Posts Tagged ‘culture’

If you’re just joining me, you should know that I started blogging about my quick-starter world-building process a few weeks ago. You can go back and start here. Or, if you just wanted to read about the culture aspect, start here.

Like I stated above, we went over a quick and dirty culture build, starting with the building blocks: values/fears.

Once you’ve established that, this next step is pretty simple.

Let’s say you wanted your world to have a pantheon, or gods/spirits to worship.

Where would they look for them? In their values and fears.

A deity or deities can arise from each of the values, or one can encompass all of them. A single deity can be dichotomous – instilling values and fears.

Let’s look at the Romans: They valued many, many things, of course, and had dozens if not hundreds of deities of lesser or greater status, but for the sake of this article I am going to point out only a few.

The Romans possessed the greatest military force of its time. Ask any Roman in his day, and he might add that their avid worship of Mars (where we get the term “martial” of course) had as much to do with their prowess as did their physical conditioning, discipline and tactics. In any martial society, a way to replenish the population was absolutely necessary, so they venerated several deities presiding over different aspects (fertility, virility, pregnancy, sex, conception…). Feeding a population was also of utmost importance, so any deity related to the fertility of the land (Ceres as one of them, and she also held ground over life and death and rebirth of nature, and sacred law, and… you get it).

Fears can be leveraged in your culture, especially by people who are cunning enough to trick the people into thinking that whatever it is that they fear can be avoided, such as with sacrifices of people and treasures.

What if you don’t want supernatural beings acknowledged at all? How about that?

There are cultures that venerate or vilify actual historical figures (sometimes even alongside supernatural beings, imagine that! Ha!) Think of America’s Founding Fathers – George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams, Paul Revere among others – who embodied values of strength, resilience, and the idea that men should be free. There’s the opposite, those who are infamous like Adolf Hitler or Josef Stalin. But there could be a smaller villain in your culture, something like:

“Now you young’uns, don’t you go traipsing off up to that old cabin at wood edge yonder. That there’s the gateway on to Hell itself, old Shakey Jake butchering them youngfolk gone creeping up there and putting his curse on all round it. That’s why nothing grows in fifty paces all around. And it don’t matter he’s been dead for nigh on a century – if’n he’s done sold his soul so’s he can walk the earth again.”

You get the idea.

Sometimes you can even reach a serendipity – where you have a value that some venerate and others vilify (like Hitler who was adored by some seriously misguided people), and this is beyond awesome for you as a writer, because it means that there’s conflict! Conflict is at the heart of every story, and if you can build that into your very culture, then you can easily insert it into your characters’ lives and give them somewhere to “go” in the story’s arc.

So, what kind of values did you come up with, and how are you using them?

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.