WriterDojo S1 Ep11: Worldbuilding/Setting

This week’s WriterDojo Steve and I talk about world building and creating settings for your story. You’ll notice that Producer Jack has been temporarily replaced with Robot Voice, because he got Covid, and couldn’t really talk much when he put it together.

Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/writerdojo/id1581703261

Breaker: https://www.breaker.audio/writerdojo

Google Podcasts: https://www.google.com/podcasts?feed=aHR0cHM6Ly9hbmNob3IuZm0vcy80ZTMyNmU1Yy9wb2RjYXN0L3Jzcw==

Pocket Casts: https://pca.st/fxhj56si

Radio Public: https://radiopublic.com/writerdojo-6vP0qX

RSS: https://anchor.fm/s/4e326e5c/podcast/rss

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/2X7bG3PMqln9ZKinIDjs27 )

And YouTube and Rumble are coming, but Producer Jack’s down with the sickness, so I’m not gonna bug him about it!

No WriterDojo today because Producer Jack is out sick
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22 thoughts on “WriterDojo S1 Ep11: Worldbuilding/Setting”

  1. I often do find myself wondering how worlds work for anyone who isn’t the PoV character’s group when world changers aren’t restricted to MC and friends. A lot of them just fall apart when that question is asked (luckily most of the ones I run into this issue in are video games that can still be good even if the plot stinks)

  2. I am now caught up on all the Writer Dojo episodes*. It’s a great podcast, Larry and Steve. I can’t wait for the next installment and here’s hoping Jack is feeling better soon.

    *The POV and Tertiary Characters episodes were my favorites.

  3. “I often do find myself wondering how worlds work for anyone who isn’t the PoV character’s group when world changers aren’t restricted to MC and friends.”

    One thing I like to do, to see if I can get into a novel or series, is to try and actually “get into” it – that is, imagine how things would seem to an average guy, or a relative newcomer to the setting, or even someone on the bad guy side, if applicable. Someone with different or even no preconceptions as to who the good and bad guys are, no overbearing mentor figures to immediately try and pile on the hero’s journey cliches or some other grand quest onto the poor sap, and no inherent “specialness” that would force them into a particular path. And this has lead me to a lot of… unorthodox observations and conclusions. Both of the works themselves, and of their authors and fans, for that matter.

    For instance, I’ve grown wary of settings where magic and/or superpowers exist and are inherent in certain people, but otherwise impossible to obtain legitimately. Naturally, in 99% of all cases, the main characters belong to the empowered group, but they’re oh-so caring and heroic, because they use their powers to protect the hapless peasants… the way they see fit, of course. The issue of accountability is either ignored, or intentionally skewed so as to maintain this status quo.

    As a result, the only world changers – that is, the only people with any agency whatsoever, are those determined by writer fiat, and anyone else is a decorative extra to serve their needs. To me, not only does this make the setting look flat and empty, but also speaks volumes about the writers’ own insecurities, as they evidently need to make characters inherently special, so as to make them even remotely interesting. And it tends to work entirely as long as readers project solely onto said main characters, and the vicarious sense of power is enough for them to ignore the otherwise glaring gaps in logic.

    To contrast, what got me into MHI in the first place was the way it mocked the “chosen one” cliche, as well as the whole specialness matter, other than a vague “some people can handle the idea of monsters, some can’t”. It was clear that this setting was meant to serve the action (and boy, what action!) rather than the special-snowflake ego of the writer. That it didn’t place any solid barriers as to who had agency. To put it in RPG terms – and not just because there’s a literal RPG made for it – anyone could immediately roll a character and start hunting monsters, without said character having to be a Chosen One, or a born Slayer, or a Shadowhunter, or anything beyond their personal means of acquisition.

    In short, in an age where there are literal checkboxes for “diversity” in every published work of fiction, I find it refreshing when a setting, especially in escapist entertainment, offers genuine inclusivity instead.

  4. I have a lot of difficulty with the podcast format and staying engaged, very mono-task kinda guy. This one’s the first that I’ve listened to more than one episode but it takes me two or three tries to listen all the way through without getting distracted and missing a bunch of stuff. Are there any plans to have transcripts somehow for those who prefer reading? Or does anyone know a way to get closed captioning from a firefox plugin or something?

    Thank you guys for putting the info out there, you both have great insights and a lot of experience I’m happy to learn from. Taxation is theft!

  5. IMO this episode was way too thin. Not sure that worldbuilding can be covered in half an hour. Need many more examples of worldbuilding done right and worldbuilding done wrong.

    PS One thing that always got me about Star Wars was droids and X-wing fighters. The X-wing fighters need a droid as crew, right? So why not have another droid pilot the fighter? Why put a man — in the first-released episode all the pilots were men — in danger? Send a droid or two to do a man’s job.

    1. Well, the in-universe fluff is that, bar a few very high-level exceptions, droids can’t “think creatively” or some such, making them poor replacements for flesh and blood soldiers. Even the droid armies in the prequels are explained as the Republic having banned individual worlds from fielding their own armed forces… which simply led to the rich megacorps being the only armed entities in sight.

      Meanwhile, in real world terms, the franchise consciously sought a WWII aesthetic, to the point that both ships and fighters have manually operated turrets and there are few if any guided missiles around. Even the (named) droids act and are mostly treated like people, with no real overview on their actual intelligence and respective social position. They’re just put there to make the setting look more futuristic, is all.

