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50k Downloads!

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Jul 202020
 

badge imageThe Art of World Building Podcast has reached a new milestone: over 50,000 Downloads! By the end of this year, all episodes that are based on the series will have been released. I may start adding the audio of the webinars, with some editing, but we’ll see.

Thank you to all of my listeners!

Webinar Replay!

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Jul 152020
 

If you missed the first World Building Webinar, the replay is now live! Here’s what we covered, with time stamps to jump to the relevant parts:

YouTube Channel Launch

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Jul 152020
 

I’m excited to announce the launch of my YouTube channel for world building. The first video is the channel intro, which you can watch here. It talks about my experiences, endorsements, and is an overview of what you can expect from the channel’s videos.

Please subscribe to be notified of all releases. I need 100 subscribers before I can customize the channel URL for branding. I’d really appreciate your help. Comments on the videos and likes are also awesome!

What’s in the video:

Podcast Episode 27.4 – Creating Cultures

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Jul 142020
 

Episode 27.4: Learn How to Create Cultures

Listen as host Randy Ellefson discusses how to create a culture, including rituals, pastimes, daily life considerations, and more.

Listen, Subscribe, and Review this episode of The Art of World Building Podcast on iTunes, Podbean, Stitcher, or Google Play Music!

In This Episode You’ll Learn:
  • How to invent dining etiquette and meals
  • How to decide on bathing routines
  • What to consider for sleeping schedules
  • How to create transportation considerations
  • What rituals might exist and be useful
  • What sort of schedules to consider for anyone who works for a living and why this matters
Coda

Thanks so much for listening this week. Want to subscribe to The Art of World Building Podcast? Have some feedback you’d like to share? A review would be greatly appreciated!

Episode 27.4 Transcript
Intro

Hello and welcome to The Art of World Building Podcast, episode number twenty-seven. Today’s topic concludes our discussion about how to create cultures. This includes rituals, pastimes, daily life considerations, and more. This material and more is discussed in a chapter from Cultures and Beyond, volume three in The Art of World Building book series.

Do you want practical advice on how to build better worlds faster and have more fun doing it? The Art of World Building book series, website, blog, and podcast will make your worlds beat the competition. This is your host, Randy Ellefson, and I have 30 years of world building advice, tips, and tricks to share. Follow along now at artofworldbuilding.com.

Daily Life

Just a reminder that you can buy transcripts of these episodes, and the podcast episodes themselves, from artofworldbuilding.com or Amazon.

Daily life is one of the basics we should obviously pay attention to when building a world, but it seems like it gets overlooked a lot. One of the reasons for this might be that our characters are often off on some adventure somewhere and they aren’t really dealing with daily life. Even if that is the case for our characters, everyone they run into is going about their normal lives, for the most part. They are going to run into other adventurers, for lack of a better word, so those people are also not going about their daily life. But unless there is a major war going on where daily life has stopped for everyone, this is still something we should pay attention to.

Dining

But even those characters who are traveling around are going to deal with certain things. For example, dining. Everyone’s got to eat. Sooner or later, these characters are going to end up in a more formal setting, such as a tavern or eating with royalty rather than always eating at a campfire. There’s going to be an etiquette to these things, whether that is followed or not.

Certain parts of this are easy to come up with if we have our cultural vision. For example, to be stereotypical about it, a barbaric race is probably going to be a little more hearty about things, where they’re just very boisterous, loud and they dig right into food with their bare hands. On the other hand, we usually picture elves as being really refined and having these great manners. These might be the kind of people that have two forks — one for the salad and one for the main dish. Maybe even other ones for other things like dessert.

These are some of the easiest things to quickly decide on because one of them is going to strike us as the appropriate one for the culture we want to invent. The details are where it starts to get more fun. Let’s take a deeper look at this barbaric choice. What I really mean is a very hearty and boisterous culture. They may have meals at any time rather than at some sort of set time of the day, and they might even eat standing up or right after an animal was killed. They may not clean up beforehand, and will show up wearing whatever they happen to be wearing. There may be no table and no silverware. Dirty hands and mouths will just be wiped on whatever they happen to be wearing. If they want to let other people know that a meal is being had, maybe they aren’t saying anything at all because it’s on you to figure this out, or maybe they just give a holler once and that’s it. They’re not going to track you down. Belching, loud songs and stories might be common. If they need to relieve themselves, they may not have a bathroom and they may not go very far to do this. They may eat too much and they may not leave anything else for someone else to have if they’re not around.

None of this is particularly original. We have all probably seen this kind of depiction if we have watch fantasy shows. But let’s contrast this to the more refined approach that you might see with elves. Meals may be had at a specific time of the day, and if they change a little bit, maybe it’s by just a half an hour. People are probably told about these things in advance, and usually politely. If there’s going to be a guest, then we ask those people if they would like to join. It might be that no one is allowed to start eating until every guest has joined the table. The host might also provide choices for people. This could include deserts, side dishes or what to drink. The food may be presented well, and the people themselves will be presented well, having cleaned up. Naturally, there’s going to be all sorts of ornate silverware, china, crystal goblets and that sort of thing. If anyone belches, it’s by accident and they excuse themselves. Maybe no one ever takes the last of anything so that there’s always a little bit left over for someone else.

In between these two extremes are what we would typically experience in a modern culture like the ones that we live in. I don’t need to spell that out for most of you, but just to be clear, meals are roughly at the same time, but they’re casually announced. People are expected to wash up, but we often don’t. And we may show up wearing whatever clothes we were already wearing. And if it’s dirty, maybe we get a reaction, and maybe we don’t. There’s only one knife and fork per person, and you grab anything that you want yourself. People get up and leave when they need to.

These are three of the basic scenarios that we have. The more barbaric one, the refined one and then the in-between one.

A younger society is probably going to be a little rowdier, while an older one may be more refined. That’s a generalization, but that’s one way that you can make your decision. The point is that customs tend to build up and multiply in time rather than decrease, so things get more complicated and more refined. However, that is not to say that a very old and boisterous culture is going to be have a really refined dining etiquette or anything else. They could still be the same way after 10,000 years.

When we’re trying to come up with some dining etiquette, there are some questions we can ask ourselves. If you’re trying to invent a culture right now, think about what the answer to this would be for the culture you have in mind because it’s going to strike you as yes or no.

For example, can people invite themselves to dinner? Are impromptu guests accepted? Is there any expected attire, and what is it? When it comes to seating, does someone sit down first? Are the seats assigned or is it kind of random? Are the tables reserved? Does anyone do something before everyone starts to dine, like say a prayer? When it comes to serving, do people just help themselves or is there a certain person who gets served first or last? And is that based on gender, seniority or something like the guests? Maybe the host is served first. Is it okay to bring weapons to the table or is that forbidden?

Another area to think about is how many meals are typically consumed in a day. I remember watching The Lord of the Rings and one of the characters was complaining that they weren’t having second breakfast. On that note, you may have noticed that this is only mentioned once. The filmmakers did not repeatedly point this out. Is that an oversight or not? I would say that in a film it is not an oversight because if you keep reminding the audience, they’re going to wonder why you keep doing this. After all, a film is relatively short. However, in books, we may want to mention this again, or that the character is at least planning around it by grabbing extra food to take with them because they’re not going to get their second breakfast if they don’t.

Even if our readers don’t care about this, the fact is that the characters do and they’re going to be planning their day around this kind of stuff. When I take my kids out for a really long outing, I certainly bring snacks for them because I know I’m going to hear about it. Sometimes I buy lunch for myself and for them and bring it along with me so I don’t have to buy a really expensive lunch wherever we happen to be. We all do this kind of thing, but for some reason, fictional characters don’t. So, this can be an oversight. I just don’t think it is with films. With TV, yeah, it still can be an oversight because you have so many episodes where you can drop this kind of detail in everywhere. One smooth way to do that is to have your characters interrupt someone having their second breakfast, to use the Lord of the Rings example.

We may want to decide what sorts of foods are typically consumed at each meal. If you think about breakfast, lunch and dinner here, there are certain foods that come to mind. You really just need to decide on something similar for your setting. Cultural vision won’t help us here as much as the local setting of where this place actually is. In one place, it might be very different from another, based on the plants and animals that are traditionally available. This is a good way to distinguish different locations within your culture if that culture is very broad, such as an entire sovereign power that covers a wide geographic area.

