“The Art of Worldbuilding” – Douglas Finney’s Coming of Age Graduation Address

Hello. My pronouns are they/them, and I’m interested in reading and writing more than most other things. In fact, I’ve already finished writing the first drafts of three separate novels. You might not be surprised to know I spend most of my time reading.

My favorite genre is fantasy, probably due to the fact that within those stories, nothing needs to conform to the rules of the real world. Societies could have completely different ideals, or natural laws could differ, or something else could be divergent that would entirely change the world in ways it can be difficult to imagine.

Since I can design these worlds with nearly any major or minor modification I wish, I can see some of the ways how our world might be different or might change. This is especially evident when I change things like societal norms and conventions or other parts of our society, as those are things that could actually change within our world.

The most prevalent difference within society for my stories is that the worlds I have created are, for the most part, much more welcoming to diverse groups of people (specifically the LGBTQIA+ community), often to the point where, in world, the differences between people don’t really matter to anyone.

The other major difference between our world and these worlds is, of course, the magic system, or systems. Basically, I have taken the four classical elements of fire, water, earth, and air, and expanded on that concept, adding in many more elements like ice, lightning, and void.

I have also created a second system interwoven with the first that does not focus around the elements of magic, but rather, the branches, such as physical, mental, logical, emotional, and magical magic.

There are two terms popularized by the author Brandon Sanderson I like to use when referring to my magic systems, ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ magic.

Basically, hard magics follow specific rules and are typically explained in detail, while soft magics don’t have limitations that are as clearly defined and are used to create a sense of wonder in the reader.

A good example of hard magic would be what is known as allomancy, from Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson, while a good example of soft magic is Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings.

In my worlds, the branches of magic are the harder magic system, with more detailed rules, while the elements of magic are much softer, though they should still be well explained. So this means that logical magic, one of the branches of magic, is both better understood and less flexible than, say, the magic of Fire, which is one of the elements.

My stories are often inspired by things I read and watch and learn about. For instance, one of my worlds, where my first finished novel is set, is based all around Greco-Roman mythology, Norse mythology, Arthurian legend, and some other mythological figures such as Gwyn ap Nudd, a powerful faerie from Welsh mythology.

However, another, entirely different way my stories are inspired by other tales is that I try to include things I see as missing in fantasy or to completely turn a trope or cliche on its head.

The one obvious example that comes to mind isn’t actually from a story I have finished yet. Unlike most novels and series I have read, it won’t have a happy ending. On the contrary, it will end with the planet it is set upon exploding.

There are two reasons I can think of for why I change up all these things within my stories, from how society operates to how the tale ends. The first is simply that I want to show that though I am young, that doesn’t mean I can’t write good stories, and many good tales play on people’s expectations.

The other reason is that I think there are things we need to change in real life, most especially our treatment of one another and the environment around us. I believe these things are of great importance and need to be changed, and I try to bring them to people’s attention using my stories.

Worldbuilding and storytelling are arts, and like, most art, can have the power to change the world. I hope my stories will someday have that power. Thank you.

Douglas’s Parental Introduction and Slideshow
NOTE: The ideas and opinions in this post do not necessarily express the thoughts or opinions of the Ethical Society of St. Louis or its leadership.