Neal Shusterman

Episode 26

Neal Shusterman

Here, Extrapolated: Neal Shusterman on the Art of World-Building

author neal shusterman
Masthead Waves

About this episode

Neal Shusterman is best known for his "Unwind Dystology" series, his Prinz winning "Scythe" trilogy, and "Challenger Deep," which won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature in 2015. In this episode, he shares how getting immersed in his favorite fictional worlds inspired him to create some of his own, he’ll talk about how and why he prioritizes characters to enhance immersion, and how seriously he takes sticking to the rules of his world.


"I think it comes down to caring about character. When you care about the characters, you care about the world they live in." - Neal Shusterman


When Neal Shusterman was in college, he was told to stop building worlds and start building characters. He listened. And from then on, his worlds became more magical and deeper than ever before. As he says, when you care about characters, you care about the world they live in.

Neal’s career has revolved around incredible and fantastical lands of his own creation. In these worlds, he builds rules and structures that he sticks to rigidly, even if that means following a story arc he had no intention of writing to begin with (he tells us that story in the episode). 

Getting immersed in settings unlike (and alike) our own provides crucial lessons about perspective. This outside perspective allows us to shed our preconceptions and witness characters and events in a way we would be unable to otherwise. It’s an incredibly impactful storytelling style for young readers just learning these skills, and Neal is a master at it.

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For his reading challenge, "The Nature of Consciousness," Neal wants to send us into various fictional worlds to challenge our perception of a prevailing debate in our own world: A.I.
You can find his list and all past reading challenges at
This episode’s Beanstack Featured Librarian is Danielle Masterson, assistant director at the Wilmington Public Library in Massachusetts. Danielle shares some wisdom to settle the debate of what qualifies as “reading”.

  • Chapter 1 - The Trouble with Star Trek Blueprints (2:11)
  • Chapter 2 - The Jaws of (Neal’s) Life (9:02)
  • Chapter 3 - Desktop Quotes (10:32)
  • Chapter 4 - Stories From the Cabin (15:14)
  • Chapter 5 - No Characters, No World (18:02)
  • Chapter 6 - A Sense of Hope (24:10)
  • Chapter 7 - The Power of a Teacher (27:12)
  • Chapter 8 - The Nature of Consciousness (30:30)
  • Chapter 9 - Beanstack Featured Librarian (31:23)

Author Reading Challenge

Download the free reading challenge worksheet, or view the challenge materials on our helpdesk.

zoobean_podcast_challenge_2023_NealShusterman_Worksheet P1.   zoobean_podcast_challenge_2023_NealShusterman_Worksheet P2



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