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Building Cultures

So, I did write a post about building nations and culture some time ago, but my plan has changed. Initially, I was going to write a series of articles about it, but I think, given that Tumblr doesn’t really have a ‘series link’ as such, I’ll compile it all into one.

In this article you’ll find advice on:

  • Building the Physical World

  • Growing Culture

    • Resources

    • Religion

    • Architecture

    • Society

    • Leadership

    • Cultural Identity

  • Cultural Relations

And I think that should cover everything you might need to build a convincing culture. Some of you might not want to use every step, some of you might. This is one of those things that people will always do differently; some people like to spend a lot of time figuring out a nation and its cultural associations, others like to glance over it and fill the rest in later. I land somewhere in the middle. Generally speaking, people who follow the former pattern have excellent internal logic (I’ll get to it, in one post or another) but can struggle when it comes to the writing part, because if something, somewhere, doesn’t quite work properly, it has a knock-on effect on every single detail they’ve crafted. The latter can sometimes lose out on internal logic, and therefore audience trust, but allow for more story flexibility.

I find the middle of the road to be the most effective. I give myself enough structure to be able to maintain a good level of internal logic (it can always be touched up in edits) whilst leaving enough out of it to enable flexibility. The thing is, unless you’re going to use it somewhere, extreme detail simply isn’t necessary. If you can establish that you know the culture well enough to be able to conjure out a logical step for it, then there’s really no need to mention every last year of its history. Equally, there’s always the Tell You Everything trap; the likelihood is, if you’ve worked that hard on it, you’re going to want to mention every last coup and every last battle. You’ll get bored readers. Fast.



That said, let’s get started.



1. Building the Physical World

I always begin by drawing a map. Let’s not get too carried away with panic; I’m not talking about spending hours detailing a Tolkien-esque piece of art. I’m talking about a basic outline doodled on whatever I have to hand. I know some people prefer not to touch their maps until later, but from my perspective, there’s nothing more important to the beginning of your world building. You can’t build a culture that makes complete sense without understanding their backdrop, because you’re not going to manage to understand why they’ve become what they have.



Then, make some choices:



Size and Shape

This is one of the defining characteristics of where we live. I live on a small island, so historically, my people are skilled sailors and the harsh coastlines have made invasions a challenge for other cultures. If you have anything along those lines that already define the cultures in your head, be sure that you make their homeland relevant to their advantages and disadvantages. The shape and biome of your nation will also influence such things as population and resource availability, which will in turn have a knock-on effect when it comes to wealth, social order and defensive capacity.



Shape



Islands:

Archipelago: A cluster or chain of islands in a sea or ocean.

Atoll: Full or partial rings of coral over-top an underwater volcanic cone, forming an island.



Continental Features:

Continent: A very large landmass (sometimes subdivided; e.g. Eurasia is often divided into Europe and Asia despite being part of the same continent).

Bay: A partially enclosed body of seawater with open access to the sea or ocean.

Gulf: A partially enclosed body of seawater with open access to the sea or ocean that is substantially larger than a bay.

Cape: A pointed stretch of land (sometimes curved) that protrudes from the side of a larger land mass.

Estuary: The point where the river meets the sea.

Isthmus: A narrow stretch of land connecting two larger bodies.

Peninsula: A body of land surrounded by water on three sides.

Plateau: An area of highland consisting of primarily flat terrain.



Biomes



Boreal Forest/Taiga: Comprises of coniferous forests (evergreens; pines, spruces, larches, etc.).

Tundra: A biome where low temperatures and short growth-enabling seasons stunt the development of trees.

Arctic Tundra: Northern tundra where the ground is permafrost and unable to sustain much life. Often boggy or marshy during the summer months due to the melting of the upper layers of frost in the soil.

Antarctic Tundra: Southern tundra mostly comprised of ice plains and a few rocky areas where the soil is able to support mosses and lichens.

Alpine Tundra: The tundra that occurs above certain altitudes, typically on mountain peaks. The soil supports grass and dwarf shrubs but no trees.

Steppe: High altitude grassland and shrubland, lacking trees except near lakes (climate will affect soil and growth).

