Tag Archives: Worldbuilding

Writing Excuses 10.28: Polytheism in Fiction, with Marie Brennan

Marie Brennan took a break from her book tour and joined us for this discussion of Polytheism in fiction. (Note: Marie recorded several episodes with us, and we’re posting them out of order.)

We begin by looking at the pitfalls and common mistakes that people make, and then dive into how we can make a polytheistic setting work well in support of our stories.

Liner Notes: The Belief System Generator, by Kate Hamilton


Use the Belief System Generator, and then write a prayer that works in the belief system that it generates.

The Winner’s Curse, by Marie Rutkowski, narrated by Justine Eyre

Writing Excuses 10.21: Q&A on World Building

We went to you for questions about world building, and you had some really good ones. The questions are listed below, and our answers are secreted within MP3 file.

  • Has there ever been a piece of world building that you didn’t include, and regretted not including?
  • How do you remain consistent?
  • How do you decide between writing a secondary world fantasy, and creating an historical fantasy?
  • Can you avoid cultural appropriation while still using elements inspired by other cultures?
    • (This one is getting a can of worms: there’s an entire episode on cultural appropriation coming up)
  • What’s the minimum amount of world building required?

Our next master class episodes are on description. Take a scene that includes some things that you’ve world-built, and rewrite that scene using completely different words.

A Wilder Rose by Susan Wittig Albert, narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal

Writing Excuses 10.15: Worldbuilding Wilderness with Wes Chu

Wes Chu, author and adventurer, recently climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, and has some things to say about all the wilderness trekking that our characters do in the books we write, and how we often forget to say anything about sleeping on inclines, altitude sickness, or packing toilet paper.

The salient point: we need to remember that our characters are experiencing these wilderness treks, and they have interesting opinions about them.


Wes has a tough writing exercise for us: take something that you’ve already written, swap the personalities of your protagonist and antagonist, and re-write a scene from the story.

The Rebirths of Tao, by Wesley Chu, isn’t available yet on Audible, but the first book in the trilogy, The Lives of Tao is.

Writing Excuses 10.6: The Worldbuilding Revolves Around Me (“The Magical 1%”)

Max Gladstone joins us to talk about worldbuilding, and how many genre settings seem to revolve around whatever gifted, magical, or otherwise special sort of people our heroes and villains happen to be. Jedi, for instance. Consider, then, the plight of the “regular” people, like Han Solo.

We talk about how to tell whether or not this is problematic for the story you are telling, and how one might work with the trope in ways that make stories better.


Think about the last time you lost at a game. What was the process of thought that led to your loss? Now, replicate that moment in the dramatic structure of the story, except the story isn’t about games.

Three Parts Dead, by Max Gladstone, narrated by Claudia Alick

Writing Excuses 9.23: World Building Without Breaking Viewpoint

Can you use a character with a limited viewpoint to introduce a reader to the fantastic elements of the world you’re building? Even if from that character’s point of view, those elements are not fantastic? In short, how do you get a fish to tell you about water?

This question came from a listener, and before we set about attempting to answer it, we need to establish that this is really difficult. It is one of the grand achievements of well-written genre fiction. There are lots of hacks we use to get around the problem, but what we try to do in this cast is answer the question without any of those tricks. Of course, we also want to cover the hacks, because we use them.


Come up with a really nifty, high-tech setting, and then present it using POV characters who have no idea how all these wonders work, and who take them for granted.

Extraordinary Zoology: Tales from the Monsternomicon, Vol. 1, by Howard Tayler, narrated by Scott Aiello

Writing Excuses 9.18: Microcasting

Microcasting! A Q&A by any other name. Here are the questions we fielded:

  • Can I have a rule-based magic system and a mystical system in the same universe?
  • What are your pre-writing methods? (Can of worms — it’s going to get its own episode)
  • What’s the first thing you do once the first draft is done?
  • When approaching real-world issues, how do you avoid being preachy?
  • What’s the best advice you can offer to someone who’s just starting to write?
  • Does it help you to experiment with weird narrative styles?
  • What are your least favorite tropes?
  • Should you fully edit your first few “practice” books?
  • How do you know if you’re writing too quickly?
  • How do you tell the difference between a weakness in your craft, and a story that requires stylistic rule-breaking?


In other news, Writing Excuses Season 8 has been nominated for the 2014 Hugo Award for Best Related Work. We’re thrilled to appear on the ballot, and are excited to be in such good company there.


Paranormal fantasy: We’ve had enough of vampire and werewolf romances. Give us a protagonist who falls in love with a shoggoth.

The Martian, by Andy Weir, narrated by R.C. Bray