Writing and World Building: An Annotated Bibliography

World building can be one of the most difficult parts of scifi storytelling. Often, two questions arise in any world building project: 1. How do you start the process? and 2. What are some useful resources that can help the process?

In my case, I found a good starting point when I read an interview with the two authors behind the James S.A. Corey series, The Expanse, where they described using a role playing game as a system for world creation. As a gamer who has built campaigns within the Dungeons and Dragons Dragonlance, the Palladium Games Rifts, FASA BattleTech, and Steve Jackson Games GURPS rules settings, on one hand it made sense that gaming campaigns could serve as a good starting point, on the other hand I’d never considered such work as a baseline for a writing project.

As I put together my library of world building resources, I kept running into the problem of many lists only had one or two resources that would world for my world building project. To aid anyone else who might be looking for a library of world building resources and, in some cases, just general writing references, I offer:

An Annotated Bibliography

Aylott, Chris. GURPS Space: Planetary Record and Worksheet. 4th. Austin: Steve Jackson Games Incorporated, 2006.
— This is the record sheet designed to work with the GURPS Space rule set. It has the benefit of consolidating the world building instructions and requirements into a single workbook to keep up with solar system structures, planetary maps, and cities that might exist on the planet being constructed.

Baker, Richard. Advanced Dungeons and Dragons: World Builder’s Guidebook. Lake Geneva: TSR, Inc., 1996.
— The rule book published by TSR to support dungeon master world building under the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd edition rule sets.

Clegg, Brian. Ten Billion Tomorrows: How Science Fiction Technology Became Reality and Shapes the Future. New York: St Martin’s Press, 2015.
— I recently encountered this book resulting from a library search for the science behind science fiction. I was only a few pages into the book when I realized that this book is a must own for anyone interested in scifi storytelling. Not only does Clegg present what might work and what cannot work, he digs into the science as it stands today, how science has changed some possibilities, and ultimately offers that sometimes a storyteller does have to cheat to tell the story.

D’Amato, James. The Ultimate RPG Character Backstory Guide: Prompts and Activities to Create the Most Interesting Story for Your Character. New York: Adams Media, 2018.
— Everyone has a story. This little book helps with questions and examples of things that would be important to understanding who the character is at the beginning of your story. It’s easier to get your character to the end of your story and understand the impacts of the adventure, if you know where the character started.

Fugate, Sr, Joe D, J Andrew Keith and Gary L Thomas. MegaTraveller World Builder’s Handbook. Boise: Digest Group Publications, 1989.
— This work was created to offer a supplementary set of rules for building worlds and equipment for exploring those worlds with the Traveller game setting. This book works around instructions for a variety of world and environmental structures.

Gygax, Gary and Dan Cross. Gary Gygax’s World Builder. Little Rock: Troll Lord Games, L.L.C., 2004.
— One of the co-creators of Dungeons and Dragons, Gygax, offered this set of world building instructions to demonstrate what types of things should be considered for a setting.

Jackson, Steve and William A Barton. GURPS Space. 2nd. Austin: Steve Jackson Games Incorporated, 1993.
— While the 4th edition of GURPS Space has improved rules for planetary and solar system construction, the 2nd edition includes spaceship building resources from the largest interstellar travellers down to planetary shuttle craft.

Jackson, Steve, Sean Punch and David Pulver. GURPS Basic Set: Campaigns. 4th. Austin: Steve Jackson Games Incorporated, 2008.
Jackson, Steve, Sean Punch and David Pulver. GURPS Basic Set: Characters. 4th. Austin: Steve Jackson Games Incorporated, 2008.
— These two books make up the GURPS Basic Set. The character volume provides a broad offering of character personality traits that might be considered in the construction of story characters. The campaign volume provides suggestions for building the world and setting in which those characters to live and explore within.

King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. New York: Scribner, 2010.
— King begins his book on writing advice with “most books about writing are filled with bullshit”. From there, he goes on to explain that reading and writing are the two most important things a writer can do. Along the way, he offers suggestions of tools and advice on how to approach the writing process.

Lamson, Laurie. Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror: Speculative Genre Exercises from Today’s Best Writers and Teachers. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2014.
— This volume of the Now Write! series offers a set of writing exercises created by many big name authors in scifi, fantasy, and horror writing. Everyone experiences writer’s block at some point and these exercises offer an excellent guided way to keep writing while working through a block.

Peoples, Mark. Cosmos-2: Alternity Universe Building Guidebook, Version 2. 2006.
— This is a supplementary rule set that the author created to support solar system and world construction for another one of TSR’s scifi gaming attempts.

Schmidt, Victoria Lyn. 45 Master Characters: Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 2001.
— This book works from the Joseph Campbell monomyth and Carl Jung archetype theories to create a set of character types that exist in stories, gives examples of characters from existing stories, and explains how such a character might be placed into a writer’s story.

Silverstein, Janna. The Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding. Kirkland: Open Design, LLC, 2012.
— This is a collection of articles that Kobold magazine ran covering different aspects of world building. Some of the biggest names in game design and fantasy writing are represented here.

Thorne, Kip. The Science of Interstellar. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2014.
— This book is another example of the science behind science fiction. In this case, the scientist who served as the science advisor to the movie Interstellar, Thorne gets to explain the actual science behind wormholes and black holes. For anyone toying with wormholes and other forms of faster than light travel for a story, this book is a must own.

