Worldbuilding is an exponentially powerful political act, in that it builds a writer's values into not just one, but many stories, scenes, characters, objects, interactions, and moods. Whether you’re imagining a world for a series of fantasy novels, a roleplaying game, or a work of magical realism, the craft of worldbuilding always reflects the real world you live in—identity, politics, environment, fears, dreams, and current events.
In this course, you will write a lore book, inventing maps, languages, biospheres, cities, and characters inspired by radical examples of worldbuilding across literature and multimedia. Studying works such as Renee Gladman’s Ravicka novels and queer futurist roleplaying games by Avery Alder, you will develop a practice of creating imaginary worlds that encounter and transform our real one, seeking to evoke complex coalitions and crises amist an orientation of exploration, possibility, and change.
In class, we’ll discuss how the creative process for imagining a world is different than the creative process for writing a story taking place in that world, and how it requires a unique approach, mentality, and set of objectives. We’ll also focus on how worldbuilding can and should be done experimentally, collaboratively, strangely, defiantly, and at varying levels of granularity, understanding all the while that there is no "right" way to build a world.
This class is perfect for writers who are familiar with fantasy, sci-fi, and roleplaying games as well as any writers who want to expand their understanding of how to build worlds in their writing. By the end of the class, each student will have completed their own lore book and will have received verbal and written feedback on it from the instructor and their classmates.
Class meetings will be held over video chat, using Zoom accessed from your private class page. While you can use Zoom from your browser, we recommend downloading the desktop client so you have access to all platform features.
- An understanding of how to build fully realized worlds for your work
- The tools to complete a lore book that evokes a complex world
- Written and verbal feedback from your classmates and instructors on your lore book
- A creative process that allows you to conceptualize multiple kinds of worlds
- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes
In addition to responding to readings, students will generate a 15-20 double-spaced page lore book over the course of the 8 weeks. This document may be all text, or text and illustrations, and should contain material attending to such things as maps, histories, politics, cultures, languages, technology, biology, magic, and characters. Outside of the weekly meetings, students should expect to spend 1-2 hours on readings and 2-3 hours working on the lore book each week.
Week 1 - Introduction. Workshop sign-up. Review examples of Lore Books and outline what goes into this unusual genre of fiction writing. Freewrite the beginning of new lore.
Week 2 - Discuss Abacus by Nathan Adler from the Love After the End anthology. Collaborate with a classmate to explore your developing lore.
Week 3 - Discuss an excerpt from Houses of Ravicka by Renee Gladman. Lay out your lore book and explore worldbuilding tools.
Week 4 - Play Microscope, a worldbuilding RPG of epic histories.
Week 5 - Discuss the video game 80 Days, written by Meg Jayanth and released by Inkle Studios. Workshop #1.
Week 6 - Discuss an excerpt from The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin. Workshop #2.
Week 7 - Discuss Dream Askew, a tabletop RPG of queer strife amid the collapse. Workshop #3.
Week 8 - Workshop #4 and final wrap-up—on writing critical utopias.
Nat Mesnard is a writer and game designer based in NYC, where they teach Narrative Design at Pratt Institute and co-host the podcast Queers at the End of the World. They did their MFA in Fiction and taught at the University of Illinois, and have published work in Bodega, Blackbird, The Kenyon Review, The Gettysburg Review, Ninth Letter, and elsewhere. New work includes poetry in WE WANT IT ALL, an anthology of radical trans poetics, and a tabletop roleplaying game, BUSINESS WIZARDS. Nat has taught at the Hudson Valley Writers Center and with the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop.
"Nat was an awesome professor! I learned so much from them and feel like I am no longer such a newbie when it comes to gaming knowledge. They genuinely felt excitement for all of our work as a class and were available reasonably outside of class time for feedback and help. I'm so happy that I was able to take this class and I'm sad it's almost over. 10/10!"
"I enjoyed the way the course was structured. The games were always fun to play and discuss. I liked how we spent time appreciating the strengths in our art instead of criticizing where we fell short."
"Nat has one of my favorite professors this semester. They created a great environment to learn in and I loved everything we did in class."