5 World Building Tips (Vol 3, #1): Cultures
Here are today’s world building tips! The theme is cultures. You can read more in Chapter 1, “Creating Cultures,” from Cultures and Beyond, (The Art of World Building, #3).
Tip #1: “Culture Clash is Useful”
Invent culture to cause conflict. Any time we need characters to have bad feelings towards each other, a culture clash is an easy way to create this. For traveling characters, it’s a virtual given. People are sensitive and judgmental. We don’t need people to have screwed up in a serious way, just offend someone in a trivial one.
Tip #2: “Understand Cultural Origins”
Values, beliefs, and morals are the origins of culture. These are ideas. And they manifest as rituals, habits, customs, art, music, and the use of language. We should therefore create those values, beliefs, and morals and then figure out how they manifest (that’s culture!).
Tip #3: “Consider the Government”
A sovereign power’s government greatly impacts culture from the “top down.” Consider how much freedom and control people have. Less means less variation at regional, settlement, and social group levels of culture. More freedom means more variation.
Tip #4: “Know What’s Valued”
While morals and values are slightly different, they can both be used to invent culture. A more high-minded society will value different traits (like dignity, equality, politeness, and tolerance) than a barbaric one, which might value self-reliance, courage, respect, and integrity.
Tip #5: “Determine Cultural Scope”
Are we creating culture throughout a kingdom, region, or social group? Culture trickles down, so what’s valued in the U.S. might be less valued on the East Coast, and more valued in New York City, especially in the punk rock scene. Determine what level we’re inventing culture for because it’s not uniform across all these levels.
Summary of Chapter 1—Creating Cultures
This chapter discusses the differences between a culture and a custom, and that morals, values, and beliefs underlie cultural aspects. A cultural vision should be based on these and inform all decisions subsequently made. World builders can determine the scope of an invented culture, as some are regional, or throughout a sovereign power. Cultural depictions have visible, audible, and performance aspects that can be defined. These include body issues such as body language, hair styles, gestures, clothing, and more. Greetings and farewells should be defined because characters will use them. Similarly, swear words, slang, expressions, and colloquialisms can be created to characterize interactions. The daily life of a culture is depicted in dining, bathing, sleeping, employment, and transportation rituals and behaviors, while pastimes, holidays and more create a respite. Even architecture can be influenced by culture.