World-Builder’s Anonymous – Join the Culture Club – Part I

Posted: May 2, 2019 in The Writing Process, World Building
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World-building – yes, we’re still on that subject. This is the World-builders Anonymous. If you’re just tuning in, check them out from the first post HERE.

Tackling Culture.

Alright, not so much “tackling” as “touching on”. Like trying to drink the lake through a straw. Pucker up, and hope you don’t get a mouthful of fetid water. And it’s much, much deeper than you think.

In many stories, culture is HUGELY important. Even if your characters don’t go up against it directly, the culture in which they are brought up is going to influence just about everything they do, be it in protection/defense of their culture, or in spite of, or even against.

Let’s dive in, shall we?

Imagine a character brought up in a safe, secure mansion whose practical world experience doesn’t go beyond the opulent, manicured courtyard of the home. His careful parents, mindful of their wonderful child, have sequestered him in their luxurious home and shower him with gifts and tutors and just about anything tangible he could want. His only other means of travel is through books. A character could remain there and be happy in that environment, only there’s no conflict in it, and the culture of security/luxury/protection is window-dressing to some other conflict presented in a story. Or it’s just a damn boring story where nothing happens (and yes, there are too many of those out there).

OR…

This kid could have it all but still feel like he’s missing out. He wants to travel, to see the real world (or at least what he thinks is the real world) through his own eyes, as he’s tired of all the servants following him around making him learn math and science and take baths. That’s creating all kinds of conflict, as he’s at odds with the culture he knows, and seeks to escape it somehow.

There’s also a place for a good-culture-threatened. Say we take the first character that has their world of security and opulence and is suddenly wrenched from it, or it’s destroyed outright. They’re going to fight to get it back. They might be turned into a slave, or have inherited debt and now can’t just live in their accustomed culture but work for it, which is a new thing.

In both cases, the culture creates a workable conflict for stories.

The great news is that culture doesn’t have to be developed deeply for it to be useful in your world-building and in the creation of conflicts. After all, how many of us can describe in detail our own cultures? Yet we still live in them, or in spite of them.

Let’s say you really don’t have anything else planned just yet, no characters, no language. Culture is an easy one to start with. Why? Because it’s really based on a concept of values and/or fears.

So you ask yourself: what three things (physical/concrete things or concepts) does your culture value/fear the most? Note: this is not generally what the character values most. We’ll get to that.

In the example above, I used SAFETY/SECURITY, LUXURY, CHILDREN.

In this culture, since Safety/Security is important to them (and we will expand “them” to mean the whole society, not this one family, for the sake of the example) and so they will have spent resources to develop a place for themselves that is safe and secure. Possibly by means of an efficient, large security force, either a military or police (depending on where/who they perceive the most threat is coming from). They may even have very restrictive laws, if the idea of “liberty” isn’t very high in their value system, which is doesn’t seem to be considering how sequestered they keep their child. They live in luxury, which could mean that they were either producing something of extreme value, were shrewd traders or they used that military/police force to seize the resources of others to fuel their lifestyles. And their children are kept behind closed doors, in protected spaces, given anything they want (generally not a good thing, the kind of treatment that turns kids into entitled snowflake monsters).

This could end up being a very dystopian culture, and definitely one where the kid not only dreams of getting out, but of finding a way to change it or escape from it to go where he wants to go and do what he wants to do. And you can see on each level what kind of fight he’s going to have – his parents, for one, who’ve “sacrificed” for him. The society itself, which strains to protect children, especially from themselves.

Whew! That’s a lot of ground already covered and I haven’t even started. But to get you started, try to come up with those three concepts and you can start building around that. Next week, we’ll take those three concepts and build something else that may be vital for your world: a pantheon.

So, tell me below what you came up with for your concepts and the conflicts you can build.

 

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  1. […] World-Builder’s Anonymous – Join the Culture Club – Part I […]

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