I hate to do it, but this one is primarily for Seattle-area people . . .

The next eight-week session of my Worldbuilding class at Bellevue College is starting on July 1, and there are still spots open. Register now!

If you do live in the area, here’s what the syllabus looks like . . .

If you don’t live in the area, good news . . . thanks to our friends at Writer’s Digest University there will be a four-session online version of this class coming up in the next couple months. Keep your eye on Twitter for that announcement.



Philip Athans

Summer 2014

 We will meet every Tuesday at 6:30 pm-9:30 pm from July 1, 2014 through August 19, 2014 at Bellevue College North Campus.

 Come ready to talk and write!

 In this course, The New York Times best-selling author and veteran editor Philip Athans, author of The Guide to Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction (Adams Media 2010), gets into some seriously detailed techniques for creating worlds for fantasy and science fiction stories, novels, screenplays, and games, drawing from a quarter century of experience creating new worlds.

Coursework will include weekly reading and writing assignments, review of your written work, and a chance to meet and share ideas with other aspiring science fiction and fantasy authors.

Our text for this term will be The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume Seven, Edited by Jonathan Strahan.

 Week 1: Where to Start

An introduction to the course and coursework, and advice on where and how to start creating a fantasy or science fiction world. We’ll discuss research and sources of inspiration, and the importance of setting and following your own rules.

Writing assignment: Describe your world in one paragraph. This is your “statement of purpose.”

Reading assignment: “Domestic Magic” by Steve Rasnic Tem & Melanie Tem for discussion of magic, and “Immersion” by Aliette de Bodard for discussion of technology

 Week 2: Magic & Technology

It’s not fantasy without magic and it’s not science fiction without advanced technology. What your characters can do, the means by which they communicate, defend themselves, travel, and so on, will have to be as plausible as they are imaginative.

Writing assignment: Describe in detail one aspect of your world’s magic (an artifact, spell, ritual, etc.) or advanced technology. Give it a reason for being, limits to its power, and an emotional/story context.

Reading assignment: “The Easthound” by Nalo Hopkinson for discussion of monsters.

Week 3: Monsters

Monsters are a staple of the genre, and must be created with care. Discussion will include monsters as metaphor, monsters as characters, and how to build them in a plausible, believable way.

Writing assignment: I’ll provide a form, you fill it out, describing your monster.

Reading assignment: “Katabasis” by Robert Reed for discussion of people.

 Week 4: People

Humans, elves, and Martians alike, the fantasy and science fiction genres have imagined a wide range of sentient creatures. We’ll learn how to populate our worlds with believable and compelling characters.

Writing assignment: I’ll provide a form, you fill it out, describing your “people.”

Reading assignment: “Great-Grandmother in the Cellar” by Peter S. Beagle for discussion of cultures.

 Week 5: Cultures

From wild flights of fantasy to educated predictions of near-future society, people are more than just their DNA. This week we’ll take a close look at the way people interact with each other and the world around them, drawing inspiration from history, current events, mythology, and more.

Writing assignment: Using the paragraph from George Orwell’s Why I Write for inspiration, distill your world’s popular culture into a couple paragraphs.

Reading assignment: “Macy Minnot’s Last Christmas on Dione, Ring Racing, Fiddler’s Green, The Potter’s Garden” by Paul McAuley for discussion of governments and “The Woman Who Fooled Death Five Times” by Eleanor Arnason for discussion of religion.

 Week 6: Government & Religion

If “culture” defines how people view each other, governments and religions define the rules by which they live their lives. We’ll discuss both the positive and negative aspects of the institutions that send us off to prayer or war, a wedding ceremony or a voting booth.

Writing assignment: I’ll provide a form, you fill it out, describing either a religion or a government.

Reading assignment: “A Bead of Jasper, Four Small Stones” by Genevieve Valentine for discussion of geography.

 Week 7: Geography

We’ll draw maps, discuss geographical features both terrestrial and cosmic, and examine how the distance between things can effect your story. But ultimately this will be a discussion of the importance of establishing a sense of place.

Writing assignment: Take as many as 2000 words to describe a significant place in your setting, referring to prompts provided in class, or better yet, draw a map!

Reading assignment: The Fathomless Abyss Series Bible and other material to be provided, for discussion of series bibles, style guides, and notes.

 Week 8: Bringing it All Together

We’ll discuss forms of story, world, and character bibles; style guides; and how to maintain and develop your creation through an ongoing series. And hopefully time for final questions, comments, and thoughts.


I hope to see you there, or online later this summer!


—Philip Athans


About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, ( is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
This entry was posted in Books, creative team, how to write fiction, monsters, NaNoWriMo, Publishing Business, RPG, Science Fiction & Fantasy Novels, Science Fiction Story, SF and Fantasy Authors, The Fathomless Abyss, transmedia, Writing, writing advice, Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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