Temperate Forest: Your typical Northern American/European forest, sporting oaks and broadleaf trees.

Tropical and Subtropical Forests: Evergreen rainforests or flooded tropical forests, like the Amazon.

Mediterranean: Includes a diverse variety of sub-biomes, such as forests, shrubland, grassland and savannas.

Desert: A very dry expanse of land that sustains very little plantlife due to limited or non-existent water supplies. They can either be very hot or very cold (cold deserts are called polar deserts).

Plains: Vast expanses of mostly flat grassland.



Size

The size of a nation’s territory is a powerful and defining aspect of their motives and goals. It also influences how they go about acquiring what they want and need. A nation with a small territory is likely to have fewer people in it, which will mean a smaller army, but also fewer mouths to feed. They will need to either make alliances or develop a method of acquiring territory through other means (trade and accumulating wealth is one such method, so is religious conversion). If a small nation develops a sudden population boom, its drive to find more resources will grow alongside it.

By contrast, large nations are more expensive to run but have greater resources at their command (this includes population as a resource).

The size of a nation does not necessarily denote its power. Power comes in many forms and can be acquired in a myriad of ways. I’ll go into that further on.





2. Growing Culture

I’ve called this section ‘growing culture’ because that’s exactly what you’re about to do. You just spent quite a bit of time understanding the physical aspects of the landmass this culture lives on; you might as well have been filling a plant pot with soil. I made such a point of the last section because it’s good fertiliser for your fledgeling culture. It makes this stage much easier and firmer, and you can rely on it when you’re not sure where to go next. Speaking thus, where are we going next?

2.1. Resources

Different biomes have different natural resources that are available to us. I’m going to list some of them, but you may have to do a little bit of research for yourself in order to have a good idea of what natural resources your people would have available to them. This also depends on technology level, since oil, some minerals and solar energy are more advanced forms of natural resource. I’m going to focus on resources that require much earlier technology, because those are the resources that initially shape a culture – advances in technology change societies, so I think it’s important to understand the basics before we take great leaps of change.

Forests

Forests have one obvious natural resource; lumber. Lumber is extremely useful for your society, since it provides fuel, building materials and eventually, paper. Forests are also rich in wildlife, providing a source of food, livestock and domesticated animals (wolves/dogs, horses, etc.). Stone deposits are also fairly common in forests, so you might have a small quarry or two littered around. If you’re considering a rare resource like marble, the majority of marble deposits have been found in the Northern Hemisphere of our world.

The climate of the forest will affect the types of plantlife and wildlife within it. The universal rule of settlements is that they have a significantly higher chance of survival if they’re located near a source of fresh water. This can be a river, stream or spring, but in flatland forests, you’re more likely to come across the first two, and in mountainous forests, the last one. Lakes and ponds are fairly common in low-lying forests. 

Plains

Open plains have a limited amount of lumber and you’ll likely be looking at homes built out of mud, animal dung or hides. Plains provide a great deal of agricultural opportunity and the wildlife is potentially very useful for domestication. Wild horses are more likely to be found in areas of grassland where copses are available for shelter. This is also a great landscape for both livestock and arable farming. Broad rivers and lakes are the most common form of freshwater to be found in plains.

That’s certainly not an extensive list, because I could be here all day going into the different resources offered by various locations and biomes. What you need to do is that magical thing called research. Find out what would be available and create a list divided into two uses; practical and luxury. You’ll find that makes the next few steps easier.

2.2. Religion

This is a section that could take all day, but I’m going to try to shorten it down. Historically, faith in one absolute God was comparatively rare in the early days. It certainly existed, but the more common beliefs were polytheistic.

A Pantheon of gods would have been created out of several things that your early people were in need of. The basic human needs of food, shelter and sex would have made up a large part of what they wanted from gods.

But why come up with them in the first place?

Some people believe that there were gods and some people believe that man made gods. Whatever system you’re going to use, you need to understand a few key things about early life and the mentality of humans when the idea of gods was first born (whether it came from men or gods themselves).