Here in the United States, a simple example that immediately comes to mind is that certain types of foods are associated with Louisiana — specifically New Orleans. We can easily go overboard with this kind of thing, so just try to think of one or two dishes, or a style of dish, that is typical of local cuisine. This may be useful if we have a character who is from there and is craving that kind of thing when they are elsewhere. We don’t really have to make up these foods, either, because we can use anything from Earth and just give it a different name and no one’s going to know that we’re really talking about spaghetti and meatballs, for example. Well, that may not be a good example because it’s so basic. Swap out the noodles with a different kind, or maybe switch the meatballs to something else and there you go. Maybe change the sauce and say that it’s always a spicy dish because spaghetti and meatballs can be, but it is not always. This is starting to make me hungry. Maybe I shouldn’t be recording this around lunchtime.

Another thing to consider is that sometimes a big family dinner, or other meal, is associated with certain cultures. Naturally, a cultural vision where a lot of importance is placed on family togetherness is more likely to have this. Decide which meal of the day it is and whether this is every day or just certain days, like our Sunday. One way to decide is just to decide their viewpoint on these different meals and the days. Is starting breakfast on the beginning of the week important because it starts off the week on a good note? Or do people want to catch up at dinner every night to find out what happened during the day?

We may also want to consider how food is presented. Many of us have eaten at a Japanese restaurant where it is presented in a kind of minimal and very formal way. What I mean by minimal is that there’s not that much food on the plate. Other cultures may pile so much food on there that you wonder how you’re going to eat all of that. In movies, we often see Italians having their mothers, or someone else’s mother, insisting that they take extra food with them. What influences that may be a time in the history where food was not so plentiful. Or it could be a situation where larger women are considered very attractive, and therefore, that’s the kind of thing that people are pushing on you.

Lastly, we should also consider that there may be specific foods that are consumed at certain times, such as our Thanksgiving in the United States. When I looked into this, I was a little surprised that since the early 1970s, KFC is a traditional Christmas food in Japan. Why that is escapes me at the moment, but I certainly wasn’t expecting that. If we have invented plants and animals, we can decide that one of them, or several of them, are prepared a certain way, and this is a traditional meal that happens on important holidays. Once again, this doesn’t really take that long to invent, and we can almost do it arbitrarily and then just put this detail into a scene.

On that note, if we have not worked out our calendar and come up with some holidays, then we’re not going to know when our characters are traveling right through one, but our characters would if they were real and living in a real world. Have you ever traveled between Thanksgiving and Christmas in the United States and not realized that you were doing so? Probably not because the traffic is crazy and pretty much everyone plans around that.

More Resources

If you’re looking for more world building resources, Artofworldbuilding.com has most of what you need. This includes more podcasts like this one, and free transcripts if you’d prefer to read an episode.

You can also find more information on all three volumes of The Art of World Building series, which is available in eBook, print, and audiobook formats. Much of the content of those books is available on the website for free.

You can also join the mailing list at artofworldbuilding.com/newsletter. This gets you free, reusable templates from each published volume in the series. You don’t even need to buy the books to get these. I also send out contest information, free tips, and other stuff to help with your efforts. Please note I do not share your email address with anyone as that’s against my privacy policy, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

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Bathing

Another daily life subject is bathing and how often this is done. This is definitely something that we notice if we encounter someone from a culture where the bathing is noticeably different from ours, especially if it’s far more infrequent. If we ever get transported back in time, this is one of the first things that we’re going to notice. I might fare better than most of you because, for whatever reason, I do not have a pronounced sense of smell.

In a modest society, bathing is in private, but some cultures have people bathing together, whether this is coed or not. Now, when I say “bathing,” we typically mean using soap, but there are things like the Korean bathhouse where people are mostly soaking in water of various temperatures. We should decide how often the average person bathes. A society’s understanding of hygiene will impact this.

In science fiction, people usually have a better understanding, so they might bathe more often than our fantasy characters. Technology probably also makes this easier. And in fantasy, it’s more likely to be a bath than a shower, again due to technology. If people don’t wash up regularly, then something like perfumes might be all the rage because of the smell, of course. It’s also worth noting that wealthier people have more opportunities to bathe, and this is one thing that can help them be set off from other characters.

We should also consider that parents typically bathe their children, but we should decide at what age this typically stops. If self-reliance is important, this probably happens sooner. If having children is somewhat rare in this society, for whatever reason, then parents may treasure those children more, and dote on them more, and this might result in them bathing those children when they’re still older. Does one parent assume responsibility, and which one? Or do both of them do it? Does the parent join the child in the bath? Bath water is often shared, as well, even if people are taking a bath one at a time. So, someone gets to go first and have the hot water. Who is it? Is it the children? Is it the man? Is it the woman? Who takes precedence?

One of the ways we can use this kind of information in our storytelling is having our character react to a situation. Maybe they never got to have the hot bath, and now they do. Maybe they have always bathed alone since they were very young, and as a result, they are very modest and shy. This could not only affect that character, but all of the characters in this culture. Many of them might be like this. We may also decide what time of day do people bathe. Morning or night? It’s usually not during the midday, but if the climate is unusually hot there during the midday, maybe that is when people are bathing and visiting something like a Korean bathhouse. If the climate is always cold, then maybe people warm up with a hot bath first thing in the morning because the fire has died down overnight and they’ve gotten a little cold. On the other hand, maybe there’s something about the culture that has people outside after dinner very often, and as a result they get cold and take a hot bath before going to bed to warm up.

Sleeping

Speaking of sleep, that’s another subject we should figure out. Every culture could be known for something about their sleep habits. A race that needs little sleep might have an active nightlife. We can certainly invent a species that is nocturnal, so that they are up at night and sleeping during the day. This would have a pretty significant impact on their culture. We should consider whether married people sleep in the same bed or not. This is a custom in many places, but not everywhere. As with everything, this can lead to judgment. If you are from a place where a married couple shares the same bed, and you find out that another couple is sleeping in adjacent beds, or even in different rooms, you might assume that there is trouble in the marriage when there isn’t.

Do children sleep with their parents, and is that in the same room, the same bed or not? At what age do they stop doing this? Is it considered weird for a child to still be sleeping with their parents at a certain age? Some cultures associate the bed with sex, and as a result, children are not allowed to sleep with their parents past a certain age. If we have a culture that is kind of sex-obsessed like that, then this is something we may want to duplicate. Or is our society more forgiving and non-judgmental? Some cultures also have a siesta, which is basically a nap around midday, and this typically happens in cultures where it is very hot at that time of the day. The siesta could be preceded or followed by a bath. That brings up the idea of employment, which we will talk about next.

World Building University

If you’d like to learn world building skills through instruction, I’ve launched World Building University. There you can find one free course you can take just by signing up, which has no obligation. Other courses are in development and available now. You can preview parts of every course, all of which include video lessons, quizzes, assignments, and sometimes downloadable templates that are even better than those found in the books.

To get your first free course, just go to worldbuilding.university.

Jobs

Most people need a job, and our characters still need money even if they are no longer working because they’re out living the adventuring life. So, part of what this means is that they used to have a job, most likely, and they are no longer doing that. Despite this, they will still be well aware of the workweek that used to dominate their lives, and is probably still dominating the life of every character that they run across, except for other adventuring types. For example, in the United States, if you want to go to the bank in person, you’re going to have to do that during the week, between certain hours, and maybe on Saturday, but not on Sunday. Do we plan around that? Well, no. Not anymore, thanks to the ATM, but sometimes we still need to.

This is one of the many ways employment is still going to be affecting our characters and the stories we tell, even if they are unemployed. So, one of the things we should think about is how many hours in a day is typical? Here in the United States, most people work five days a week, eight hours at a time, for a total of forty hours. Naturally, some people have more than one job, but that’s not the point. There is still a standard, full-time workweek. However, there are lots of variations to this. Some people might get their forty hours by working four ten-hour days. We can really drive ourselves crazy with that, so what we really want to do is just figure out what is the basic for most people.

Maybe our culture has people working every day of the week for eight hours a day. This reminds me of the cruise industry where that is basically what’s happening, but it’s actually more than eight hours a day. But then they get something like three months off where they don’t work at all. What if an entire culture was like that? Now, it’s probably not going to happen on a regional level, or even bigger than that, or even at a city level because everything’s going to stop functioning. So, this may not be realistic.

We also need to consider that in a fantasy world, that kind of regimented schedule wasn’t necessarily something that came up. People did work as it was needed. Sometimes they got overworked and sometimes they didn’t have much to do. Naturally, that’s going to depend on what type of work someone is doing, so we really don’t want to go down into the weeds and figure this out for everybody. However, coming up with something like that siesta, that is a very good use for things because people might realize, “I can’t go to the store between, say, 11 and 1 o’clock because they’re all closed because everyone’s either taking a nap or they’re at the bath.”

