Worldbuilding for Masochists

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November 24, 2021  

Episode 64: The Times, They Are A-Changin‘, ft. FONDA LEE

Y'know, the thing about the world is... It isn't static! It changes, all the time, and if you want your invented world to feel real and full of life, a great way to do that is to make sure it also changes. But how do you build societal change into your fictional world? Guest Fonda Lee joins us to discuss cultural diaspora, temporal shifts, geopolitical cross-pollination, and other exciting ways to show the natural shifts and turns of society.

We also discuss how sci-fi seems to incorporate the idea of diaspora and change more readily than fantasy has often done, and we examine how magic might affect ideas of cultural shifts across space and time.

Transcript for Episode 64 (Thank you, scribes!)

Our Guest:

Fonda Lee is the author of the epic urban fantasy Green Bone Saga (beginning with Jade City and continuing in Jade War and the forthcoming Jade Legacy) and the science fiction novels ZeroboxerExo and Cross Fire.

Fonda is a winner of the World Fantasy Award, as well as a three-time winner of the Aurora Award (Canada’s national science fiction and fantasy award), and a multiple finalist for the Nebula Award, the Locus Award, and the Oregon Book Award. Her novels have garnered multiple starred reviews, been included on numerous state reading lists, named Junior Library Guild selections, and appeared on Best of Year lists from NPR, Barnes & Noble, Syfy Wire, and others. Jade City has been translated in multiple languages and optioned for television development.

In addition, she has written acclaimed short fiction and comic books for Marvel. She is a frequent speaker and instructor at writing workshops including Viable Paradise and Clarion West.

Fonda is a former corporate strategist and black belt martial artist who loves action movies and  Eggs Benedict. Born and raised in Canada, she currently resides in Portland, Oregon.

November 10, 2021  

Episode 63: It’s A Grimdark World After All ft. ANNA SMITH SPARK

Dirty clothes, grayed-out color palettes, and terrible things happening unrelentingly to everyone: that's the stereotype of grimdark. But in this episode, Anna Smith Spark joins us to explore what that term really means, from interrogating ideas of heroism and villainy to unraveling toxic masculinity and examining the consequences of supposedly noble choices.

Transcript for Episode 63 (Thank you, beloved scribes!)

Our Guest: Anna Smith Spark lives in London, UK. She loves grimdark and epic fantasy and historical military fiction. Anna has a BA in Classics, an MA in history and a PhD in English Literature. She has previously been published in the Fortean Times and the poetry website Previous jobs include petty bureaucrat, English teacher and fetish model.

Anna's favourite authors and key influences are R. Scott Bakker, Steve Erikson, M. John Harrison, Ursula Le Guin, Mary Stewart and Mary Renault. She spent several years as an obsessive D&D player. She can often be spotted at sff conventions wearing very unusual shoes.

October 27, 2021  

Episode 62: Otherworldly Worldbuilding ft. SEANAN MCGUIRE

As Halloween draws close and the veil between the realms grows thin, we wonder... how, exactly, do you build a world that, by design, touches other worlds? Seanan McGuire joins us to discuss portal realms, alternate realities, multiverses, and designing the liminal, the permeable, the spaces in-between.

Transcript for Episode 62 (thank you, beloved scribes!)

Our Guest: Seanan is the author of the October Daye urban fantasies, the InCryptid urban fantasies, and several other works both stand-alone and in trilogies or duologies. In case that wasn't enough, she also writes under the pseudonym "Mira Grant." For details on her work as Mira, check out

Seanan lives in an idiosyncratically designed labyrinth in the Pacific Northwest, which she shares with her cats, Alice and Thomas, a vast collection of creepy dolls and horror movies, and sufficient books to qualify her as a fire hazard. She has strongly-held and oft-expressed beliefs about the origins of the Black Death, the X-Men, and the need for chainsaws in daily life.

Seanan was the winner of the 2010 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and her novel Feed (as Mira Grant) was named as one of Publishers Weekly's Best Books of 2010. In 2013 she became the first person ever to appear five times on the same Hugo Ballot.

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!)

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