World Building III – The Cultures

So I realized on Saturday, around 9 pm, that I’d forgotten something.

A blog post.

Yeah, I totally spaced. I’m sorry guys. In my defense, I just dropped out of school, that was my first week at home, and I was trying to get everything organized. Anways, on to the post.

As promised, this topic focuses more on sentient creatures (Using my definition of sentient. Refer to this post.) and their cultures. Because, really, you can’t have a new species without developing a culture. Most people think of world building as the actual planet, and then the creatures on it. But the third layer, the one that will give your world a fully developed polish.

Why do I even need to work on cultures? I’m not writing a history book, I’m writing a novel! Well, here’s the thing. Culture dictates how your characters will behave, what they will value, and how they interact with people. What I’m basically saying is that it affects everything your characters do. How? Okay, lets say the culture your MC (main character) lives in values money and status. Either your MC will believe this or not. If they do believe it, then they’ll always be trying to earn more money (That’s a plot right there. How far will they go to get money?) or they can have a lovely little character arc where they learn there are more important things in life than money. If they don’t believe in the same values as their culture, what happens? Are they looked down on by their family and neighbors? Are they persecuted? Are they trying to bring about change? (There’s three plots right there. See how this works?)

Just knowing the base values of a culture can provide an abundance of rich plot and potential character growth. It also lends a touch of reality to your fantasy world. Yes, I just said that. Reality in a fantasy world. In the real world, there are hundreds of different cultures, and not just in different countries. Compare the northern states to the southern states. They have some pretty significant differences, more so in the past than now. Look at the Midwest compared to the coastal cities. They have massively different cultures! By having diverse cultures in your story, you make your world seem more believable. What are the chances that an entire planet has the exact same culture?

So, how do I create a culture? The first thing is, don’t copy a real culture. Seriously. What, I have to make everything from scratch? Did I say you had to make everything from scratch? No, no I didn’t. Just calm down and be quiet. While you shouldn’t copy from just one culture, you can pull from several. But keep in mind that these are supposed to blend into one culture, so picking radically different ideals won’t work. So do I just gather information aimlessly? No, you should focus primarily on aspects that will be viewed within the lens of your story. And because I’m nice, I have a list of important questions you should answer about your cultures.

  1. How do they look? What type of clothing and hairstyles do they have? What are their beauty standards?
  2. What’s their view on magic? (If you have it in your world.)
  3. What’s their view on marriage?
  4. What’s their view on abortion?
  5. What’s their view on slavery?
  6. What’s type of government do they have?
  7. How do they value the elderly and handicapped?
  8. Who or what do they worship?
  9. What’s their tolerance for other cultures/religions?
  10. How do the lower classes live and how are they viewed?
  11. What do people do for amusement?
  12. What’s their main export?
  13. What’s their view on war?
  14. What races live in this country? And how do they treat each other?
  15. What do people eat? We always associate food with culture.
  16. What are their family structures like?
  17. What happens to criminals/how are they treated?
  18. What does the average, middle class family look like?
  19. What’s their view on education?
  20. What’s their view on the arts? Do they have bards and poets all over, or do they think the arts are a waste of time?

Now, there are SO MANY other things you should know about your cultures, but these are some of the big ones. But understand this, just because you know all these things about your culture doesn’t mean your readers have to. I’m gonna say it again for the people in the back. JUST BECAUSE YOU KNOW ALL THESE THINGS ABOUT YOUR CULTURE DOESN’T MEAN YOUR READERS HAVE TO. I’m sure we’ve all come across that book that’s just an endless information dump. Bleeech. If you want to write a history or travel guide to your world, do it, but that’s not something most people will read. YOu have to incorporate these things subtly.

Instead of having: {Country} didn’t think caring for the elderly or handicapped was important.

Do something like this instead: {Name} walked down the street, ignoring the swarms of beggars, their aged faces or missing limbs eliciting no pity from Xer or any of the others on their way to work.

Yeah, yeah I know. It’s not peak literature. But you get the point, right? I didn’t flat out tell you that the culture doesn’t value those who can’t work, but I showed through the actions of MC and other characters.

I thought you were going to tell me more about creating sentient creatures? Yes, yes, I will.

You can create a sentient creature almost the same way you would any other creature. Just keep in mind what’s practical. If they’re supposed to be an advanced culture, oppasable thumbs might be important. Unless they have tentacles. The structure of your creature will affect their culture. If you have a fish-like creature, they’re probably going to like in watery areas. But hey, that’s just me. It’s your world, you could have them live in the middle of a dessert. But if they did live, let’s say, on the coast, fishing would probably be a large source of their food and exports. And then there’s the questions of traders. Do they sell fish to passing ship? Are they friendly to sailors? Or do they hate sailors because of how many of their people have been killed by them? Things are things you should know.

But that’s pretty much all you have to do when creating a sentient creature. Know what they look like, know what their culture is. There’s a lot of logical decisions you can make about their culture based off of their shape. You know, fishy people near water, tunneling creatures probably curate wealth through mining, people with very large, very sharp teeth are most likely carnivores and probably scare a lot of other species. You’re pretty smart, I think you get it.

And once you start building a culture, it’s so easy to keep adding little things as you go. Keeping a notebook where you collect all of this information is VERY helpful. (From the way I say this, you’d think I do it to but I don’t. No notebooks, we die like men.)

Something you may have picked up on in this post is how I keep pointing out how various cultural beliefs can lead to a plot. Well, guess what perki pargas, that’s our next, and last, post on world building.

The conflict. *insert evil laugh*

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