We should also decide if people are starting their workday late or starting it early. And are they staying late or ending their workday early? Again, we’re not looking at individuals, but the culture. Do they prize being done with work by something like our 4 p.m. so that they have the rest of the night to relax? Or are they really driven to succeed, and therefore they get to work early because they just want to get moving?

In our modern time, we have a lot of laws about whether children are allowed to work or even be brought in to work, so this is something else we should decide on. We may think that we don’t need this, and maybe we don’t, but what if our characters go into a store and the store owner has their child there? Will our character be surprised or not? Is the child just there playing, or are they helping?

Transportation

Another daily life subject is transportation. This may not seem like a cultural element, but it is. There are cities like Los Angeles that are known for cars. It’s also known for some of the worst traffic in the United States. Venice is known for gondola boats. Another place might be known for motorcycles. In science fiction, we might have certain types of craft that are known to be in that particular area. In fantasy, this may be true when it comes to boats. In a previous episode, I talked about different kinds of ships that would exist, and some places might be known for one versus another. Cities tend to be known for things like pedestrians, bicyclists and traffic jams, not to mention very limited parking, and that’s something that people take into account when they are going to be living there or visiting.

The ease or difficulty of doing these things is something that is part of the cultural mindset. This is one way to characterize a particular settlement because it’s going to change from place to place. There are also subcultures that do all sorts of modifications to their cars. We have seen this here in the United States. Maybe in science fiction people do this to their spaceship.

Subscribe

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For iPhone, iPad, and iPod listeners, grab your phone or device and go to the iTunes Store and search for The Art of World Building. This will help you to download the free podcast app, which is produced by Apple, and then subscribe to the show from within that app. Every time I produce a new episode, you’ll get it downloaded right onto your device.

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This only needs to be done once and at that point, you will never miss an episode.

Pastimes

How people spend their free time is another element we should look at. This is true for the same reason that other people who are still working, versus our adventuring characters, are going to also be taking time off. Our characters may be looking for someone when they are not at work because of this. Or it’s someone’s day off and they don’t want to do what they’re being asked to do. But here, we’re really looking at what people are doing when they are not at work.

To use some stereotypes in the United States, men are typically watching a lot of sports on TV, or possibly playing them. They may be attending an event in person. Men like to say that women are always shopping, and that’s their pastime. Those who have a dog must walk the dog from time to time, or take them to a party. Som people are really big into fitness and do certain types of activities, which might be very different in our fictional world. Others like to dine out and others like to cook.

There are so many of these that we could invent that it’s yet another rabbit hole we could descend into and never emerge from. But there are certain things that are universal, such as watching events take place or participating in them. Fitness and dining events are others. All we really need to do is come up with variations that are specific to our setting, and this is especially easy if we have invented plants, animals and other species. What if instead of walking the dog, you had to fly your dragon? Maybe it occasionally needs to breathe fire on something so that it doesn’t burn down your house. Maybe instead of dog fighting, there is dragon fighting. You get the idea. Just swap out any animal that’s real for a fictional one. For exercise, we just need to think of new activities. These, once again, might be dependent upon the setting. Maybe people climb cliffs because that’s what’s there.

The great thing about a lot of these is that we can often make them up when we need them, and they don’t necessarily need to be done in advance. I would recommend creating a handful of activities for a novel-length work. These can be mentioned in passing, such as a character walking around and seeing someone walk their dog — or, in this case, walk their dragon. We can also have a character complain that they are not getting to do one of their favorite pastimes anymore. If they’re a fan of a certain sport, and their favorite team is going to win the championship, maybe they’re going to miss this. We can also have characters mock each other for their hobbies. Think about your own life and how these things come up. The fitness ones might come up for any character who simply doesn’t have the opportunity to engage in that fitness activity due to their new adventuring life. Maybe they’re getting out of shape and are not happy about it.

There is one type of pastime that people in fantasy and science fiction are particular fond of, and that is inventing some sort of game. This can be a lot of work, but can be really rewarding if done well. A smart world builder will take existing games and modify or combine them. Remember my Rule of Three. Make at least three significant changes, maybe more, so that people don’t recognize the game as easily. If we have invented fictional animals, this can really help set our game apart because we can employ them instead of something like a horse.

If we have fictional species or races, they may have unique abilities so that they are limited. For example, maybe you can only have one elf on your soccer team. Maybe a sport similar to basketball does not allow dwarves because they’re not tall enough. The advantages that these species or races bring may cause problems that result in rules, and this is another way to distinguish our game.

Review

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Rituals, Festivals, and Ceremonies

Let’s talk about rituals, festivals and ceremonies. Do people observe and celebrate their birthday or not? We can make this more important to our characters if something happens on a specific birthday, like their 18th. Maybe they acquire more rights, just like we do in many cultures here on Earth, or maybe there’s an ability that suddenly shows up. In many cultures, the birthday is celebrated on the actual day of birth, but in some, everyone’s birthday is celebrated on the same day. We can do something like this to distinguish our book from something like the United States culture.

In an authoritarian regime, maybe they force everyone to celebrate on the same day. One reason for that is that such a regime is often trying to stamp out personal expression. Lumping everyone together is one way to achieve that. This could result in a scenario where, officially, people are celebrating their birthday on that day, but privately the family is also celebrating the actual birthday, but keeping that a secret so that they don’t get into trouble.

Holidays are another important item, partly because people will often have the day off from work. But certain holidays are more important than others because they are religious in nature. This can mean more pressure to do something specific during the holiday. If that holiday involves a pilgrimage, that obviously becomes a bigger deal, especially if it’s expensive to do that pilgrimage. This might impact that person for an entire year as they plan for this. There are some religions that have a pilgrimage that is supposed to happen at least once in your lifetime.

When it comes to inventing holidays, we sometimes want to do it for a civil rights leader who impacted the culture. Naturally, that’s less likely to happen in an authoritarian regime. There, many of the holidays might be reserved for those who are in power. By reserved, I don’t mean that they are the only ones celebrating, I mean that those holidays are designed to honor them. All we really need to do is look at our own culture for some ideas.

For example, in the United States, we have a holiday for presidents, we have some for the military, and in a fictional world we might have one for wizards. I discussed more events in The Art of World Building (#2), Creating Places. And in Cultures and Beyond, I talked a little bit more about things like ceremonies, festivals, and even architecture and how that is impacted by culture. But, at this point, I think four episodes about culture is probably plenty for you.

Hopefully, you are not overwhelmed. Culture is one of the most important and impactful things that we can invent for any story that we are creating. Especially in fantasy, many stories are presented as if they are right out of either the medieval or renaissance periods in Europe. This is so true that it’s become a cliche, and inventing a culture of our own is the best way to break free of this and make our world more believable and memorable for our audience.

Closing

All of this show’s music is actually courtesy of yours truly, as I’m also a musician. The theme song is the title track from my Some Things are Better Left Unsaid album, but now we’re closing out today’s show with a song from Serenade of Strings called “The Joys of Spring.” You can hear more at RandyEllefson.com. Check out artofworldbuilding.com for free templates to help with your world building. And please rate and review the show in iTunes. Thanks for listening!

World Building Webinar

 news  Comments Off on World Building Webinar
Jul 082020
 

This Saturday you can join a no-cost webinar where Randy Ellefson will answer your world building questions! The meeting should be about 40 minutes and will be recorded for replay.

If you have questions, it’s strongly encouraged that you send them in advance to mail@randyellefson.com, though a limited number will be taken from the chat. Feel free to include details as this makes the answer better for you and Rand. We hope to see you there!

Meeting Details

Topic: World Building Webinar #1
Time: Jul 11, 2020 01:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)

Join Zoom Meeting
https://zoom.us/j/94714547522?pwd=ZXlWd3VUdTNYMklyNk5Ddkp1eXYyQT09

Meeting ID: 947 1454 7522
Password: 9Wtmme

5 Tips – Armed Forces

 5 Tips Series, news  Comments Off on 5 Tips – Armed Forces
Jul 082020
 
5 World Building Tips (Vol 3, #3): Armed Forces

Here are today’s world building tips! The theme is armed forces. You can read more in Chapter 3, “Creating Armed Forces,” from Cultures and Beyond, (The Art of World Building, #3).

Tip #1: “What Government Type Do They Work For?”

Virtually all armed forces groups work for a government, so determine this before doing anything. A democracy and a dictatorship will have different armies, for example. How? The latter will be extremely rigid, far more so than the other, including potentially no personal life at all. The military isn’t known for great freedom even in a democracy, but imagine how much worse it is in a totalitarian government.

Tip #2: “Create Symbols and Colors”

In the real world, we immediately recognize the symbols of the military and make judgments about anything emblazoned with them, from personnel uniforms to buildings and ships. Not creating these is unrealistic, while creating them takes only a minute.

