Author: Mr. Steven Savage


Posted on by Mr. Steven Savage

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

When you make a story of any kind, the beginning isn’t the beginning and the end isn’t the end. Any truly living story is just a slice of something much larger. I learned this lesson lately.

As I’ve begun the final edits of my novel, A Bridge To The Quiet Planet, I had decided to try writing short fiction on the side. I had many ideas, from using random stories to doing more in the setting of my novel. The idea seemed fun, interesting, different, and relaxing – and maybe profitable.

With my first attempt in draft form, I handed it off to some friends to edit, confident that if I could get such good reactions to my novel draft, this was sure to be of equal quality. However, one of my editors was extremely critical – he noted how it was constrained, limited, and it didn’t seem to be like my other work. How could I have gone so wrong?

At first annoyed, I sat down and analyzed his voluminous comments (this person is someone I’m trying to push towards pro writing and editing). Soon I realized that he had a point.

There wasn’t the sense of setting I usually created – I write on Worldbuilding but this world didn’t seem alive. There was little sense of extra details or of things going on around the characters. It was like a studio backlot.

I didn’t do much with character senses or feelings. The tale was limited and scriptlike, minimal on sensations. Even with the rather intellectual cast of my experiment, the focus was too literal.

Characters themselves seemed constrained – only when they really interacted were they characters. They also didn’t interact well with the setting. It was like actors wandering through a soundstage.

My story, in short, wasn’t alive. So I asked myself how did I get here – and the answer became very apparent.

I had taken a break from fiction for awhile, and returned to it with my novel. To do the novel I had used various plotting and outlining techniques, and I tried to do the same for the short story. I had produced a very detailed outlining system for short stories, ensuring I got to the point and didn’t overdo it.

I had built a skeleton for a story. However I’d put very little meat on the bones – the minimal at best. I had created a system, but not created much of a story, at least to my standards and that of my friend.

With this idea in mind, I examined some of my other short story ideas that had been incubating – and they felt much more alive. These were ideas that had been sitting around for some time, that were played with and thought over. Because of this imagining and re-imagining, they were more connected, more alive, more nuanced.

This story I had just attempted was the least thought-over and least nuanced. Too much of it was alienated from itself.

That’s when the lesson of all of this hit me like a thunderbolt – you don’t write a story, you write part of one.

A story should be a slice of your setting, a piece of the history of that setting, a small and interesting part of a much larger potential. It should have characters who are not sprung into being at the start, but are created and written so they feel like they have pasts and futures outside of your story. Everything should feel large, no matter how short the story is.

Now these things may not be immediately apparent – you may have a story idea and need to better realize the world and characters. You may only need so much detail. But you need enough for the story to be alive because it’s part of something larger, at least conceptually and imaginatively.

Based on this idea, I’m back at it. I can’t say what you may or may not see, but if you do see any short fiction from me, I think it’ll be much better.
– Steve

Posted on by Mr. Steven Savage

Hope everyone is doing well!  Here’s what’s up!

New Columnist/Old Columnist

Working out when we’ll bring over a new columnist – who’s really an old columnist for another site.  Look for something around August . . .

Plot Twist Generator

I’ve built the initial code for the Plot Twist Generator, and now I need to start populating it.  As noted I’m going to pretty much dive on in.

I figure this one will be one like last year’s Writing Prompt Generator where I just keep at it, make it public early, and take feedback.

Way With Worlds

Still editing the Way With Worlds book.  I expect to have the first editing run-through done around the start of August.

At that point, it does need a more structural review – does each section flow well, complete the goals, etc.  I was a bit concerned some things may need extensive reorganization, but so far (about 1/5 to 1/4 the way through) it seems decent.  I just made a lot of stylistic and flow choices based on subject matter not consistent style.  I need to review it as a whole.

After that?  Pre-readers.  Probably in October.  And yes, I’m lining them up.

Right now it’s still looking like it’ll be Spring for the release.

I do think the book presents a lot of value, and I’m really glad to have this “final,” more polished edition coming out for purchase.  I’d like to see more books done on worldbuilding.

That’s a hint, by the way . . .


– Steven Savage

Posted on by Mr. Steven Savage

Hey everyone, hope you’re doing well!

Not much to update on Sanctum-Wise.  I probably should only post these when it’s relevant, but I like to stay in touch.

Way With Worlds is still churning along – originality will be a focus for a bit, and then some more rewrites.  Still debating if this thing should be one book or more.

