldbuilding 301

Our third season begins! We go back to the basics of worldbuilding -- and then we think about how to level up! When we're digging deep on our motto of "Choose, don't presume," what does that mean as we do more and more of it? How much work do you make for yourself as a writer? How does your worldbuilding serve your story and your characters? And, as always, we examine the craft of communicating those choices to the reader.

Transcript for Episode 53 (with great thanks to our scribes!)


To celebrate our third season starting, we're hosting a giveaway!

Enter to win a fantastic bundle of prizes from your WFM hosts, including:

  • Signed copies of Rowenna Miller's Torn, Cass Morris's Give Way to Night, and Marshall Ryan Maresca's The Velocity of Revolution, A Murder of Mages, and An Import of Intrigue
  • An Audible code for your choice of The Thorn of Dentonhill/The Alchemy of Chaos or A Murder of Mages/An Import of Intrigue
  • An Audible code for a book of your choice (Any book at all! Excellent if you've been intending to check out some of our guests' amazing work!)
  • Bookmarks handmade by Rowenna
  • Aven Cycle stickers from Cass

For shipping purposes, please note that all physical prizes are available to US addresses only.

This contest is open for one week, until June 30th. We will select three winners, each of whom gets that bundle of goodies, and announce those winners in Episode 55!

June 9, 2021  

Episode 52: Pot4ri

We close out our second year of the podcast with another listener Q&A episode! Thanks to all of our wonderful listeners who supplied us with themes to riff on, from military ranks to looms to particular tools of worldbuilding.

Transcript for Episode 52 (Thank you, wonderful scribes!)

Podbean App

Play this podcast on Podbean App