Fear is a large part of what fuels belief in any kind of theism. The further back in history you go, the more frightening and misunderstood the world becomes for people. The early humans didn’t have history books to tell them what had happened in the world before them, and they didn’t have vast amounts of science to help them to explain odd things. A good example of this is the research currently being done into Stonehenge.

If you ever visit Stonehenge, you might notice that nearby (currently in a field of sheep), there are two precisely straight lines scoured into the ground that lead to Stonehenge itself. It’s now believed that those straight lines came from glacial ice left over from the Ice Age, which left indentations when it melted. We can work such things out for ourselves now, but imagine yourself as a neolithic man whose understanding of nature is that straight lines simply don’t exist. Clearly, if straight lines are embedded so deeply into the earth, some mighty being must have put them there. Add to this that those straight lines happen to point directly at the sun, and that’s just too much of a coincidence. Thus, a greater power must have put them there, and this place in itself must be a place of great significance.

Such is the mentality of a culture that has much to fear and little scientific understanding of the world. Before science, everything was an act of God, and before God, the wrath and whims of the Pantheon.

If you take an in-depth look at Pantheons themselves, you’ll quickly realise that each god had their own purpose. They embodied an idea. If one wanted to be successful in war, one would pray to Mars. If one wanted luck in the hunt, one would pray to Diana. There was a god or goddess for nearly everything by the time the Pantheons were done extending themselves. In a world as brutal as that of the ancients, that’s not at all surprising. We pray when we need something, and the ideas of sacrifice are about offering the gods something in return.

So, how do we go about creating a religion for our people?

Firstly, you need to decide what kind of theism is realistic for them. The majority of early faith systems were polytheistic, and through a system of either cults to one god or gradual change in perspective in the people, moved into monotheism. Whether this is something that all humans would do outside of our world is questionable, so you need to decide how the pattern of religion occurs in your world. You need to decide whether the god(s) exist in themselves or whether man has created them out of fear and need, but in either case, you need to understand the difference between deity (God, Allah, Mars, Zeus, etc.) and what man does with deity. We have always abused deity and faith in order to acquire power. So, before we go any further with that, let’s look at the different kinds of theism and what you need to consider if you’ve chosen that form.

Polytheism

Polytheism is a belief system that follows multiple gods and goddesses organised into a Pantheon structure. Each god/dess typically has their own rituals and religions. A believer does not necessarily worship each god equally and may be ‘henotheistic’, which is to say that they would specialise in the belief in one of the gods in the Pantheon. Alternatively, polytheism can take the form of kathenotheism, which is the worship of different gods at different times (e.g. a god of a particular season).

God/desses in a Pantheon typically have their own personalities, histories, specialties and powers. In that respect, they can be considered to be more like mortal humans than other gods. They are often thought to have relationships and rivalries. Belief and worship are two different things in polytheism; one can believe in the entire Pantheon but selectively worship individual gods.

The gods of a Pantheon are usually divided by their powers and specialties. It doesn’t much matter whether you’ve decided to approach this form of theism from the perspective of real gods or created gods, you need to decide what each god/dess represents. The wise way to do this is to look at the resources and biome the people live in and the threats that are posed to them by their natural environment. You need to consider what their fears would be and what they have and lack; a society living in tundra might focus heavily on gods of the hearth and warmth, whilst a society in the desert would want help from gods of water and plenty. Either way, whether the gods are real or not, their worship relies on them being useful to the people who believe in them, so you need to make sure that they have a distinct purpose.

The aid of polytheistic deities is usually a matter of barter. The idea of moral gods who are invested in humanity very rarely applies in this particular faith system; the gods will not give things based on how good a person you are, but what you’re willing to give them or do for them in return for their help. There is almost always a cost. Sometimes that cost is sacrifice, sometimes that cost is penance, sometimes that cost is everlasting fealty and servitude. It depends on the god/dess, their personality and what they want to get out of the mortals who need them.

In this sense, a Pantheon needs to be full of characters who are as solid as your mortal characters. You need to address the same questions and ensure that they have their own identities and motivation.

Pantheism

Pantheism is the idea of an all-encompassing god; the idea that God is in everything and is not an anthropomorphic being. God is therefore the unity of all substance.