      Not that I mind, however. People-like droids and aliens tend to have a sort of normalizing effect on the setting, which I find makes the actual story stand out more. For sci-fi and fantasy in general, I think it’s essential to spend the first few chapters/episodes/minutes establishing what’s “normal” for the setting; what’s taken for granted; so that when the action rolls around, the audience can focus on that more clearly.

      1. “the Republic having banned individual worlds from fielding their own armed forces”

        It’s more that the Republic as a whole didn’t have a military and most of the people who were too far out of the way to be protected by the limited police forces couldn’t afford one. The result was that when the Trade Federation built a defacto army to guard their shipments and hunt down pirates in these areas, people welcomed them with thunderous applause. Just what the hell they wanted with Naboo though was something even the best EU writers struggled to come up with a good explanation for, and is definitely a mark against TPM since their motive is never explained. The best I’ve seen anyone come up with that all the pieces can be fit into is the Trade Federation forced an earlier Naboo monarch into a one sided agreement on some natural resources, the new Naboo government tried to back out of it, and in response the TF decided to enforce the “agreement” with military might knowing The Republic doesn’t actually have a military force capable of doing anything about it.

        As for the more human-like intelligence droids, the various RPGs (starting with WEG’s very early attempt at making the films into a full setting) gave a good explanation that has held up. Droids having anywhere near human levels of personality and independent thought is ultimately a very specific type of malfunction caused by their programming wandering as a result of not clearing the memory often, which most of the time that just leads to droids that are outright defective (one of the few examples of seen in the books is an astromech droid that randomly starts screaming), while sapience is a one in a million thing (but there’s trillions if not quadrillions of droids in the Galaxy, so there’s enough to sustain droid player characters). This has been further expanded to indicate that while people have a vague understanding of what leads to such “independent droids”, nobody really tries making it happen on purpose because 1: Droids with enough free will to be human-like also tend to stop caring about the rules on killing sapients 2: Being able to reproducibly make droids sapient would raise a lot of uncomfortable questions on their use as unpaid labor.

      2. “Just what the hell they wanted with Naboo though was something even the best EU writers struggled to come up with a good explanation for, and is definitely a mark against TPM since their motive is never explained.”

        From what I’ve read, a certain senator from Naboo had introduced a motion to increase taxation on hyperspace trade routes. So in turn, the Trade Federation blockaded his planet, secretly under the direction of a certain dark space wizard… That’s the brilliance of Palpatine’s plan at that point – either the blockade is successful, so he runs for Chancellor and gets the pity vote, or it fails, so he runs and gets the hero vote. Either way, he gets on the big chair and the stage is set for phase two of the “take over the galaxy and get rid of the bathrobe brigade” plan.

        In terms of worldbuilding, the Republic is very much the kind of space government a 1960s hippie would dream up: no military, a grand central authority calling all the shots, and a cadre of self-appointed enlightened psychic magic people serving as the enforcement branch. I reckon the prequels ticked a lot of people off precisely because the Jedi were revealed not so much as “knights”, but rather as space Tibetan monks, complete with literally recruiting from cribs. (Seriously, whenever someone says an eight-year-old is “too old”, it’s generally a red flag in any context.)

    2. It’s not like this is the only episode on world building we will do. This was just about using the world as your entry point into the story.

      Give us a little credit. We have a bajillion episodes planned, many of which revolve around world building. It’s gonna take us a minute to get to everything. This is just episode 11.

      1. BUT WE WANT IT ALL NOW!!1!!one!

        Seriously though, I’m enjoying it Steve. You and Larry have a good style together, and it’s good material. I will say most often I feel let down that each episode is over as I always want more, so I can sympathize somewhat with James DiGriz, not on the “this is thin” so much as “I’m hungry for more.”

        Honestly, this is the best writing podcast I listened to after Writers of the Future, though to be fair that’s an apples to oranges comparison. Your more systematic approach of doing episode by episode break downs of concepts if very educational.

  6. RE: Worldbuilding
    Sometimes my brilliant ignorance trips me up.
    I wanted a semiconductor laser with high output. So I ‘invented’ one: cobalt oxide doped with promethium. I chose promethium because I liked the name. A little research said, yeah, that’ll do the job. Promethium is in the right family in the periodic table, so it has the properties I need for a semiconductor. Wrote it into the story.
    Do you know how rare promethium is? In the entire world there are only 600 grams of the stuff!
    Do you know where promethium comes from? From the core of a nuclear reactor, that’s where!
    So now I wrote myself into a corner. How did this character get promethium?
    Stay tuned.

    1. Side quest!

      ETA – apparently brevity is not the soul of this commenting system, so i will expound.

      Seems like a great opportunity to write in a flashback, or current time depending on plot, showing your character going through some great difficulty or tribulation to get this rare element.

      Either that or a specific type of collapsed star has this stuff as ejecta during nova, or a specific planet has core conditions leading to it being in the crust layer like coal here.

      1. I would refer you to the Jovian Moon of Io, which is so close to Jupiter that the tides squeeze it like a tube of toothpaste, resulting in a pretty significant planetoid where the insides regularly come out.

  7. My most heartfelt wishes for a speedy recovery Jack. I’m not going to pretend I know everything you do to directly help Larry which indirectly helps me but I know it’s a lot.

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