Vandermeer, Jeff. Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction. Revised and Expanded. New York: Abrams Image, 2018.
— Vandermeer is an author and editor well-known within scifi, fantasy, and horror circles. In this book, a guy who knows the genres offers suggestions and exercises to aid in the creation of worlds and setting for the stories of other writers.

Vogler, Christopher. The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. 3rd. Studio City: Michael Wiese Productions, 2007.
— If you’re familiar with Joseph Campbell’s classic work The Hero with a Thousand Faces, this book presents Campbell’s heroic journey monomyth concept as a structure for writing and telling stories.

Ward, James M and Gary Jaquet. Gamma World 1st. Lake Geneva: TSR Hobbies, Inc, 1978.
Gamma World was one of TSR’s earlier explorations into scifi gaming. While the rulebook was written to support a post-nuclear war post-apocalyptic setting, two sets of subrules really standout for world creation. First, the rules for mutations offers interesting prospects for what types of mutations might result from radiation exposure. The second set of useful rules take the form of a series of flowcharts that walk through the process of trying to figure out any unknown, lost, or alien “artifact” item that might be found over the course of a story. The flowchart process results include such possibilities as damage to the artifact, death or injury to the charactrers trying to figure out what the aftifact does, or even the characters actually successfully figuring out for themselves what this “new” toy does.

Zeigler, Jon F and James L Cambias. GURPS Space. 4th. Austin: Steve Jackson Games Incorporated, 2006.
— The 4th edition of GURPS Space offers an excellent and much improved system for creating planetary worlds and the science-influenced rules behind solar system placement of habitable planets.

Clipart stolen from Clipartmax.

The Passage vs The Passage

A few weeks ago the tv show The Passage wrapped up its first season finale.  As someone who read the book series, which begins with the book The Passage, I was interested in seeing how the tv show and the book measure up.

For starters, bear in mind, the first season of the tv series only covers the first half of the first book.  The writers do an excellent job of incorporating information from sequel books into the tv series. much like the the writers of The Expanse tv show have incorporated information from the latest The Expanse novels into earlier tv
seasons.

I think the writers of the tv show did an excellent job of capturing the spirit of the book.  However, as is always the case of books adapted into tv shows and movies, there were changes made to the story from the book.  While most of the changes made were minor, there were definitely some changes that will create some interesting problems for the writers as the series continues in following seasons.

It is for this reason that I added a writing tag to this post.  I think an interesting opportunity to see how writers write themselves out of corners and problems will be coming in subsequent seasons.  The first season changes some characters in ways that will potentially impact how they can be used or will need to be changed in the future seasons.

Even if you’re not a fan of scifi or horror tv, there will be a chance for anyone interested in writing or the storytelling process to see how writers and storytellers can fix problems created in their own storytelling.  Season two should be interesting.

Clipart stolen from Clipartmax.

Science of SciFi

Currently reading a book about the science behind scifi.  It’s a great book and I’ll give it a good write up once I finish it.

Anyway, while reading a chapter on search for extraterrestrials, I got curious about the history of radio and tv signals and how far they’ve made it so far.  A Google search led me to two websites with really amazing information.

The first was a link on the Planetary Society’s webpage, which demonstrated with a map of the Milky Way how far Earth signals have made it into space.  Emphasis on the Milky Way there because even within our own galaxy, signals haven’t gone very far.

The second was a website called ETTV.  ETTV is Extraterrestrial Television.  Using today’s date as a starting point, it maps out radio signals from Earth and demonstrates with examples what tv programs would reach some of the planets in our galaxy that are  projected to support life.

The book is fantastic and started out as a library book that I felt was a must own for anyone interested in scifi writing.  I rushed out to buy my own and am working my way through it.

Clipart stolen from Clipartmax.

Writing Tools

As anyone with a creative skill knows, practice is a requirement to maintain and improve that skill.  I’ve got a couple of tools I’ve picked up over the years that I use for practice and to combat writer’s block.

The first tool I picked up is Rory’s Story Cubes.  I found the Rory cubes in Walgreen of all places while waiting for the filling of one of my wife’s prescriptions.  Walgreen had the base set at the time, which I’ve found to be quite useful by itself.

Basically, the idea of the game is to roll the 9 story cubes like dice and then create a story using the 9 images that come up.  The options are endless and the cubes can be used multiple times to come up with a variety of story ideas.

Over the years I’ve also picked up the Actions set and the Voyages set, which at times I’ve used by themselves and together with the base set.  I’ve used the Rory Story Cubes alone and in workshop and classroom settings.  I would definitely recommend picking up a set and trying them out.

The other tool I’ve picked up is Yeti Eats Alien.  This one I discovered recently while browsing through the shelves of the Puzzle Warehouse‘s local retail shop.  From what I can tell, this one is a relatively new game, but I don’t know for sure.

While the idea of this game is funny headlines, using the headline game rules gives a good basis of five words from which to build a headline.  As a story writer, that headline provides a starting point to build from.  From a humorist perspective, there is plenty to work with in this set and I could see future expansions adding even more comedic fun.

I’m always on the lookout for pocket sized games and games that can serve as story writing tools.  These two provide for both purposes.