If you’re going to approach this particular brand of theism, you’re looking at a society that reveres their surroundings and has a more philosophical idea of faith than an absolute, religious bend. This religion would give their culture a very structured and stable core, a deep contrast to the potentially warring factions of a Pantheon/polytheistic approach. The promotion of unity in this belief system is a fairly advanced idea, but it does have potentially limiting effects on the believers. For example, if one is supposed to revere nature as part of God, expansion and extensive building might well be considered a violation of God’s being.

Monotheism

The belief in one God or the oneness of God. Monotheistic faith systems are often the most abused form, because in polytheism, the god/dess’ personality and preferences don’t allow for deviation from their designs (and appealing to their desires would be one of the only ways to draw their attention and help). In monotheism, the idea of the absolute God often alienates the deity from mortals and divides the celestial plane from the mortal. Whilst this distinction does occur in some branches of polytheism, it is more pronounced in monotheism. God becomes untouchable and will judge by thoughts and actions. The omnipresent, omniscient and anthropomorphic deity must be conveyed by man; and that’s where things get hairy.

Monotheistic religions are more likely to start wars and create secular mindsets than polytheistic religions. That’s because there is no division between belief and worship. In a polytheistic system, the adoption of the belief in other gods from other places is not fantastical. The belief in other gods does not mean that those other gods must be worshipped, therefore providing less friction than a system that asserts that its way is the only way, and that belief is synonymous with worship.

This is the faith system that requires a great deal of consideration into what God is/thinks/wants/demands (if God actually exists in your world) and what mortals are/think/want/demand. The two are almost always very different. Religion is power, and mortals have always enjoyed power, it makes life a little more comfortable when one’s minions will do whatever we want them to do. So, you need to concentrate heavily on how God’s word might have been perverted by humanity and what that perversion means for your culture; has it fractured into sects? Has it become very tightly controlled? Is it under the whim of the priesthood? Is it able to see past human lies and understand the word of God directly?

This certainly isn’t an exhaustive list of all of the religious options available to you, but they are the three most common aspects of human faith and how we choose to express our beliefs. You’re free to explore other options and come to your own decisions about what your people do about their fear of the world. You’re also free to claim that your people don’t have a faith system and have rejected all ideas of gods entirely.

The important thing to consider at this stage isn’t really what system they follow, it’s what that system will do to the culture of the people. Religion makes up a large percentage of our culture and how it has evolved, not to mention how history has changed us and our society, and that’s why I’ve addressed it so early on. It might not seem so important to us now, with science progressing the way it is, but in younger cultures, the influence of religion would be absolute. You need to understand this aspect of your people in order to comprehend their view of the world and of other societies.

2.3. Architecture

Societies generally have three stages when it comes to the development of their architecture. Initially, we build out of what we can. That part is fairly easy when it comes to deciding the basic materials, because you should already have come up with the resources they have available. What they have access to will decide how they’re building their homes and communal buildings.

The second stage is where things become more difficult. This is the stage where architecture becomes more than the practical allocation of shelter and safety. The adoption of religious systems and a sense of community rather than just family will start to take hold in the minds of your people. They will begin to use architecture as a form of self-expression to form their ideas of beauty (which will be heavily influenced by what they want to gain, be it more resources or to be closer to their god[s]). This is where building things that have no practical use begins, which will include places of worship, monuments to great members of their community, stylised additions to existing structures (such as gargoyles or decoration) and newer, more aesthetically pleasing renditions of housing and communal living. This is the beginning of the adoption of a cultural identity.

The third stage generally comes out of relations with other societies. It’s the stage of power. This is the point where the understanding of the use of defensive structures comes into play, and it’s also the stage that reinforces the need for all buildings to represent the aesthetic characteristics of their culture. Bigger, more grand buildings enforce the idea that their culture is a powerful one with access to many resources and is in possession of highly skilled individuals. The power of religion and the gods is often a potent driving force, and so is the drive for expansion. Expansion means greater resources, which means greater power, which means dominance over other cultures. Settlements will expand, not only as the number of people inside them grows, but also as their need for more resources grows. Architecture becomes as much a declaration of power as it does identity.

