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In the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett, the earth floats through space on the back of
four wise elephants, who themselves stand on the back of a giant turtle called Great A'Tuin.

 

In today's session, we're going to have a go at worldbuilding. This is exactly what it sounds like: creating a world for characters to live in and events to take place. Most often, we use worldbuilding in two specific literary genres, as defined by the Google dictionary:

Science Fiction: fiction based on imagined future scientific or technological advances and major social or environmental changes, frequently portraying space or time travel and life on other planets.

Fantasy: a genre of imaginative fiction involving magic and adventure, especially in a setting other than the real world.

Fantasy and science fiction novels often include not just other worlds, but other universes or realities. Some of the most famous series in literature and TV include:

Book Series:

    Narnia, C. S. Lewis
    Discworld, Terry Pratchett
    Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin
    Harry Potter, J. K. Rowling
    Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien
    His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman
    Binti, Nnedi Okorafor
    The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
    The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood
    The Witcher, Andrzej Sapkowski
    Dune, Frank Herbert
    The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum
    Dragonriders of Pern, Anne McCaffrey 


TV:

    Marvel Cinematic Universe
    Star Trek
    Star Wars
    Stranger Things
    Doctor Who

Dayo's story Nomansland in the Versus anthology is an example of science fiction worldbuilding.

As well as being good fun, science fiction (sci-fi) and fantasy also allow us to explore real-world problems from new angles. By taking something out of its every-day context, we can explore the 'what if' and 'what might happen' side of things. Science fiction and fantasy have often been at the forefront of discussions around gender equality, sexuality, racism, climate change, ethics, artificial intelligence and new technology.

A good example of this is the Star Trek Next Generation Episode (S2E9) The Measure of a Man, which explores the question of when something is considered to be alive, and how alive something needs to be in order to have rights. In this case, one of the members of the starship is an android, an artificially intelligent machine, who was built by people but has exceeded his programming to develop a will of his own. The question is very relevant to society today, both relating to how and when artificial intelligence might be considered human in the future, and how we treat those we consider to be different to ourselves. Because we care about the characters and we know the background to the story, we are more willing to engage with this ethical dilemma, and better able to understand it, than if someone just came up and asked us about this issue on the street.

By removing a problem from its familiar setting, we can often gain a different perspective on that problem and consider new approaches. As with fairytales, these sort of stories help us to develop abstract thinking skills, and to imagine beyond what we already know.

See the additional articles at the bottom of this unit for more information on why science fiction and fantasy are so popular and how they help us to advance as a species. 

 

ACTIVITY

Today, we are going to have a go at worldbuilding.

You have been assigned groups. Find your group and start by reading this article (you need to scroll down a bit to find the sections): How to Write a Believable World: A Guide to Worldbuilding. I will be available on chat to answer anything you do not understand.

Next, watch this video by Associate Professor of English and Creative Writing at Rochester Institute of Technology, Professor Trent Hergenrader:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, download this walk-through PowerPoint guide to building a world. 

 

Open the slide show and work your way through the questions one slide at a time.

You have around two hours to develop a basic world.

Once you have completed the slides, assign each member of your group to one of these roles:

    Astronomer
    Tour Guide
    Anthropologist
    Head of State
    Minister of Trade
    Chief Justice

Help each other to record videos with your phones. Each person should talk for a maximum of three minutes. Try to get into character, and explain:

    Astronomer: your solar system and climate
    Tour Guide: the main features of your city (use the map if you have made one)
    Anthropologist: the main races, religions and cultural customs of your city
    Head of State: who leads your country and how government works
    Minister of Trade: what your country trades in and with whom
    Chief Justice: how your legal system works and how serious crimes are dealt with

Once you have recorded your short clips, go here (Links to an external site.).

Find the folder number (1, 2, 3, etc.) that corresponds to your group number (Links to an external site.) .  Rename the folder with the name of your world. So, if your world is called Zork, rename the folder Zork. Then upload your clips to that folder, naming the clips: Astronomer, Tour Guide, Anthropologist, Head of State, Minister of Trade and Chief Justice.

Aim to have everything uploaded by next Friday.

This is not a graded assignment, just a bit of fun so that we can take a break from planet Earth and visit each other's worlds.

 

Additional Resources

Articles

    Sci-Fi and Fantasy Build Mental Resiliency in Young Readers 
    Imagining the Future: Why Society Needs Science Fiction
    How Science Fiction and Fantasy Can Help Us Make Sense of the World 
    What Fantasy Writers Can Teach Us About Creativity
    Why We Love Sci-fi and Fantasy so Much 

 

Books on Worldbuilding

    Worlds of Wonder: How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by David Gerrold 
    The Art of World Building (10 book series) by Randy Ellefson 
    Collaborative Worldbuilding for Writers and Gamers by Prof. Trent Hergenrader
    Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff Vandermeer