5 World Building Tips (Vol 3, #11): Cultures
Here are today’s world building tips! The theme is cultures. You can read more in Chapter 5, “Creating Cultures,” from Cultures and Beyond, (The Art of World Building, #3).
Tip #1: “Determine Cultural Vision”
Have an overall vision so that we avoid creating manifestations of culture that clash with each other. An obvious example is elves acting refined at dinner but acting like savages when making love. Invent a vision (which springs from values) that guides our invention of culture, so incongruity doesn’t spring up unless we want it to.
Tip #2: “Race as Culture”
A frequent complaint is when a fictitious race has a mono-culture – every society in that race is identical. The difficulty of creating cultures likely causes this oversight. Don’t make all elves the same regardless of where they live or the social class to which they belong. It’s not realistic – and yes, people do complain about it.
Tip #3: “Create Culture You Can Use”
Some aspects of culture are far more useful to us and should be our focus. This includes greetings, meal etiquette, phrases, rituals, and daily life routines. Other items like songs, clothing, and architecture styles are less helpful because readers won’t see them (less true in visual mediums).
Tip #4: “Alter Earth Expressions”
We can leverage anything from Earth, but changing our expressions is a quick way to make people seem like they’re from somewhere else. “What the hell” becomes “What in Tartarus” for example. Make a list of things you say and just invent alternate versions. It doesn’t take long, and the cumulative effect works.
Tip #5: “Alter Daily Routines”
Creating a daily life schedule that differs from Earth is a fast way to make a place seem different. Be sure to use climate as part of this. People in cold places may venture out in midday when it’s warmest, while those in hot/humid places might say indoors for a siesta. Having a sense of location helps with regional variations on culture.
Summary of Chapter 1—Creating Cultures
This chapter discusses the differences between a culture and a custom, and that morals, values, and beliefs underlie cultural aspects. A cultural vision should be based on these and inform all decisions subsequently made. World builders can determine the scope of an invented culture, as some are regional, or throughout a sovereign power. Cultural depictions have visible, audible, and performance aspects that can be defined. These include body issues such as body language, hair styles, gestures, clothing, and more. Greetings and farewells should be defined because characters will use them. Similarly, swear words, slang, expressions, and colloquialisms can be created to characterize interactions. The daily life of a culture is depicted in dining, bathing, sleeping, employment, and transportation rituals and behaviors, while pastimes, holidays and more create a respite. Even architecture can be influenced by culture.