So, how a place looks is very important. We make decisions about other cultures very quickly based on how their settlements look, and also by how big they are. We’re less likely to launch offensives on large cultures, because they’re better equipped to defend themselves. We also make decisions about their technology level and the ability of the people by their living situation. Our perception of people changes depending on what we’re looking at; mud huts give a very different impression to skyscrapers, and we automatically form judgements in our minds.

So, architecture. It’s resources + self-expression x technology, and then it multiplies itself as society’s experience of the world progresses. It’s an important part of culture, so make sure you’ve got it down pat.

2.4. Society

Society is about the relationship between people of the same geographical or cultural territories. These people share the same cultural expectations and authorities, and therefore become one unit. Society is the progression of community into organised structure.

So, then, the key to creating a society is to look at the last two words of that paragraph; organised structure.

This is where resources, religion and architecture combine. Resources define the available work and the tasks a community is committed to, for example farming, hunting or fishing. The beginnings of organisation are in the division of labour, so we can start by jotting down the jobs that would need to be done in order to turn a community into a society. These jobs will be based in the resources the world provides, and the importance of each resource (and its status as practical or luxury) will decide the social status of its attached job. The scarcity of a resource will also change how successful a job in that field would be. Resources and a person’s ability to craft them into something useful becomes their level of importance to the community as a whole.

Society, like architecture, goes through stages. The early stages are the development of social rules. Social rules are a combination of religious input and efficiency. Communities need several things in order to progress into greater states of being; continuity of their people, the skill/usefulness of their people and their ability to protect themselves from other people. In order to progress, a community must learn how to best implement themselves, and that means rules.

The continuity of the people is about breeding. A community must decide on an efficient way of reproducing. In the early days, this might have meant breeding as much as possible with as many people as possible, but in a community, this becomes a tricky issue. It moves into the skill of the people very quickly, and breeding becomes selective. In essence, community needs quality control in its breeding in order to become a society (because reproduction becomes the realm of cultural expectation, not just a basic need of the people). The belief is that if two intelligent, skilled people reproduce, their offspring are more likely to be intelligent and skilled. So, social rules develop around breeding, but these rules are entirely culturally dependent. For example, a community that lost half of its males in a fight with another culture might adopt the notion of men having multiple ‘wives’ in order to ensure that their numbers are replenished. If the opposite is the case and many women have been lost, efficiency becomes the women attempting to reproduce with males they perceive as being ‘quality’ and those who are less desirable might well lose out in the race to reproduce. That’s nature at work.

However, in a community where the numbers are fairly even and the developing cultural expectation is that success is power, the likelihood of the single pairing becomes more likely. The dominant families will begin to weave relationships with one another and create more dominant offspring. The structure of reproduction becomes more organised and ties between family units become stronger through knowledge of heritage and parentage. We begin to develop the idea of family identity, which in itself makes it more likely that we will follow social rules.

Those who have established themselves as dominant over others will inevitably make social rules that suit their dominance and are more likely to keep them in power. They will use their strength, skill and social ties to enforce social rules. Sometimes those social rules will be for the good of the community, and sometimes they’ll be for the good of the ruling class. That’s also highly dependent on the developing social identity; communities that have begun to compete within themselves are more likely to have social struggles for dominance, whilst those who compete externally with other societies are more likely to come up with social rules that benefit them as a whole.

Religion comes into play here because one of the cultural expectations is almost always ‘honour the gods’. The personalities and demands of the gods will help to form the social rules that are being created, because a society will wish to please the gods in order to become powerful and successful, and to be protected from the outside world. The construction of social rules based on the preferences of god(s) is a very common thing to happen to communities. It helps to keep things in order, because displeasing deities can mean horrible retribution (and not just for the person involved, but the entire community). The fear of god(s) often forms the very basis for how a community develops into a society.

So, how can you understand which rules your people should adopt? Firstly, consider their resources and their impact on community. Secondly, consider god(s) and how the community would respond to their threat and demands. Thirdly, using a combination of the last two points, come up with a list of desirable traits for the people inside the community and a list of undesirable traits. Fourthly, pinpoint the types of people (what skill set, religious devotion and usefulness) who are likely to become well-respected and powerful. Fifthly, decide what kind of rules those kinds of people would reinforce in their community.