Tip #3: “Decide How People Join”

Knowing what it takes to become a member helps us decide on skills or how elite a group is. This also creates a reputation for members. Are there prerequisites, like the ability to ride a horse or fly a ship? Are certain races forbidden/prized? What physical traits does one need? Can one acquire missing ones like improving strength? What sorts of tests must be passed and how many chances does one get? This adds pressure and pride/humiliation for those trying to join.

Tip #4: “Understand and Use Existing Ranks”

Know what a lieutenant, major, and colonel is in the army and their respective navy or air force counterparts, then use the same ranks and job functions, even if you change the titles for your world, which isn’t recommended. Only those in the military usually know these things and aren’t bored with them. Confusion (or exposition) is the only result of being clever here.

Tip #5: “What’s Their Reputation?”

We all think certain things of each military group in our sovereign power, and so do our characters of theirs, so decide what the group is known for. Are they respected? Feared? Do you pick a fight with one or avoid that? Are you impressed or scornful? This matters even when our characters are not from such a group, because they’ll often have to deal with those who are.

Summary of Chapter 3—Creating Armed Forces

Military groups like the army, navy, air/space force, and knights are a staple of both fantasy and SF. We can leverage existing ideas or craft our own. Doing so means deciding how someone joins and leaves a military group, including requirements, tests, and training. Some species and races might be forbidden or assigned special roles, and throughout history, famous members can inspire pride or loathing we can use. When devising military units and ranks, it helps to understand Earth analogues, so some basics are included in this chapter. The world view, uses, locations, place in society, and symbols are all important elements of memorable armed forces and this chapters covers them all.

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Patreon Reward – Ep. 18

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Jul 072020
 

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Podcast Episode 27.3 – Creating Cultures

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Jun 302020
 

Episode 27.3: Learn How to Create Cultures

Listen as host Randy Ellefson discusses how to create a culture, including greetings, farewells, language, expressions, slang, and more.

Listen, Subscribe, and Review this episode of The Art of World Building Podcast on iTunes, Podbean, Stitcher, or Google Play Music!

In This Episode You’ll Learn:
  • What consider when creating greetings and farewells
    • What elements are typically present
    • What can be omitted
  • Gestures that exist in cultures
  • How language is affected by culture
  • How to create expressions and slang
Coda

Thanks so much for listening this week. Want to subscribe to The Art of World Building Podcast? Have some feedback you’d like to share? A review would be greatly appreciated!

Episode 27.3 Transcript
Intro

Hello and welcome to The Art of World Building Podcast, episode number twenty-seven, part three. Today’s topic is about how to create cultures. This includes greetings, farewells, language, expressions, slang, and more. This material and more is discussed in a chapter from Cultures and Beyond, volume three in The Art of World Building book series.

Do you want practical advice on how to build better worlds faster and have more fun doing it? The Art of World Building book series, website, blog, and podcast will make your worlds beat the competition. This is your host, Randy Ellefson, and I have 30 years of world building advice, tips, and tricks to share. Follow along now at artofworldbuilding.com.

Greetings and Farewells

Before we get started, I want to mention that you can buy transcripts of these episodes from artofworldbuilding.com or Amazon.com.

With world building, we are always trying to figure out what to do and what to skip. One of the most useful things we can do when it comes to creating cultures is creating greetings and farewells because these are things the characters will actually say to each other. If a work is a TV show and it happens repeatedly, sometimes fans of those shows will say these greetings to each other. An example would be saying “Namaste” from the TV show Lost. In Game of Thrones, people often say “seven blessings.”

Sometimes these expressions become popular enough that they enter into the common language that we often use, so this is one area that I do not recommend skipping. Greetings and farewells will exist in virtually every culture. The only exception I can think of is a culture that is so barbaric that they haven’t even evolved to that point yet. Even then, they are likely to at least grunt at each other. It’s worth noting that even animals will make recognition of another animal, especially those of their species. One reason for that is rivalry, especially among males, for females.

So, yes, at the very least, the greetings will exist. The farewells, maybe not quite as much. And if you think about it, we do make a bigger deal out of greeting someone, but often, when we are saying farewell, we may not say anything. We might just give a nod. We might even just turn and walk away. It depends on how casual the setting is.

One reason that greetings may be more prominent is that they really set the tone for the coming interaction. This is something to keep in mind. If we have already come up with our cultural vision, and that vision includes being very respectful to people, then the greeting is also going to be probably more formal and, of course, respectful. On the other hand, if the cultural vision is very casual, then we might end up with a very casual greeting, like, “Hey, what’s up?”

For both greetings and farewells, a general tip is to keep them brief. I remember watching Game of Thrones and it would take something like 30 seconds for all of Daenerys’ titles to be read off by the end. The first few times it was okay, but as this continued, the greetings just started to grate on my nerves as someone in the audience who just wanted it to be over with because I’d already heard all of them before. These technically weren’t greetings, but it’s the same idea. Keep them short.

Another reason for brevity is that a greeting is not exactly the heart of the conversation, now is it? We have much more important things that our characters need to say to each other. The case can be made that one of the most useful reasons for a greeting is to show culture, but another is to show that someone does it poorly, or skips it and causes a minor offense to another person.

When we’re inventing greetings and farewells, we probably want multiple versions of these. The reason for this is that some settings are formal, some are very casual, and others are somewhere in between. For example, in English, we have “hello,” “hi,” “hey,” “yo,” and then stuff like “what’s up,” which can even be shortened to “sup?” That’s a lot, so we don’t really need to go that far, but I would recommend at least two, maybe three of them.

It can be easier to start with the most formal and then try to come up with shorter versions of it. One reason for this is adults are usually the ones who come up with the way someone should be greeted, and then younger people tend to shorten things out of laziness. I doubt an adult over the age of 30 came up with “what’s up?” Very casual greetings like that can apply to a social group within the larger structure of a settlement, region or sovereign power. One way of looking at this is that the more formal greetings might be more widespread and universal almost, and then these more casual versions might be applied to one group or another.

Typically, the casual versions originate with one group, and then they sometimes catch on and spread to the wider population. This brings up a point that these more casual versions are often a kind of bonding mechanism and a way for peers within that social group to recognize each other. In addition to this social aspect, greetings sometimes have a practical origin. For example, the handshake originated from each person trying to show that they did not have a weapon. Sometimes people had a knife or a dagger hidden up their sleeve, and the shaking of the arm was supposed to cause that to come loose. Another version of this is each person grabbing the other person by the upper arm because, of course, you would feel the blade was in there.

Knowing the origins of a few of these helps us think of other versions, especially if we have a different kind of weapon in our world. We’ll talk a lot more about the physical gestures in a few minutes, but let’s focus on the words first. As we all know, in any greeting, there is typically a word that basically means “hello.” The words often include some sort of wishing pleasant times upon that person. Some examples of that would be something like “good morning” or “live long and prosper” from Star Trek. Technically, the latter one is a farewell.

Another thing often included in greetings is some sort of inquiry as to how well they are doing, such as “how are you?” You may remember in the U.S. there was a commercial running a few years ago where a guy would walk into a bar, or some other casual scenario, and someone would say, “Hi, how are you?” and instead of just letting that pass, because it’s a rhetorical question, he would actually give a really long answer to this. So, the point I’m getting at there is that this is, often, a rhetorical question. You’re not necessarily supposed to answer it. This would be an easy way to do a culture clash where someone from one culture doesn’t realize it’s rhetorical and does give an answer just like the guy in that commercial.

Greetings can sometimes include some statement about how happy we are to see them, such as “pleased to meet you.” Then, sometimes, there’s a title like “Sir,” Lord,” “Mr. Smith,” or even a really formal one like “Grand Master of the Seven Realms.” In some cultures, we may introduce ourselves first before asking the other person’s name, or vice versa. Then, using your given name, or your first name, as we call it in the United States, is less formal than using the surname, or last name.

So, when we are trying to come up with the words that people say, these are all elements that we can mix and match to come up with their greetings and farewells. To some extent, the cultural vision that we have developed for this culture may not have too much of an impact because there are a lot of universal elements, like the ones I just listed, that are incorporated into greetings. But if we do have a cultural vision, it’s certainly very helpful to leverage that, if we can, when doing this.

A final remark about the words is that sometimes a profession, like being a swordsman, may have something to do with what is said. For example, I might say, “May your sword never break,” or, “May your bowstring never snap,” if you’re an archer. If you’re someone who does scouting for the military, looking for dangers, maybe something to say to that person is “many sightings,” as in “may you see many things that are worth reporting on.”

When people belong to a specific social group, we should have already defined what makes that social group exist in the first place and we can leverage that to come up with these greetings and farewells.

