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Worldbuilding in Fantastic Fiction

Instructor:  Melissa Scott
Level:  Beginner/Intermediate
Class Times:  There will be two class meetings.
Wednesday, January 12, 2011 and
Wednesday, January 26, 2011,
7:00 pm-8:30 pm U.S. Eastern Time Zone
Application Deadline:  December 16, 2010
Tuition:  $209.00

For a description of the class, its assignments, requirements, schedule, and a biography of the instructor, see below.
To apply, click here. Note: If you wish to apply for more than one class, you must apply for each class with a separate application.

For more information on Odyssey's Online Classes, click here.

Worldbuilding in Fantastic Fiction


Course Description:
The most prominent element that separates science fiction, fantasy, and much horror from other genres is the setting. A unique, fully realized, believable world provides much of the appeal of fantastic fiction. Whether the world is populated by aliens, elves, or zombies, readers delight in being taken to places they have never been, especially if those places are vividly rendered and internally consistent. This mini-course will focus intensely on the task of worldbuilding. Melissa will discuss the qualities of a strong world and the techniques that help writers create strong worlds. She will identify the principles by which worlds work. She'll explain the decisions you need to make, in the order you need to make them, to build a compelling, internally consistent world. You'll learn the importance of research in much worldbuilding and receive tips for worldbuilding research. You'll explore examples of weak settings and strong ones. Melissa will show how to identify contradictions in the world and how to decide whether to eliminate those contradictions or use them to create mystery and conflict in your world. She'll discuss how to build your world in concert with other story elements, such as character and plot, and explain why making such connections is critical to the success of your story. She will also explain how to fit your world into your story and how to find the right balance between world and story. A fascinating world will not be an asset to your story unless you're able to gracefully incorporate information about your world into the story. Melissa will explain various ways you can show your world to the reader in a way that will strengthen the story, not weaken it. Melissa will also show how point of view can control the way the reader sees the world and can offer additional opportunities to explain your world.

Students will study and discuss examples, perform exercises to practice techniques, and create a new world that incorporates all the concepts discussed.

Students must be ready to hear about the weaknesses in their worlds and to work to strengthen them.

Our goal as a class is to provide a supportive yet challenging, energizing environment that will help students improve their writing.

The course is intended for writers of fantastic fiction, an umbrella term encompassing fantasy, science fiction, horror, magical realism, alternate history, and anything in between. For most fiction outside this umbrella, the skills discussed in this course will be of limited value. But if you are writing outside of fantastic fiction and feel these techniques can help you—perhaps you're writing historical fiction—you would be welcome to apply.

Homework will be assigned at the first session on January 12 and must be completed and turned in by January 19. Any student who misses the deadline may be expelled from the class and will receive no refund.

All assignments should be in standard manuscript format and should be submitted as MS Word 2003 files, rich text files, or ascii files.

You should reserve a minimum of 3 hours per week to complete the assignments.

Melissa Scott will return your homework with her critique by January 26.

Students are expected to follow guidelines about postings to the Yahoogroup in the Odyssey Online Student Handbook.

Since we will have only 2 class meetings, attendance at every class is necessary for you to get the most out of this course.

You are expected to attend all classes, except in cases of emergency. In such cases, you should notify Jeanne Cavelos.

There is no method for making up any missed classes.

Students are expected to follow the policies set out in the Odyssey Online Student Handbook.

Technical Requirements:
Technical requirements for all Odyssey Online Classes are covered here.


January 12: 

First class meeting. Introduction and orientation. Discussion of major concepts. Worldbuilding principles, issues, and techniques. Study and discussion of examples. Students perform an in-class writing exercise. Assignment of homework.
January 19: 
Homework is due.
January 26: 

Second class meeting. Discussion of more advanced concepts. Study and discussion of more examples, including examples from student work. How worldbuilding connects to other story elements. Techniques to reveal your world within the story, without bringing the story to a halt. Using point of view to reveal your world. Homework is returned with Melissa's critiques and suggestions.

Melissa Scott Melissa Scott is from Little Rock, Arkansas, and studied history at Harvard College and Brandeis University, where she earned her Ph.D. in the comparative history program with a dissertation titled "The Victory of the Ancients: Tactics, Technology, and the Use of Classical Precedent." In 1986, she won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and in 2001 she and her late partner and long-time collaborator Lisa A. Barnett won the Lambda Literary Award in SF/Fantasy/Horror for Point of Dreams. Scott has also won Lammies in 1996 for Shadow Man and 1995 for Trouble and Her Friends, having previously been a three-time finalist (for Mighty Good Road, Dreamships, and Burning Bright). Trouble and Her Friends was also shortlisted for the Tiptree. Her most recent solo novel, The Jazz, was named to Locus's Recommended Reading List for 2000. Her first work of nonfiction, Conceiving the Heavens: Creating the Science Fiction Novel, was published by Heinemann in 1997, and her monologue, "At RaeDean's Funeral," has been included in an off-off-Broadway production, Elvis Dreams, as well as several other evenings of Elvis-mania. A second monologue, "Job Hunting," has been performed in competition and as a part of an evening of Monologues from the Road. Her most recent publications are the short stories "One Horse Town" (in Haunted Hearths, Lethe Press), "Mister Seeley" (in So Fey, Haworth Press), and the Stargate: Atlantis tie-in series, Legacy.

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