That will give you a basis for the society you’re trying to create. You will have an understanding of their social structure, priorities, strengths and weaknesses, desires and fears. You’ll also have a ruling class from which to select your leadership, which conveniently, is addressed in the next section.

2.5. Leadership

Leaders rise because they’re perceived as powerful. Sometimes this takes the form of a monarchy, which is often accompanied by the idea that god(s) have placed the ruler there, and therefore they have been chosen. Hereditary rule is the most common form of power in the world, but there are so many different forms that it can be difficult to decide which one is the most appropriate for your culture.

Again, I’ll provide you with a few, but you’ll have to do some of your own research into what kind of leadership suits your people.

Monarchy

Monarchy is an idea we think we understand because we’ve seen so much of it, and therefore it tends to fall into the same stereotypes when we write about it. When we think of monarchy, we think purely of the hereditary rule of men. There are actually several different kinds of monarchy, and the rules are yours to play with. For example, in a matriarchal society, it may be that sons are not eligible to inherit the throne.

So, there are different types. The historically common form of monarchy, called ‘absolute monarchy’, is a form of autocracy. The monarch has very few, or no, restraints to their power. Conversely, like the surviving monarchies today, if the monarch’s power is heavily limited by another governing body such as Parliament, it is a constitutional monarchy. Hereditary rule follows the pattern of familial eligibility, whilst there is such a thing as an elective monarchy.

So, there’s a great deal you could do with monarchy. The goal is to be creative. The legal and religious rules surrounding a monarchy are yours to toy with and fit to suit your societies as you see fit.

Theocracy

A theocracy is a state that is ruled by god(s). The apparent leader is typically a mortal supposed to have a direct connection with the deity/deities (like Moses or Muhammad). The leadership essentially becomes a form of Prophet.

Another form of theocracy is more technical and involves the leaders of the Church/Temple/Whatever-else controlling power without claiming to have a direct link to god(s). This is called ecclesiocracy.

If you’re using polytheism for your society, this would be a difficult form of leadership to implement unless the god/dess themselves had appeared in physical form and taken control. That’s because of the difference between belief and worship in polytheistic religions; there isn’t enough absolute demand to worship certain gods, despite the belief in the Pantheon (whose chaotic personalities and demands would make for very confused leadership). It’s more appropriate for monotheistic forms of religion, where one unified deity can assert moral and religious rules.

Oligarchy

A form of leadership which relies on a small group of people to govern. This is often the case with several families banding together and using their combined dominance to ensure their power. This can be a hereditary role, but it isn’t set in stone. In essence, this is a small band of the privileged (either by wealth, skill, reputation or social standing) ruling their ‘lessers’ through combined force. This kind of leadership can become tyrannical or remain relatively peaceable (it isn’t unhead of for oligarchies to be formed of those people who are best equipped to lead well).

That’s just a few of the many different kinds of leadership available to you. You might want to invent your own, or tweak what you do find until it fits your society. The important thing is that your leadership comes naturally out of the structure of your society, otherwise the likelihood of that leadership existing at all is fairly slim. So, see what’s logical. Make your decisions based on the rationale your society is providing you with.

2.6. Cultural Identity

Cultural identity is the place where we basically wrap up everything in the last few sections. It’s made up of everything I’ve discussed; resources, religion, architecture, society and leadership. You should be able to combine these things into the way a collective people perceive the world and behave within it. When we look at cultures, all of these things bleed into one big idea of what a group of people are like.

Cultural identity is the last step in considering one culture as a whole. You’ve made the basic outline. You can fill in the rest with technology and advancements, but in order for you to be able to test them and change them, you’re going to need to make several other cultures that are both different and as logical as this one. No two cultures are the same, because we develop different things and are influenced by other cultures along the way. We have different skills, beliefs and experiences. This guide to building a culture only covers the very basics; if you want to go into some serious depth with your cultures, you’re talking about history and the real grit in their movement through time.

