The Writers' Greenhouse
Imaginary Worlds: Creative writing course on world-building
Imaginary Worlds genres: fantasy, science fiction, Young Adult fiction, urban paranormal, steampunk, dystopia


The genres of imaginary worlds are rich and various - much more so than people often realise. They overlap, blur boundaries, play at the edges, and constantly invent new genres which multiply faster than the names we can invent for them. This eight-week evening course explores world-building for any kind of imaginary world, whether you want to develop a world you've already started building or create a world from scratch.

The Imaginary Worlds course currently is running on Tuesdays 7pm–9:30pm, 8 Oct – 26 Nov 2019 AND Wednesdays 7pm–9:30pm, 9 Oct – 27 Nov 2019.
Email megan @ if you'd like me to let you know when it will next be running.

Course overview

Develop your world-building to create or enrich your own imaginary worlds: • explore the many genres • how to constrain magic • make unlikely stuff convincing • your world's physical detail • why your world matters • ripple-through effects • names and language • your characters' political and economic realities • techniques for exposition

In the first two weeks, you'll create multiple story ideas and build on two of these: one in the 'fantasy' camp (completely invented worlds and ideas using magic) and one in the 'sci-fi' camp (future worlds and ideas using real-world explanations). Over the next five weeks, you'll continue to build on either or both of those worlds, to develop their physical detail, why they matter, their ripple-through effects, their names and language, and your character's political and economic realities. If you're developing an existing world, you'll use the multiple story ideas to feed new possibilities into your world, then build on your existing world or one of the new ideas, as appropriate. In the final week, you'll discover a range of techniques for how to orientate your reader in this wonderful new world while telling a story.

Throughout the course, we'll look at extracts from a range of authors, plus articles and panels from FantasyCon and World Fantasy Con where top authors have discussed their approach to world-building.

Email megan @ if you'd like me to let you know when the course will next be running.

Weekly topics

Week 1: Genres and magic

Explore genre labels and create heaps of story ideas in multiple genres, and start developing your first story: with an idea that uses magic, create and constrain how the magic works in your world

Week 2: Unlikely stuff

A wildly imaginative world: Keep your "crazy" ideas and make them convincing! Start developing your second idea: with an idea that uses a sci-fi / real-world setting, turn the unfeasible into the stuff of story.

Week 3: Your physical world

The details of your world: flesh out your story's landscape, flora, and fauna, avoid the famous fox-hare-plain problem, and use collage as a way to create a tangible sense of place.

Week 4: Why your world matters

Theme is the heart of imaginary worlds: when you invent a world, it works how you believe it would - or could - or should. Deepening your theme also generates more events for your story and develops your cast.

Week 5: Ripple-through effects

Small changes to a world have long shadows. Explore how moving away from obvious choices changes the very landscape of your world to create something much more unique and truer to your vision.

Week 6: Playing with language

Explore ways to name characters and places, get some linguistic insight into making up snatches of a language, and start developing your world's idiom: the sayings, proverbs, and metaphors its inhabitants would use.

Week 7: Living in your world

The political and economic realities of your world shape your characters' daily lives and are a rich seam to tap. Playing with the possibilities also creates more ripple-through effects and ideas for events.

Week 8: Writing in your world

Writing in a world your reader's never visited requires deft exposition. Learn how to orientate your reader in this wonderful new world while telling a story. Part Dark Art, part bagful of techniques!

Featured books

These are the books we'll be touching on in class. You do NOT have to read the books in advance - you'll get the book blurbs and extracts from them to read in the class - but they're all highly recommended. (It's impossible to discuss Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go without spoilers, so you may want to read it in advance, but be warned that it's darker than it seems.) Note: if you read slowly and would like to get the extracts to read before class, let me know so I can email them to you before each week's class.

  • Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveller's Wife
  • Cixin Liu, Three Body Problem
  • George RR Martin, A Song of Ice and Fire
  • Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go
  • Ken Liu, The Grace of Kings
  • Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale
  • Malinda Lo, Ash
  • Nalo Hopkinson, Midnight Robber
  • Nisi Shawl, Everfair
  • NK Jemsin, Fifth Season
  • Nnedi Okorafor, The Book of Phoenix
  • Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind
  • Peter F Hamilton, The Neutronium Alchemist
  • Robin Hobb, The Farseer Trilogy
  • Suzanne Collins, Hunger Games
  • Terry Pratchett, Jingo

Again, you DON'T have to read the books in advance, but if you do want to buy them, Blackwells Oxford (on Broad Street) has helpfully agreed to make sure they have plenty in stock. I advise people to buy books from local physical bookshops rather than Amazon whenever possible, as that's much better for authors and for the book trade.

Reviews of Imaginary Worlds

These reviews come from the Daily Info, where you can also read reviews of the other courses and workshops.

