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Micro-worldbuilding: Power Dynamics and Cultural Appropriation

N. K. Jemisin

Lesson time 18:37 min

Learn how to create a believable structure by thinking about who has the power in your society, how different people adopt specific roles, and how to avoid inappropriate cultural appropriation.

N. K. Jemisin
Teaches Fantasy and Science Fiction Writing
Bestselling sci-fi and fantasy writer N. K. Jemisin teaches you how to create diverse characters, build a world from scratch, and get published.


[MUSIC PLAYING] N. K. JEMISIN: You want to start asking yourself a series of questions. How would powerful people act in this society? How would less powerful people act in this society? These things will affect the character that you ultimately decide to tell the story through. [MUSIC PLAYING] We're reaching the point where you can no longer just write down things on the sheet of paper that you've been kind of putting together your-- your world and your culture on, because this is starting to get too complex. Human beings are impossible to kind of define through a single sentence or a single piece of sociological detail. Here you want to segue from kind of making decisions or-- or jotting things down. You want to start asking yourself a series of questions. So a typical example would be what are the-- the roles held by people in the society. What are the punishments for people who transgress those roles? What are the ways in which people use these roles to determine how to treat one another, and what are the rewards for good performance of those roles? Who's got power in the society? Who is trying to maintain their power, and who feels threatened by anyone that steps outside of their role? These are all kinds of questions that you should be asking about any society, including your own, the one that you live in. But since you're creating this society, you want to make sure that you've come up with a set of social rules which may be influenced by the element X, which may be influenced by the environment that the society is developing in, or it could come out of whole cloth. You can just make something up. But start asking yourself these questions about how would powerful people act in the society, how would less powerful people act in the society. And then when you are about to decide who's going to be your viewpoint character for the story, ask yourself, who is the person that has the greatest ability to accomplish the goals of your story in the society, and who's the person for whom it is the least likely that they'll be able to accomplish their goals. And which would be the more interesting story to tell, the person who has power, who then goes forth to make changes in the world, or the person who is effectively powerless, who then goes forth to do the same thing. I tend to lean towards the latter, but you know, lots of people can go different directions on that. [MUSIC PLAYING] Now, in the sociological sense, we're talking about power as the ability to affect other people. Power, for example, is-- is not necessarily about, you know, who's controlling the energy resources. It is about who is controlling the labor resources of a society, the morals and laws of that society, the enforcement of those laws, all of that. So in a lot of cases, people who have power in our world are able to create laws that apply to them in one way but apply to another group of people in a very different way. They're ab...

About the Instructor

The winner of the Hugo Award for three consecutive years for her Broken Earth Trilogy, N. K. Jemisin has sold millions of books and created new cultures and histories. Now the acclaimed science fiction and fantasy writer is teaching you how to create a world from scratch, develop compelling characters, and get published. Build your craft and share your voice with inclusive fiction that reflects your experience.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Excellent!!! Very good info on world building and how-to knowledge. Loved this class!

I liked it very much. Got critical information about what to do after you finish writing the book, which is what I was looking for.

I enjoyed this class so much that I binged it in one day. N.K. gives practical and thought-provoking advice, both for writing and publishing.

Before I took this class I was struggling with how to build my world and characters. After taking this course I understand my world and characters.