So, at this point, you should be able to ask the following of your culture:

  • What is their one genuinely positive trait? With nations, this is more about traits of the government, than the people (let’s face it, most of the time, we look at figureheads, not the big picture). Are they fair in trade? Do they support lesser nations? Do they hold power and refuse to abuse it? Are their laws honourable?

  • What are three of their negative traits?A habit of extorting city states? Oppressing the poor for the benefit of the rich? Becoming so focused on order that they forget the chaos of being human? Religious zeal? High crime rate owing to high taxes?

  • What is their goal?National goals aren’t much different to human goals, but bear in mind that their goal needs to come out of some kind of deficiency or reliance. An Empire focused on annexation and conquering must have a strong military to keep its toadies in place; its goal has to be the maintenance and furtherance of power in order to keep its resources. A Kingdom that struggles economically must build some kind of resource that’s valuable to others, in order to gain money and flourish. A national goal is more often than not born out of strife and lack.

  • What is their motivation?You’ll no doubt find this in the reason for their above goal - expansion, economical security, maintained independence, and so on.

  • How do they look?This is split into two halves; firstly, what the architecture looks like, and secondly, what the people look like. Think about national colours, too, they tend to make identifying nations, especially on the battlefield, easier. Architecture is fairly simple, but keep in mind the available resources of the nation and whether it could realistically afford marble columns, or whether a mud hut is more appropriate. The native people of the nation will likely have similar physical traits, since they live in the same environment. A hot country will produce tanned skin in Caucasians, and those with a shortage of food are likely to be smaller and less well-built. Think about what their resources and climate would influence.

  • What is their demeanour like? National stereotypes are everywhere we look. If I told you that I drink tea, have imperfect teeth, a dry sense of humour and tend to keep a stiff upper lip, you’d probably identify me as English within the first two. Pick some out that make sense. I like tea because it tastes nice, but also because it’s been sold to me as a problem-solver since I was a child - have a cuppa tea and things seem better. My teeth aren’t perfect because having a set of pearly white gnashers isn’t really valued unless you want to be on TV. There are expectations in every culture that affect demeanour; militaristic states will produce militaristic people, liberal states will produce more artists and free-thinkers. It’s all about how the nation is run that will give you culture - and bear in mind that if the system changes, so will the culture, over time. Just look at how Germany changed when the Nazis came to power, and you’ll have a grand example.

3. Cultural Relations

Cultural Relations begins where the above left off. You need to start by asking questions of the cultures you’ve built.

  • How does their motivation affect how they will try to achieve their goal? With nations, this is much more a matter of desperation, religion or prejudice. Sometimes anger, too, I’m sure we can all think of an event that made America mad with the Middle East. How nations do things has an effect on how other nations respond - diplomacy will be met one way, and warlike behaviour, another. It’s important to bear in mind that the motivation changes how they approach their goal, and specifically, others who get in the way of their goal.

  • How do their positive and negative traits influence how they react to other nations/cultures? Much like the above, simply with a bit more detail - countries obsessed with order will try to enforce that order on other nations in order to make it into something they can relate to and understand. That’s the essence of these flaws; they’re the way the nation relates to the world around it, but are usually the catalyst for misunderstanding and ill-feeling.

And that is essentially, it. That’s what you need to understand about how your cultures will relate to one another. This is where cultures begin to change and develop, where their social rules bend and the power of their identity comes under scrutiny and question. What you might have thought was a fairly flat process up until now should begin moving, and you should start to see the fruits of your efforts.

It’s important to remember that cultures develop different focuses. Some will become bent on converting the world to their religion, others will want to make themselves fat on the wealth of trade and others will want to take up their swords and burn down everything that isn’t theirs. All of that should come out of what you’ve already established.

This is also a really easy way to approach history. Once you have all of this information, it’s a matter of sitting back and watching as societies try to expand into nations and collide with others, how conflict and war change them, how building allegiances bolsters them and makes them stronger. History should be as natural and unforced as your actual project, so follow the pattern of what you’ve already set up. Trust it and soon enough, you should be on the way to forming a full, rich world with its own internal logic. That’ll be enough to feel real to your reader, and that’s half of the challenge over with.

Good luck and keep going.

- LSG


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