I attended the 'Imaginary Worlds' course at the beginning of 2017: my first course at The Writers' Greenhouse. From the outset I was impressed by Megan's expertise and professionalism, and by the volume of ideas which she managed to cram into every session without anything ever feeling rushed. Each lesson focuses on a different aspect of building and exploring a fantasy/science fiction world, using examples from a spectrum of novels to illustrate the ideas.

I embarked on the course as someone who is an avid reader of fantasy and science fiction, and had already completed writing a fantasy novel, so I was both surprised and delighted at how much it was able to expand on my existing knowledge. Of particular interest was the way in which the elements of creating a fantasy world were helpfully broken down into categories covering different aspects of culture, and how these things interact with each other and with the process of building a story. I had previously been making the cultures of my worlds up as I went along and wondering how to get away from some of the cliches I kept falling into, so the idea that one could (and in at least some respects should) design the background in advance, was revelatory!

This course gave me a whole new perspective on the genre in which I write, but I must stress that it is not only for people who already read/write/like science fiction and fantasy: there is plenty of material here even for those who are completely new to the genres. I witnessed one of my classmates, who had barely read any fantasy, developing a highly imaginative novel plot by the time we finished the course! Overall it was a fantastic experience, and I have made frequent use of Megan's beautifully typed note booklets for projects since!

Hannah B, 15 July 2019

I joined the Imaginary Worlds course because I wanted to think more creatively, get writing and meet some new people who love sci fi and fantasy - this course fulfilled all three but so much more! Having thought I would never be able to write a novel, I came away with 4 great new storylines; I met some amazing new friends and the weekly get-togethers in Megan's house quickly became the highlight of my week.

Megan's sessions are well structured, timed to perfection and full of laughter. She runs masses of exercises to break down any mental barriers you might have about writing and to get you to put pen to paper. They suit total novices like me and people with a novel in progress who need an injection of enthusiasm and rigour to get things done. I think the most valuable thing I have learnt is that I have the power to write, to stop shooting myself down before I even start, the process of moving from first to final draft and most important of all - the need to create regular periods of time when you commit to writing.

Anna J 20 Sep 2017

Imaginary Worlds - Brilliant!!!

I'd been dithering about finding a writing course for a couple of years, fearing I wouldn't be able to come up with a good story, or that it would be a struggle working out a good plot, or simply that I haven't got it in me to write fiction anyway. I'm pretty good at emails, but I hadn't actually done any kind of creative writing since Primary School.

Megan got me writing ... stuff that I'd never imagined I could do ... in a way that I've never written before. Never in a million years would I have believed I could produce a scene featuring two teenage boys who got up to no good, set 30,000 years ago, creating a language based on Czech, inventing plant names, ceremonies, social structures, and locations. For me as a beginner writer, it was great not to focus on storyline and plot, but instead Megan got us tuning in to our imagination, pulling out anything that seemed like an 'idea' no matter how fantastical or daft it might seem at first. There was much shared discussion, and equally as much individual writing in small bite-sized chunks, inspired scribbling in coloured pens on neat little work sheets. We made collages with magazine pictures and special glue, we looked at cleverly focussed excerpts from books in which writers had effectively done what we were about to do. We had scrummy biscuits in the break.

Megan is a brilliantly focussed teacher with a hearty sense of humour. I'd arrive at the class tired after a full day at work, and very soon be buzzing with ideas and feeling inspired to just try something small, and see where it wanted to go. I actually couldn't wait to do my homework (most unusual) and found myself getting up early on a Sunday morning (even more unusual) just to try out an idea for 10 minutes without judging it ... and realised that I was now writing from a completely different part of my brain! You bet I've signed up for Story Elements now!

Judy 28 Apr 2017

Imaginary Worlds

What an incredible teacher Megan is! After attending the summer sessions, I caught the Writers Greenhouse bug and wanted to spend more and more time creating in this greenhouse, no, hot house of magical ideas. Each lesson is so well organised yet fluid and flexible. I have picked up so many tools and ideas from the activities and exercises. Megan is so supportive no matter where you are on your writing journey. The personal feedback from our submissions was so invaluable. I really didn't want the course to end and can't wait for the next one and the summer workshops.

Marneta 12 Apr 2017

Currently running

Tuesdays 7pm–9:30pm
8 Oct – 26 Nov 2019
Wednesdays 7pm–9:30pm
9 Oct – 27 Nov 2019


Upper Wolvercote (North Oxford). There's free parking, a great bus route (#6), and beautiful canal-side walking routes.


£250 total for 8 weeks, payable in instalments with a £50 deposit

To book:

The next dates for this course aren't yet confirmed. Email me if you'd like me to let you know when the dates are set.



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