Borderlands The Pre-Sequel is out.  It’s good, if a bit unpolished in some areas, and the new mechanics are nice.  So you can blame that for any delays on new generators.

I’ve gotten more suggestions on creating general fantasy names as a generator, along with the other queued up generators.  Will be keeping that in mind – admittedly I don’t have anything generic for someone like Logaz Starbinder or Murdag Mudclub.  Stuff that’s “fantasyish” but not like the Extreme generator.

– Steven Savage

Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach.  He blogs on careers at, publishes books on career and culture at, and does a site of creative tools at He can be reached at

Posted on by Mr. Steven Savage

Dystopia And Smog
Previously I discussed Utopias. They’re not always popular, often poorly done, and are best handled by doing real world building first. Seeking to force a Utopia into your world tends to be about as successful as forcing it in real life.  If you don’t get that joke, please avoid any participation in politics until you do.

So now we’ll talk their opposite, Dystopias. You know how those go – they’re awful, terrible, explore the darker parts of human nature. A few even roll post-apoclapytics into the Life Sucks Stew for a complete course of misery.

However while Utopias don’t seem to be that popular for a variety of reasons I covered, it seems that a lot of worlds I see these days are just overloaded with Dystopias.

Which makes building good ones a bit more difficult . . .


I often wonder why Dystopias are so popular in fiction, at least modern fiction and modern popular fiction. As I write this in 2014 it seems like the shelves are filled with terrible worlds, often but not entirely in the realm of Young Adult Fiction. I’m starting to think adults might want to speculate what kind of world they’re leaving to young people here, but let’s focus on why there’s so many.

So why do we have so many dystiopias? I’ve been thinking about that one for awhile.

  • Conflict and challenge are important to getting interest in fiction, so Worldbuilding with a dystopia means instant conflict. Conflict means interest.
  • Dystopias also appeal to people’s morbid curiosity. When you see something horrible you wonder how bad it can get.
  • Dystopias also appeal to curiosity since there’s almost always the mystery of “how come this is so awful.” Curiosity is a powerful thing.
  • People may have trouble visualizing a better world, but can easily visualize a bad one. They may thus find Dystopias more believable – even when they’re not.
  • Dystopias may also seem more believable to people because of real-world examples – human history has had quite a few terrible societies.
  • That set of historical examples also provides plenty of material to use in building dystopias, so you have a pretty big construction set.
  • Dystopian settings may be seen or portrayed as “more realistic” because of the above examples – and the strange tendency in Western culture to believe “dark” is “realistic” or “mature.”

Finally, there is one thing that differs Dystopias from Utopias. Both may be written with agendas (as I noted with Utopias), but I believe the above factors mean that agenda-created Dystopian worlds may seem more believable and the agenda of the author may not be visible. It may even be welcome because it came in a “mature” manner (in short as part of a horrible setting that some may see as realistic).  Dystopias let you get away with more.

Now this popularity may make it easier to create a Dystopia and make it part of your setting, your game, your book, etc.

That’s the problem.

A Warning On Dystopia

Because Dystopias are so popular, so common, they’re actually a danger for you as a writer. Thus, a few warnings for you, cultivated from my observation over time of how many of them are in literature and games (and poorly executed).

If you are thinking of creating a dystopian setting, keep these things in mind:

  • These are easy to do because there’s so many. It may be tempting and easy to make one in a setting for no good reason.
  • Dystopias are also tempting as people see them as “realistic.” That temptation can lead you to taking your setting in a dark way believing its realistic – and it may be anything but.
  • There are so many accepted tropes on Dystopias that its all to easy to pile a few on, meaning even an attempt to make an effective Dystopia can fail if you resort to tropes – which is very easy unconsciously.
  • Dystopias can conceal agendas that you’re accidentally working into the story. Readers/players may detect them easily while you may not see them, combining embarrassment with poor world building.  Yes, you may see how other people put agendas into their Dystopias – be aware you may do it too.

So now with these warnings, let’s ask a question . . .

Why Build A Dystopia?

The simple answer – do it if it’s appropriate. Just as I mentioned in Utopias.

In a lot of cases it just works. I’m no fan of the overload of Dystopias in today’s media, but sometime your setting and world building may lead you to conclude that “yeah, this part of the setting is going to be awful.” Run with it – in fact this is the best way to run with it as you reached that conclusion honestly.

I also find that, much as building more ideal settings, building a good Dystopia is a real way to expand your world building skills. Making a good one as opposed to a pile of tropes is a real challenge. Extremes are educational.