More Resources

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You can also find more information on all three volumes of The Art of World Building series, which is available in eBook, print, and audiobook formats. Much of the content of those books is available on the website for free.

You can also join the mailing list at artofworldbuilding.com/newsletter. This gets you free, reusable templates from each published volume in the series. You don’t even need to buy the books to get these. I also send out contest information, free tips, and other stuff to help with your efforts. Please note I do not share your email address with anyone as that’s against my privacy policy, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

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Gestures

Let’s start talking about physical gestures. The words are almost mandatory in that we almost always say something. It’s a little bit less common for us to only make the gesture, unless we are far enough away from the other person that they wouldn’t hear the words anyway. In other words, unless the situation prevents it, words are typically expected, but physical gestures are a little bit more optional — or, at least, that’s how it is in the United States. In another culture, like Japan, something like the bow might be required, and skipping that is going to be the thing that gets you into trouble. This is an important distinction to make. In some cultures, one thing might be expected a lot more than the other. But in the United States, we can really interchange the physical gestures with a word, so we can do one, the other, or both. And of course, in some cases, we can do neither. Which one of these is more prominent in your setting?

When it comes to these gestures, one thing to keep in mind is that throughout human history, we have had a different sense of the spreading of germs than at other times. Today, we’re very familiar with this, but even 200 years ago we didn’t have any idea about a lot of this. A culture that is not well informed about the spreading of disease might be one that is doing more physical intimacy, such as kisses on the cheek. A culture that is more aware of how sickness can be spread might have greetings that have physical gestures with more separation between the parties, such as a bow.

It’s worth noting that in science fiction, where there is space travel between worlds, the pathogens are going to be completely different and no one is going to have immunity from a pathogen that exists on another planet. Of course, our characters are usually wearing a space suit of some kind. In a show like Star Trek, this is one of the things that they kind of gloss over, the same way they gloss over people not understanding a foreign language. The universal translator took care of that problem, and there seems to be this implication that the doctor on the ship has some sort of immunization that he can just easily give to everyone so that sickness has been largely eliminated from science fiction — either that or if someone catches something, it’s relatively minor, like the common cold.

What we don’t usually see, because it’s pretty dramatic, is something like what happened when the British arrived on the shores of North America — and the other countries, like Spain and France, also did this — and all sorts of pathogens infected the American Indians and wiped out a lot of them. As a side note, in science fiction, if an alien culture really wanted to just wipe out the Earth, all they would have to do is release a pathogen that we have no immunity to. They don’t need to show up with all these space ships. Writers probably ignore that most of the time because it would make every sci-fi alien show the same when it comes to aliens discovering the planet.

Despite all of this, physical interactions are often part of any sort of greeting or farewell, and that includes the handshake and its variations. One thing we may want to avoid is the actual handshake that takes place on Earth. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it is so Earth-like that it’s just going to remind people of here. So, we can do some variations on this, like interlacing the fingers. Then, of course, there’s the fist bump that was popular for a while here. And then we can use two hands, or we can grasp someone by the forearm, the bicep or do this kind of shoulder clasp where you put their hand on their shoulder.

With some of these, we can actually keep the handshake itself, such as if I use my right hand to shake your hand and then I put my left hand on your shoulder at the same time. You, of course, would be doing the same thing to me. Then again, maybe you wouldn’t be. If I’m a man and you’re a woman, maybe you don’t do part of this. Or if I am subordinate to you, maybe I do not put my hand on your shoulder, but you do it on mine, almost like you’re some sort of father figure. The point here is that both people do not have to do the exact same thing. This is true of everything, not just the handshake.

There are some other details from Earth that we can manipulate. For example, these are typically done barehanded here. Not removing something like a glove could therefore be considered disrespectful. We should always be on the lookout for ways that we can make someone screw these up so that they offend somebody. Don’t just invent how it’s done right, but make a note about how it can be done wrong and what that typically means to people.

Sometimes one gender is expected to make the gesture first, but we can change this and have older people be the one expected to do it. That seems to suggest that those with higher social standing do it, so maybe it’s not age, but something else. Children are often not expected to do it the same way, or they’re cut some slack for not getting it right. They may have their own greetings.

Another issue that comes up is the strength of the grip. Some people us a weak one, some people do a strong one, and for some people it’s in between. Some people place a lot of importance on this, and I have had the experience where some guy has essentially crushed my hand in his because he’s trying to make a point about how strong he is. But that can actually be considered rude when it actually hurts, and that has happened to me where I have felt some disrespect for this guy for crushing my hand. So, that’s one way that this can go wrong — too much, or not enough, force.

Sometimes these gestures can also go on for too long. There was an infamous video, probably several of them, of Donald Trump shaking someone’s hand and essentially refusing to let go. When something like this happens, it becomes awkward for the other person and anyone who is watching it. This social aspect is important because we can be judged not only by the person that we’re greeting, but by anyone else who witnesses what we do.

As a result, there can sometimes be a lot of pressure on how we go about these, and that’s especially true if we are doing something like greeting royalty. Most of us won’t have the chance to do that, but our characters, in theory, if they are traveling and they’re going to save the world, they’re going to be running into some very important people. If they’re going to a specific kingdom to ask for help from the people who are in charge of that kingdom, then instead of just having everything go smoothly, one of the ways we can have it go wrong for them is for them to screw up the initial introductions. This is both simple and believable.

Either with a handshake or without it, another version is the kiss. Doing this on the lips is, of course, considered very intimate. So, most of the time, we may kiss the top of someone’s hand, for example, or one or both cheeks. If we’ve invented a species that has something like really sensitive ears, then maybe kissing them on the ears is considered going too far. Once again, we should figure out how long this is supposed to be so that we can decide when people mess this up. Even without kissing on the lips, it’s still pretty intimate to get your face that close to someone else’s where you’re kissing them on the cheek.

Now, if we’re going to have greetings like that, maybe the culture also prizes something like cleanliness and not having something like body odor because it might be a little bit more uncomfortable if you’re a little disgusted by that person, but you have to go through with this kind of greeting. If people in one culture, or from another species, have a different sense of how much cleanliness is appropriate, then this is another way to cause a kind of conflict. This is one of the funny things about greetings because the whole point is to make sure that our interaction goes well, and that’s what we’re hoping for, and yet it can go wrong right from the start.

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More Gestures

For most of us, bowing seems like one of the more formal ways to greet someone. Naturally, our barbarians are not going to be doing this one. Or are they? It’s a way of showing respect. The degree of the bow also correlates to how much respect is being shown. Generally, the deeper the motion, the more respect. Similar to the bow is the kneel, where we get down on one or both knees. What both of these have in common is how long you stay down. Maybe the motion is quick, or it’s slow, and maybe you have to stay in that position until you are released by the person to whom you are bowing. In all cases, we should decide how touchy the culture is about how well this bow is performed.

Then there’s the salute, which we mostly associate with the military, but can exist in other scenarios. The number of fingers used is something that we can vary. We can vary the position of the fingers, as well, such as having them be straight or having them curved so that they touch the thumb, for example. This is another area where Googling this can give you more ideas as you see variations that exist here on Earth.

One anecdote that I picked up when I researched this is that in Poland they use two fingers, just like the Cub Scouts, and this led to the U.S. troops assuming that the Polish were being disrespectful to them. How far did this go? Well, the Polish troops were actually arrested until the misunderstanding was cleared up. That seems a little excessive because it is, but we can do the same kind of thing to get our characters in trouble. In some places, the salute is only done when a hat is worn. In other places, it’s only done when inside.

If you’ve seen any war movies about Vietnam, you know that officers were often saluted by others, but sometimes other people were told not to do that because it essentially identified an officer who could be then targeted by a sniper. So, a practical situation can lead to variations. We can also have the palm facing downward, outward or inward. Upward could be an option, but it’s kind of hard to pull that one off all the way. We can also close the hand altogether, such as when we make a fist.

These variations should give you some ideas on ways that we can make variations of our own. If you’re wondering about the origins of the salute, it is believed that knights used to raise their visor to identify themselves, and also show that they were not afraid of their opponent.

Most of the gestures we just described are somewhat formal, so there are other versions, like the casual wave that we give to people. Sometimes we just smile, nod our head at someone, or maybe even raise our eyebrows. Generally, we want to acknowledge the other person. Just decide on two of these: the formal one and the informal.

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For iPhone, iPad, and iPod listeners, grab your phone or device and go to the iTunes Store and search for The Art of World Building. This will help you to download the free podcast app, which is produced by Apple, and then subscribe to the show from within that app. Every time I produce a new episode, you’ll get it downloaded right onto your device.

