Online | Fiction | Workshop

6-Week Online Genre Fiction Workshop: How to Build a World

“Meg Elison's mentorship as a writer and editor have pushed me beyond my impostor syndrome. Her careful and precise editing has made me twice the writer I was, and her encouragement has gotten me out of my comfort zone. She is the model of an empathetic, considerate, and encouraging editor while being a brilliant literary voice. It has been an honor and pleasure to work with her.” - Lauren Parker, published on The Toast

This is a practical class for beginners, or writers with a little work under their belts looking to level up. Committed genre writers and literary folks looking to crossover will find useful practices and up-to-date advice on publishing their work. If you’ve never been part of a workshop before, get your feet wet right here!

So here’s what we’re doing:

Without a well-built world, Star Trek is just The Office in funny clothes. Without the Shire or Rivendell or Moria, Tolkien is writing about a boring road trip with a bunch of history majors in their Renaissance Faire clothes. In this class, genre writers will learn how to focus their research, balance showing and telling, make dialogue build and serve the world and the narrative, and to allow their curiosity to guide them. Readings will come from recent Hugo and Nebula winners N.K. Jemisin and John Scalzi. Writing prompts and discussions will focus on specific techniques for world-building: economics, sociology, and language.

All students will have the opportunity to submit to workshop twice for instructor and peer feedback and will have one private meeting with the instructor over phone or Skype. The class culminates in a polished genre fiction short story project with detailed notes and suggestions of venues for publication. You will have a finished thing!


- Close reading and analysis of genre fiction selections to examine good and bad examples of world-building to learn what works and why, and how you can apply that to your own work

- The instructor's written lectures, as well as the instructor-led group discussions on tools and techniques specific to writing effective science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories that linger in the mind

- Tips and strategies to help you build a sustainable, enjoyable writing practice

- Instructor and peer feedback on two workshop submissions

- Being a part of a kind, nurturing cohort of writers and readers, as well as the full resources of Catapult's custom-built online classes platform (including live text chat and discussion threads); exclusive access to our alumni newsletter, a monthly roundup of submission opportunities (prizes, residencies, lit mags, grants, and more); plus a 10% discount on all future classes


Week 1: What is world-building? What does it lend to a story? We can’t attempt to be better world-builders without knowing why we do it. This week we’ll examine what readers love in world-building, and what it achieves when done well.

Week 2: What does good world building look like? How much showing vs telling, and how are both done right? Using award-winning and fun-to-read examples, we’ll do an in-depth examination of what works. We’ll also look at some of the most notorious examples of what it looks like when world-building fails.

Week 3: Research is your friend! Let’s get into the blindspots many writers have about their own creations: What do people in this universe do for money? What is their language like, and how does this shape their culture? Can you base an alien race on an ancient Earth tribe? Of course you can! Research is the answer.

Week 4: How to play to your strengths. Students will share their areas of knowledge and expertise, and we’ll discuss how we can work these details into a rich, authentic-feeling world. This doesn’t have to be particle physics! Realistic baking and parenting make a big difference to the texture of even the most fantastical tales. Curiosity can also be your guide.

Week 5: Outline or pantsing? Plan your story by the method that makes most sense to you, letting your world take the wheel. This week will involve a lot of 1 on 1 attention to your project. Let’s plan that short story and get it written! This includes discussion of markets, requirements, how to write a cover letter, and track your submissions out in the world.

Week 6: Being a writer. This week you are writing (hopefully finishing!) your short story. What does that mean? How can you be a kind and productive member of this community? Let’s talk about the wild and fabulous world you’re becoming a part of, and share some advice about survival, support, and sweet success. 

Meg Elison

Meg Elison is a science fiction author and feminist essayist. Her debut novel, The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, won the 2014 Philip K. Dick Award and was listed as a James A. Tiptree Award recommendation. Elison has been published in McSweeney’s, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Catapult, and many other places. Elison is a high school dropout and a graduate of UC Berkeley. Website: Twitter: @megelison.


“Meg Elison is a master of her craft: the shocking twist, the broken heart, the perfect phrase. Working with her, my prose and my storytelling have improved incomparably, and I would recommend her teaching to any aspiring writer.”

Louis Evans published on The Toast and Battery Candy

“I've been in a writing group with Meg Elison since 2014, and these have been the most productive years of my career, largely due to Meg. I've never had a critique partner who is so consistent or thorough, or who has such an exhaustive knowledge of the relevant markets. Meg is our group's go-to resource for where to place pieces and who to query; she is a consummate professional with an instinctive feel for how to put your work in conversation with the genre.”

Shannon Chamberlain PhD published on The Atlantic, Terraform, Vox, and Slate

“Elison offers a troubling yet hopeful vision of the future. One traditional challenge for feminist writers has often been to carve out a space in which a new social order can emerge.”

Ritch Calvin LA Review of Books

“A strikingly powerful story of one woman’s physical and emotional resourcefulness under the most dire of circumstances. An apocalyptic page-turner that picks up where Margaret Atwood’s THE HANDMAID'S TALE left off.”

Jackie Hutton

“The story is beautifully written in a stripped down, understated way, though frequently gruesome…”

PUBLISHERS WEEKLY starred review

“An Amazing Dystopian Feminist Novel I Couldn’t Put Down.”

Roxane Gay 2017 Reading List