Dystopias are also fascinating because if you can build a believable setting that is believably terrible, then you’ve really achieved something. Bad Dystopias are just as ridiculous, just as able to remove believability, as bad Utopias or general bad settings. Good ones? That’s a challenge.

Dystopias are also interesting to explore historically – namely, how did something end up being so awful? This is always great fun to explore as a world builder because you explore so many different options, histories, and psychologies.

Finally, extremes are just fun to explore as a world builder, good or bad, high-tech or low-tech.

So if you decide it’s time to make your setting an awful spectacle of misery then what happens now? What should you do?

Of course I have an answer.

Putting Together Dystopia

So, if you’re going to build a Dystopia (as much as one designs suffering and misery). What do you do?

Just like Utopia, you need to sit down and do some work and make a real setting. Good, bad, neutral, whatever world building is world building, a creation of thinking things over, tying things together, and figuring out how things work. It’s all good world building

Yout biggest barrier will likely be the tropes and cultural issues mentioned above. Don’t take those for granted, because they seem to be bloody everywhere. Take it from an old geek, it’s like those bad post-nuclear games and tales I saw over and over in the 80’s.

But as for specific advice:

  • Dystopias can be intentional or untintentional – and indeed one person’s Dystopia may be another’s Utopia. It’s important to ask how it came about – and how conscious or unconscious it was. In a few cases you’re really writing post-apocalyptic stories, which is another kettle of dead fish.
  • A real Dystopia is identifiable – it has an identity and a duration and is not a transitory state. That’s another distinction from post-apocalyptic which often has a strong transitory element.
  • A Dystopia, as terrible as it is, has to be sustainable for it to be identifiable and have duration. You’ll have to figure out how such an unpleasant setting exists and maintains itself by resources, social cohesion, etc.
  • Dystopias also require you to explore the psychology of people in them. People may not be happy, but they’re likely contributing to the situation somehow or maintaining it aware or unaware. Because a Dystopia needs to be distinct and somewhat sustained, its likely people are contributing it or at least not opposing it.
  • Dystopias also present the interesting question of how they react to change. Change may be embraced or resisted, but how does your terrible/unpleasant setting deal with it?
  • Did the people making this society know what they were doing or not? How do those who maintain it now react to it?

Dystopias take some work to do. Good dystopias are just about as difficult as building Utopias.

Go Build The Worst

Hopefully that’ll help you in creating lousy and horrible worlds for your characters/players.

I think having seen so many bad/dervitive utopias, readers and gamers and such want something that’s really good. Applying good world building to Dystopias makes you a good world builder – and gives people something they’ll appreciate.

Even when it’s awful.

On purpose.

– Steven Savage

Posted on by Mr. Steven Savage

Here’s my updates!

  • We have a first submission to review for The Codex at Seventh Sanctum.  Yep, you may have another columnist soon!
  • I haven’t started the next generator as formatting my next book took awhile – and I’ve been very busy with work and other things.  So I may not pick it up for awhile longer.
  • Crossroads Alpha added a new alliance member, Psycho Drive In!  Check it out!
  • Debating starting that mailing list idea – still not sure if that’ll really get people what they want socially.  At the same time, it may be fun.  That’s probably for later as well.

Yeah, as you can tell post-holiday?  Kinda crazy for me.

– Steven Savage

Posted on by Mr. Steven Savage

Whew, last update on Crossroads Alpha here.  Busy week.

So I’ve been explaining how the different members of the Crossroads Alpha site alliance work together.  The final one in our list is another one I run, MuseHack.

MuseHack has a long and slightly weird history.  It was originally an idea for a book on people going fan to pro.  Then it became a site called Fan To Pro, which inspired my book Fan To Pro.  Then we realized we should broaden it out to cover more applied geekery – with a big focus on jobs and such but also community building, skill development, and so on.  So then it became MuseHack.

MuseHack focuses on using your hobbies, obsessions, and geekdom.  There’s a career column, a column on geek citizenship, a weekly examination of media adaptions and remakes, interviews, and more.  We’ve also got about five years of content from news, to writing columns, to predictions.  I even rerun Way With Worlds there.

With the Alliance, MuseHack provides our “applied” pillar, especially for careers.  For Sanctumites it’s a place to go and get – or contribute – professional advice or advice on ways to use hobbies.  For MuseHack it provides readers a place to go that’s fun and creative – Seventh Sanctum.  A pretty good pairing.

So that’s the roundup of Crossroads Alpha.  Well, until we add more sites . . .

– Steven Savage

Seventh Sanctum™, the page of random generators.

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