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Language

Let’s talk about language. According to many, the way we speak carries as much meaning, if not more so, than the words we actually say. One of the problems with email is that it doesn’t carry tone as accurately as the human voice. It is, therefore, easier to get ourselves into trouble and have a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of what we’ve said, or our intent, when we use the written word versus when we speak. This is not to say that people get things right just when they are speaking, but it’s a little easier.

Many of us take tone for granted, but what we want to focus on with world building is not the tone with which a specific person says something, but what sort of tone the culture in general uses. For example, are they eloquent or very casual? Eloquent language has a tendency to be wordy and have longer words in them. Casual has shorter sentences and shorter words. When we think of elves in fantasy, they often come across as being very eloquent, even though we can’t understand a word they say. This is partly the language that Tolkien created for them, at least in The Lord of the Rings. But other races, such as the Klingons in Star Trek, have a very harsh and guttural sound to them. So do the Dothraki from Game of Thrones.

Even if we can’t understand a word of the language they say, the tone of it comes across. When we characterize this, we may want to think of a relatively neutral audience, like ourselves, and how we would view these languages. It is from that vantage point that I would say that Dothraki is harsh and Elven is eloquent. But an elf would not only think that Dothraki or Klingon is harsh if they were in the same fictional universe, but they would probably think that something like English is harsh. This can be an important distinction to make in your notes, or we can just make a kind of general note to ourselves as a reminder that something like elves think all other languages are kind of harsh, and only certain ones are especially so. You could have an elf say something like, “Your language is so ugly, but at least it’s not as bad as Klingon.”

One thing about tone is that we judge people based on this tone, and one thing that can mean for us is that we can characterize a whole species, or a culture within that species, just on their tone.

Review

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Expressions and Slang

Within language, we should also pay attention to slang and expressions. Most listeners of this podcast have probably seen Star Trek and heard a certain amount of the technobabble, but that’s not really what I mean. We need curse words and related expressions. When I watched Game of Thrones, it bothered me for a while when people would drop the f-bomb. Not because the word itself bothered me, but because it reminded me too much of Earth. This may be one reason why Battlestar Galactica went with the infamous “frak” instead. Of course, that can also be jarring because you realize how they’re using it and that they’re still reminding you of Earth even though they’ve changed it. If memory serves, they did that, partly, to get around censorship.

At this point, the f-bomb is so universal that we can go ahead and use that the same way we can use various words for excrement. These are bound to exist in every language, and these one-word swears are very convenient to use. It’s important to note that some words can be a benign word in one language and something offensive in another.

For example, in the U.S., the word “bloody” doesn’t mean anything in particular, but it does in England. If I say, “This bloody car won’t start,” in England, that’s the same as saying, “This ‘effing’ car won’t start,” in the United States. On the other hand, if I say, “I’m not going to pick up that bloody knife,” in that context the word doesn’t mean anything like that. This is one way that we can take an ordinary word, like an adjective, and apply it to another scenario where it becomes offensive.

A good way to make our swear words stand out is to combine words, and we’ve done this on Earth. Two examples would be “dumbass” and “bullshit.” There are many others that I won’t repeat here to keep this more PG, but one way we can do this in our setting is if we have invented an animal, then we can replace some of these, like the bullshit version, with some other animal and then the word for excrement. Why do we choose a bull? Well, it sounds good to say bullshit, but a bull is also supposed to be a very strong animal. In theory, that would suggest that its excrement is especially nasty. Maybe in a fantasy world we would say “dragon piss.”

All we really need is something objectionable, including parts of the body. This is why anything involving your butt is considered bad. If we have an animal with an especially nasty horn, then we can use that horn plus something else to come up with a name. If the species is called “jack,” then maybe we say “jackhorn,” and that is the same as “jackass.” Maybe it suggests that you’re going to get speared by one of these because you’re the sort of person who deserves it.

Expressions can be a little harder to invent. Two of the ones we need are ways of saying that we agree with someone, or disagree. If I think you’re wrong, maybe I just say “you’re wrong,” but maybe I use the expression “you’re full of crap.” In the U.S., when we agree, we say things like “okay,” “sounds good,” “alright,” “yeah,” and “right.” And we all know what a pirate says.

And “pirate” seems like a good place to stop. In the next episode, we will complete our talk about inventing culture.

Closing

All of this show’s music is actually courtesy of yours truly, as I’m also a musician. The theme song is the title track from my Some Things are Better Left Unsaid album, but now we’re closing out today’s show with a song from my album The Lost Art called “Lagrima.”  You can hear more at RandyEllefson.com. Check out artofworldbuilding.com for free templates to help with your world building. And please rate and review the show in iTunes. Thanks for listening!

Podcast Episode 27.2 – Creating Cultures

 news, Podcasts  Comments Off on Podcast Episode 27.2 – Creating Cultures
Jun 162020
 
Episode 27.2: Learn How to Create Cultures

Listen as host Randy Ellefson discusses how to create a culture. This includes how the body is part of culture, from clothing to hairstyles, body modifications, and more.

Listen, Subscribe, and Review this episode of The Art of World Building Podcast on iTunes, Podbean, Stitcher, or Google Play Music!

In This Episode You’ll Learn:
  • How to create cultural body modifications, hair styles, tattoos, body language, clothing, accessories, and more
Coda

Thanks so much for listening this week. Want to subscribe to The Art of World Building Podcast? Have some feedback you’d like to share? A review would be greatly appreciated!

Episode 27.2 Transcript
Intro

Hello and welcome to The Art of World Building Podcast, episode number twenty-seven, part two. Today’s topic is about how to create cultures. This includes how the body is part of culture, from clothing to hairstyles, body modifications, and more. This material and more is discussed in a chapter from Cultures and Beyond, volume three in The Art of World Building book series.

Do you want practical advice on how to build better worlds faster and have more fun doing it? The Art of World Building book series, website, blog, and podcast will make your worlds beat the competition. This is your host, Randy Ellefson, and I have 30 years of world building advice, tips, and tricks to share. Follow along now at artofworldbuilding.com.

Cultural Appropriation

Just a reminder that you can buy transcripts of these podcasts by going to www.artofworldbuilding.com or to Amazon.

Now that we’ve discussed the ideas that lead to culture, it’s time for the fun part, and that is actually inventing customs. There are so many options that we could create that we’re going to try to focus on the things that are most useful to world builders. So, neither this episode or the corresponding chapter of Cultures and Beyond is going to cover everything. However, the things we’re going to do are going to get you the most bang for your buck, and the basic idea of what we’re going to do is something that we can apply to other items that I don’t cover here.

As we get started, I want to mention a term you’ve probably heard, and that is cultural appropriation. I talk a lot about using Earth analogues, so the question is, are we going to be accused of borrowing something from Earth and having that be cultural appropriation if we show it in our fictional world?

First, let’s talk about what cultural appropriation means. What we’re talking about is an element of a culture that is taken outside of its context and used by someone who’s not from that culture, but it’s done in a way that can be considered insulting or devaluing that, especially if it’s done in a shallow way.

For example, something like wearing a hairstyle from another culture could be considered that because it’s just your hair. An example of this would be white people with dreadlocks. Do world builders need to worry about this sort of thing? Well, I don’t really think so. One reason is that there is a limited expectation that world builders are going to invent a very detailed and thorough culture, and the reason for that is it simply takes a massive amount of time.

One way to avoid it seeming like we’re just doing it in a shallow way is to tie that cultural element we’ve borrowed back to the cultural vision of the culture that we are inventing. That will make it seem like it springs from a value, a moral or a belief. An audience member on Earth who comes from that culture may then see this as a kind of homage and actually be pleased that it has been included that way. In the end, it comes down to respect. I’ll also remind you of my Rule of Three. Make at least three significant changes to anything that we borrow.

This has a caveat with culture. If we want to borrow a culture wholesale, then yes, we need to make at least three changes — probably a lot more. But if we’re going to just take a single element, like the dreadlocks, for example, well, there’s not too much you can change about just that one thing. It’s really the combination of multiple things if they’re all coming from the same culture. As an example, when I watched the Avatar movie, as much as I liked it, I couldn’t help thinking — and I still think this every time I see it — that James Cameron basically took Native American culture wholesale and just transplanted it to a fictional world.

Japanese culture is another one that tends to get stolen wholesale, and there are very few changes from it, so you recognize it when you see it. And this is always bad partly because it breaks the willing suspension of disbelief that the audience has. It reminds them of something back here when they’re supposed to think this is another planet — and one that has no relation to us. And yet, there’s the same culture from Japan. One way to get around this is to divide things up. So, let’s say we like the Japanese culture around dining and we use that with a few minor changes. Well, don’t also take the way they dress or the way their bedrooms are laid out. Don’t take everything. Just take one section of it. The result will be that we may remind people of that culture, but we don’t look like we just took the whole thing.

