By John Walters, MetroWest Writers’ Guild Member and Board Member
John is a lifelong reader, writer, and movie lover who enjoys sci-fi, the classics, mythology, and theology. John is in the process of completing “Obsidian,” the first novel in his adult science fiction series “Dark Salvation.” He also works part time as a finished carpenter. Find out more at john-walters.com.
On January 9th, 2023, I had the privilege of teaching three 6th grade English classes at Fay School in Southborough, Massachusetts.The purpose of my visit was to talk about my science fiction writing experience and worldbuilding for the stories I write. Worldbuilding is a very important aspect of writing craft in any genre and, like the name implies, it involves creating a world in writing that is approachable and understandable to readers; however, it’s more than just the setting of a story. It can also include the religion practiced, the governmental structure, crime and punishment, and so much more. For my visit, I focused on introducing the students to worldbuilding, sharing my own writing, and discussing why I love the creative writing process. It was a whirlwind morning but totally worth it!
I chose to focus on worldbuilding with the students for several reasons. First, writers in any genre can use worldbuilding tools and strategies to help them define parts of their stories to make it more immersive for their readers. The practice of worldbuilding goes beyond the speculative fiction genre, often associated with the creation of fantastical worlds. Worldbuilding involves using language and themes in order to make any writing genre pop out of the page. I also chose to teach worldbuilding to the students because it’s the favorite part of my own writing. I am primarily a science fiction author, and I love creating engrossing descriptions of my worlds while also embracing the challenge of adhering to the rules I set for myself. I hoped to share my passion for worldbuilding with the students so that they could be more engaged with their own writing in future classes and, possibly, their own personal writing.
The class started with the students presenting their “Passion Projects,” open ended, mixed-genre assignments they were busy revising. I listened as they presented some of their topics, which ranged from fantastical pieces to mock crime journal articles. Next, I asked them to share some of the joys and pitfalls of their projects. Both the teacher and I were surprised by some of their answers, especially the struggles the students encountered while crafting their pieces. One student asked why main characters had to be fantastical or heroic. Couldn’t there be main characters that were boring but somehow still approachable to readers? Another source of frustration for students was that they didn’t feel confident enough describing their characters or settings and wanted to use better wording in future drafts. I was thoroughly impressed with the responses the students gave along with the maturity of their passion project themes. I was able to answer most of the randomized responses and handed the rest over to the teacher for future guidance as she helps the students revise their projects. Next, I switched the focus to worldbuilding and how it applies to my writing.
After hearing about some of their passion projects, I gave the students several examples of worldbuilding in my series, “Dark Salvation.” My series takes place on a distant planet in our universe, Ralga, and I described how it was different but, at the same time, very similar to Earth. There are humans on Ralga but, so too are there giants. Making settings similar to Earth, like including humans as characters, but deviating, like also having giants, can keep the reader grounded but also show how fantastical a written world can be. Another specific example I mentioned in my discussion was the presence of a prophecy and religion in my story. There is a belief system that guides people on Ralga and motivates them to live from day to day, much like the world religions on Earth. I included this as an example for the class because worldbuilding can, and should, delve deeper than setting or time period in a written piece. It’s important to also have nuanced components like religion practiced because it can be grounding to the reader and add another layer of description for the story. After describing several ways I built my world in my series, I had another activity for the students so that they could practice explaining a world they had in mind.
I wanted the students to consider how they could engage readers (in this case, their teacher) by including sensory detail that could entice their audiences. First, I showed the students a drawing I made in five minutes of my world. I chose five minutes knowing that was the length of time I’d give them. I drew the shape of Ralga, a circle, and included some key landmarks. Next, I drew simple depictions surrounding my planet to represent the five sensory details. For instance, a sound that repeats consistently throughout my series are chimes, a product of the alien technology in my world. I gave the students the same five minutes I had for the activity, and they attempted to draw their world and sensory examples. I learned that their worlds were multifaceted and that their drawing skills far surpassed my own! Overall, I was extremely glad they were engaged in the activity. I also didn’t expect each student to have a set of detailed sensory images for their projects since there were so many genres represented, but the activity served as a reminder to make their future writing more interactive and believable. The students were engaged with my material and non-disruptive during my three class sessions, and I was thoroughly impressed with their thoughts, comments, and questions about writing.
My class lessons were conversations about writing, craft, and passion when it comes to any kind of writing. I hoped I made a difference in the students’ writing, especially where it concerned how they build their worlds. I wanted them to remember that perseverance is critical, in writing, in school, and in life. Stick with what you love, and you can reach your dreams. I reminded them that critique happens throughout life, not just in school. To illustrate that point, I told them how many rejections I’ve had in my writing, and I assured them I would have many more to come. Creative writing is about doing what you love and sticking with it. That’s why I write, and I’m glad I was invited to impart some of my knowledge on the English students at Fay School.