Body Culture

Let’s get started with some manifestations. We’ll start with the body. This is going to include body language, things like hairstyle, body modification like jewelry, gestures, clothing, and, of course, accessories. Now, we may not cover all of that in this episode, but it is all in the book.

At first glance, the body may not seem like a cultural item, but it is. An example would be ageism, which does exist today, where we may not respect our elders. And then, a long time ago, larger women were actually considered more attractive because they were considered better bearers of children and that they would survive childbirth better. But today, of course, we expect everyone to be thin. So, this is a cultural idea.

This desire to be thin can result in eating disorders, and even models who are already fit are having their photos photoshopped for magazines covers. Whether they’re the one behind it or the magazine is doing it, it doesn’t really matter. From a cultural standpoint, there’s still this enormous pressure to be thin. While those are specific examples, there’s also the general appearance of someone in culture because, in business, we make ourselves look really presentable, but then if someone is dressed in a very casual way but they show up at a job interview, that is considered a negative. Unless, of course, the culture of that company is fine with people walking around in shorts and flip flops. When I worked at NASA, we had a running joke that anyone wearing flip flops, shorts and a Hawaiian shirt was probably one of the scientists because they could get away with anything. Could I have shown up like that? I don’t know. I never tried, but I certainly wore casual clothes to work. That was the culture there.

Let’s talk about body language. The way we walk, sit and stand are all influenced by our culture. Many of us have probably heard of that idea of someone being trained to walk by balancing a book on their head because this is supposedly going to make their posture upright. The desire for that erect bearing is a cultural idea. How many of us have been told not to slouch? The way we would use this is mostly to characterize an entire culture as having an erect, proud bearing, or most of them being very causal. That erect bearing may originate from a cultural vision of looking like you have your act together, and where appearances are important. Dignity might also lead to this.

The culture could be strict. An oppressive culture, because of the government, might have people walking around with their backs hunched. Walking tall in that culture might be something that gets you into trouble. The authorities could read into it that you need to have your spirit broken.

Another body language issue that’s very important is eye contact. How often have you been told, as a child, not to stare at someone, especially if they look different? Doing so is considered rude, but looking away in other circumstances might be considered weakness. If we make contact, are we expected to acknowledge the other person in some way? Such as an actual greeting or just nodding our head? The way we would use something like this in a scene is to have two characters make eye contact, and then have one of them look away, and maybe think to themselves that they did so too soon, for example.

The concept of personal space is another one that comes up in any culture. We don’t really need to define this, such as saying two feet is fine and less is too close. We can just have one character think to themselves that someone is standing too close for their comfort. That said, perhaps this person is creepy and that’s why this is happening, or the person who feels that the other is too close has some sort of issue that makes them feel that way about a lot of people. In other words, if we have the character think this, we may also have them think to themselves that there’s something about that person that makes them feel that way, or they’re like this about everyone. Basically, we can characterize one of the two people while getting across a cultural expectation.

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Hairstyles

Let’s touch on hairstyles. This is something that will definitely apply to social groups. For example, in the 1950s, in the United States, men were expected to have fairly closely cropped hair, but in the 60s and 70s, many of them grew it out long as a sign of rebellion. Hairstyles are a very good way to characterize a social group as opposed to the entire country, for example. But we can do it on that level. What if wearing your hair a certain way is done during a holiday season, or some religious event, and it means something to people? Maybe women usually wear their hair up in a tidy fashion, but then they wear it long and in a more flowing fashion at certain times of the year. A difference like that is probably going to come from a belief, and it may be religious in nature.

Something to bear in mind is that hairstyles change relatively frequently, so what was fashionable a decade ago might no longer be today. The main reason to care about this is only if we want to comment on someone wearing an old hairstyle. If it’s a tradition, it could last a lot longer because it’s going to go back maybe 100 years or more.

And then there’s the wig. Most of us have seen period films where men are wearing these really long, white wigs that have some sort of powder on them. This was definitely a cultural phenomenon. This got started in France by Louis VIII on accident because he was covering his baldness. Other people, of course, associated him and the wig with power because he was a king, and it spread to other countries and it just became the thing. This actually led to a taxation on the powder that they used on those wigs, and that is part of what led to the cultural change where that stopped happening. Another reason behind it, incidentally, was that it was easier to control things like lice by just shaving your hair and using these wigs.

On the subject of hair color, we often associate Asians as having black hair and Nordic types having blond hair, but this is not actually a cultural issue. This is obviously just something about the body and this naturally happens. But, that said, of course, for whatever reason, we talk about the prized blond hair and blue eyes. Some people really desire this, and as a result, they dye their hair that way. If we have elves that are known to have golden hair, and people are aspiring to be like them, then maybe humans are going around dying their hair that way. That could be considered appropriate for human royalty, but maybe not for a peasant. This is one way we can use this sort of thing.

And for men, facial hair can symbolize things like strength and manliness. Some guys will wear one for that reason, and maybe an entire culture is doing so. We typically see this with fantasy where all of the dwarves have a beard.

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Body Modification

There are many ways that we may choose to modify our bodies, and these can be part of a cultural group. Sometimes these take place during some sort of rite of passage or a ceremony. This could result in a celebration if it has been done, and maybe some shame on somebody if they haven’t done it when they are expected to have already experienced this. For example, let’s say that you’re supposed to get your nose pierced when you turn 18, but it’s done by your family, but you were a runaway or an orphan and it didn’t happen. As a result, you’re now in your 20’s and everyone can tell you never had this happen.

Of course, you could get someone to do it, but maybe it’s part of the society where they don’t let you have that happen if it wasn’t done under the right circumstances. Therefore, no one will do it for you. Maybe you try to do it yourself and botch the job, and that leaves a scar that is visible. These are all ways that we can work this into our characterizations. We can decide that these happen at any sort of milestone, like a wedding or a childbirth, or just turning a certain age. We don’t necessarily need to explain it because it could just be an expected tradition. But, of course, explanations often help us characterize things.

The source of this expectation, instead of just being a cultural vision, could be that maybe someone important in the past had this body modification, and this was esteemed, the same way that Louis VIII had that wig and people associated that with power. Well, maybe this body modification is similar. All we really need is some reason for it to be desirable, and it’s always wise to make those explanations as short as a single sentence.

One thing to note about body modifications is that it often causes a judgment, and many of those are negative if that judgment is coming from someone who is outside the social group that is making those modifications. Those who don’t have a tattoo may be negative about those who do, especially if someone has a lot of them. Of course, doing so is shallow, but people are.

Let’s talk tattoos. While there are individual tattoos that anyone can have, sometimes a social group will have a specific tattoo that everyone is expected to get, whether that’s the tattoo itself or even just its location. These tattoos will always mean something to the group, and it will come from their vision.

Some tattoos are not permanent, like henna, and these may only be done during certain kinds of ceremonies where they’re expected to be washed off in the day or two afterward. We can decide that women have more feminine ones than men. We can make them be multicolored or primarily one color. A quick Google search on this will turn up various traditional tattoos that are done by one group or another. Some of these are hard to describe and a picture really is worth a thousand words.

Piercings are another area where we do have individual style, but, again, this could be expected by a social group. While just about anything can be pierced, here on Earth the ears and nose are the most widespread. They also go back the farthest, to ancient times. Stretched earlobes and lips are another kind of piercing that we often associate with Africa. The number of piercings, the material, the size of them and even the style can all be expected and represent some sort of value, and they might be something that is more expected of, say, nobility for their wealth. Someone could also wear a piercing to identify themselves in some way, the way that gay men used to wear only one earring to indicate their orientation.

There was actually a belief and a superstition in the Middle Ages that if you had a specific piercing, that would improve your long-distance sight. The origins of such a thing might be someone having great eyesight and having that piercing, and they become associated with each other and other people start doing that piercing, hoping that they will also have that sight even though these have nothing to do with each other. This is one reason why it can be fun to invent these.

Another body modification is branding, though on Earth this is really frowned upon because it’s too much associated with slavery. A brand not only marks property, but it can be used to humiliate someone. One way to do that is to put it in a very visible location. But there’s no reason this has to be a negative. We might have a religion that considers it an honor to have the god’s symbol branded into their flesh. Since that is very permanent, that could be considered a great sign of devotion.

Sometimes branding is done for punishment, such as for a military person who commits an offense like deserting. Basically, if the culture feels like anyone should know that this person has committed a specific crime, they might be branded for it. Today, child molesters have to register on a sex offender website, but what if they were branded so we didn’t need such a technology?

Lastly, let’s talk about implants, which is something that’s definitely going to be a big option with science fiction. We can make technology be part of the body. This can be done either to enhance an ability, a sense, or just to replace a lost or damaged area. It could be tradition that we receive a certain type of implant when we reach a certain milestone. Those with that implant would probably have an advantage of some kind. But it could be a negative. What if people are considered more likely to commit crimes once they reach a certain age, and therefore they get this implant to track their whereabouts? Such a scenario could certainly lead to a lot of cultural changes, such as people really valuing their freedom before they reach that milestone.

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Gestures

Gestures are another area of the body that is part of culture. While many gestures are part of something like a greeting (and will be discussed later when we get to that), some of them stand alone. There is one gesture that, for many of us, immediately comes to mind, and that is the raising of the middle finger. This is done to show displeasure, and it’s important to think of that when we’re trying to create an alternate version. How did this come to represent that? Well, it’s supposed to be representing the penis. The remaining knuckles that are bent are supposed to represent the testicles. This is why it means “fuck you.”

As it turns out, on Earth, there are cultures that do variations on this, such as having two fingers representing two penises. But it depends on which way the hand is facing, whether it’s considered rude or not. There’s another hand gesture that is supposed to represent a woman’s privates. I’m not going to go through all of these, but I did cover them in a little more detail in the book. There are times when a gesture is considered fine in one country and is considered rude in another, and this is something we actually run into here on Earth. For example, the “OK” symbol in the United States has the tip of the index finger and the thumb touching each other with the other fingers fanned out, but that gesture is considered to represent the anus in some countries, and therefore it is rude.

The devil horns gesture can essentially be an accusation that someone’s wife is having an affair with a man who is more virile like a bull. Even something as simple as shaking your head for “no” and nodding for “yes” is not universal and can lead to misunderstandings. Crossing your arms can be considered standoffish in some countries, but in others it’s considered arrogant. Shaking two fists at someone in Austria is supposed to be for good luck, but in other countries it could be considered a threat. The foot can be considered unclean, therefore showing the bottom to others is considered highly offensive.

Another interesting aspect of gestures is that sometimes it’s only offensive because of our location when we make that gesture. For example, doing that while you’re standing over the threshold of a doorway can be considered good or bad. The doorway is considered a transition, therefore a gesture that normally means peace could be seen as rude, as in you wish that something bad happens to that person. What we need to do this ourselves is just think about what a location means and how we can spin a normal gesture that is done somewhere else into having a different meaning there. Generally, we have a lot of leeway to invent gestures and what they mean, so this is an area where we can have a lot of fun.

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Clothing

Let’s talk about clothing and accessories. By itself, clothing is a subject that we could spend way too much time on, so we’re only going to cover the basic ideas and how these can be applied to other areas of clothing that we are not going to talk about. What we’re after is a general sense of style. Sometimes this is impacted by technology. For example, we all take the button for granted today, but while it was invented a long time ago, it wasn’t until the 1300s that buttons were used to fasten two pieces of clothing together, like the two halves of a jacket. Before that, they were just decorative.

How did this affect culture and dress? Well, people wore looser and baggier clothing, and if it was tightened it would’ve been with something like a string of some kind. A cloth being just draped around you like a toga was also a style. Once buttons were used to fasten clothing, then tighter clothing was also introduced. Imagine the affect of suddenly more form-fitting clothing having on people’s impressions. This could lead to resistance to that because it might challenge an idea of modesty.

So, one decision we can make is whether buttons exist for tightening clothes in one society or another, and how that affects dress. Just because it existed in one sovereign power doesn’t mean it exists in another, even if people from these sovereign powers mix a little bit, because we might have this cultural resistance to the button and the resulting styles of clothing. This is a good way to distinguish two cultures from each other.

We might think that only a barbaric society may not have buttons that are used this way, but even the Romans didn’t and they were smart enough to have aqueducts and dams. And, of course, they had the Roman Empire where they conquered so many lands, and yet they still didn’t use a button to fasten their clothes. It seems incongruous, but it happens. But even though that happens in the real world, we may get flack from an audience who does not understand that kind of thing.

Clothing can be used to indicate your status, your gender, your rank and your social class. It can also be used to indicate what you are doing at this particular moment. If I’m wearing a suit and tie, I’m probably not lounging around at home in that. Unless I just got home or I’m about to leave, we associate that with work. There’s no reason we can’t make up certain types of wearing our hair or styles of clothing that are only done when people are doing a specific activity. What we often see in science fiction works is someone wearing the exact clothing in every single scene. In books, this may happen because authors haven’t thought about it, but it also might be because it’s considered a waste of exposition to keep talking about what someone is wearing — and there is some truth to that.

In science fiction, anytime someone’s part of a crew, like a starship, they’re usually wearing their uniform everywhere, and therefore we can get away with it. But, in many cases, we really should pay more attention to this. More adornment on our clothing tends to be associated with finer people, or those who are rich. For example, in Ancient Rome, the tunics often had colored band, and the width, number and color of these indicated your social standing. We can pretty much make up any version of this that we want for ourselves. Naturally finer fabrics suggest more wealth, while coarser ones are for the poor. We can do the same thing with colors where richer colors are considered for the wealthy, and the plainer colors, like a drab green, is for the poor.

The more important an indication of status is to the culture, the more likely these visual elements of it will exist. Think about our modern world where many of us don’t really care about status, and therefore you could have people who are on the same experience, like a boating trip, and some of them could be making twenty thousand dollars and some of them could be a millionaire. You won’t necessarily be able to tell, by looking at them, based on their clothing.

Clothing can also reflect what is important to the society, a group or individuals. For example, if hard work is considered admirable, then maybe the clothing is kind of dependable, simple, and very coarse, and it’s mostly unadorned. On the other hand, the rich don’t need to work, so maybe they’re always dressed in finery. Modesty is another element that we need to pay attention to because women might not be allowed to show something like cleavage or a side boob. Maybe they can’t show the ankles, the knees or the thighs. How low must a dress go? Are they required to wear a dress or can they wear trousers? Pants were considered masculine for a long time, and therefore a woman wearing them was frowned upon because she was thought to be trying to act like men. We can leverage this idea and show how people are being judged for defying a cultural expectation regarding clothing.

Accessories

Let’s finish up by talking a little bit about accessories. This includes things like bags, eyewear, footwear, gloves, any headgear like a hat, jewelry and things like a watch. In both fantasy and sci-fi, we might have weapon holders, and in sci-fi we might have wearable devices. With any of these, we can have expectations about when it is okay to wear them and when they should be removed. Sometimes this is practical like the bottom of shoes getting dirty, and therefore you’re supposed to take them off when you enter someone’s house. Certain types of hats can be worn at some locations, and sometimes it’s unacceptable to wear the wrong kind of hat to the wrong thing.

One interesting tidbit is that a woman’s hat is often considered part of her ensemble, and therefore it doesn’t need to be removed. But a man’s is expected to be based on where he is going. Some cultures think it’s rude for a man to wear a hat indoors. Most of us don’t even know why, but we expect people to remove them. We might even be the person telling someone, “You have to remove your hat.” And if they question us, we may not have an explanation for why. This is funny because we can enforce cultural expectations without even knowing why we are doing them.

I’ll use wedding bands as another example. This is traditionally worn on the left ring finger in the United States and some countries. The reason for this is that the Romans believed that the vein in that finger led directly to the heart. Even though we know better today, the tradition remains. But it’s not universal. Other countries where the ring in different places, and for similar reasons where there is some sort of association with that body part.

Some accessories might result from a function. For example, maybe we have a winged species that is often used as messengers, and they carry the messages in scrolls. That scroll case might become an accessory that they are typically seen with. How do we use this for culture? Well, maybe there are times when they want to indicate that they are not working, and therefore they leave it at home. Perhaps wearing it gives the impression they are willing to take a message from someone, and therefore if they walk into a church with that, they’re considered to be trying to work and that could be frowned upon. Therefore, maybe it’s expected that they take it off at the door, just the same way that people remove shoes in some cultures.

This is the kind of thinking we want to do when we are inventing any sort of cultural item that has something to do with the body, or anything else, as we’re going to discuss in upcoming episodes. I ended up talking a lot more about the body, so we’re going to end up talking about other things in subsequent episodes about culture.

Closing

All of this show’s music is actually courtesy of yours truly, as I’m also a musician. The theme song is the title track from my Some Things are Better Left Unsaid album, but now we’re closing out today’s show with a song from The Lost Art called “Villa-Lobos Prelude #1.” You can hear more at RandyEllefson.com. Check out artofworldbuilding.com for free templates to help with your world building. And please rate and review the show in iTunes. Thanks for listening!