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Developing culture

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Yora, Dec 5, 2019.

  1. Yora

    Yora Maester

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    I have a plan for a short book, and I have the major plot points, all the significant characters. I know the basic geography of the setting, the countries, the landscapes, the factions in power, government systems, the technology, and the magic system. But I still feel like the setting is not ready yet to begin writing scenes. I certainly can write a story, but I feel like it would turn out as a pretty generic fantasy adventure that doesn't actually bring out the feel that I want to go for.
    And after some thinking, I've been starting to believe that this might be because the parameters I established for the setting so far don't really go much into the culture of the people who inhabit it.

    I know that instead of medieval influences, I want the world to feel like elves, trolls, goblins and giants in the style of the Myceneans and the Trojan War, Scythians, India, and maybe some Conan the Barbarian. But what does that actually mean in practice? I can use some props and describe temples as zigurats with snake statues, but I feel that would not really do much when most of the story is set in tiny villages in the wilderness.
    I guess what is needed is for characters to think and behave differently to make it actually feel like this world is different without endless descriptions of buildings and clothing. Do you have any advice on how to approach that?
     
  2. I think it's made up of a lot of little things. An easy start is names of people, places and things.

    If you have Tom's, John's, James and Catherine's etc populate your story you start the reader off with a very different expectation then if there's Lee's and Chin's or whatever. Same with places. If you have Woodbridge, Southfield and Everford you give a very different feeling compared to Xoatl and Xyltotec (man, I suck at making up names...).

    Then there is the props and what characters take as normal. You mention mainly bronze age societies. So you want props that are related to that, and the consequences of stuff being bronze instead of iron. Weapons tend to be a lot weaker and easier to break I think. It also suggests a certain level of technology people have access to, which makes a lot of things harder (even simple things like plowing a field).
     
  3. Yora

    Yora Maester

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    Not really, just more expensive. Bronze is an amazing material until you get to modern high performance steels.
     
  4. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Inkling

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    Think of something your character would do either on their own or as part of the village as a whole that is cultural.

    It could be a dance, a feast honouring a god or even the early morning ritual when they get up.

    Introducing a vulture doesn't need to be about describing buildings or clothing. It can be about describing a snippet of everyday life that would be unmistakably reflective of the world you've created at village level.

    Even something as simple as 'Romulus galloped through the village towards the chieftain's dwelling. His elvish appearance aroused curiosity among the humans, most of whom had never seen such a thing before. He wore no armour, indicating he might've been a messenger or a shaman on an important errand.' can help to make the society seem more real for the reader.
     
  5. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

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    I find this to be useful in showing how complicated developing new cultures can be. It can also be pretty simple. It all depends on the needs of your story.

    tumblr_nsb0oeKrIR1tfk4yyo1_540.jpg
     
  6. Yora

    Yora Maester

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    Somewhat different from the usual worldbuilding iceberg, but a useful categorization. Though I am not quite sure if the invisible culture is actually much bigger than the visible culture. But I do feel that it has the significantly bigger impact. Having your people think differently will be much more noticeable than simply switching out the props.
     
  7. MrNybble

    MrNybble Sage

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    I know the trouble that you speak of. Having dozens of different sentient races in which gives rise to various cultures that are influenced by location. Depending on the world that all this takes place in you have lots of things to overcome. I have centaurs that must maintain their own cultural identity, yet interact with others with different body shape like humans. This makes unique mixing pot in its own right as it normally does upon the clash of cultural interaction. All I can say it keep it simple to a point the reader only needs to know details to keep the plot going. No need to dump a history of a fictional culture in the reader's lap just because.
     
  8. Yora

    Yora Maester

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    I only have to deal with five cultures. Plus two kinds of humanoid spirits. That's already plenty enough.

    It depends of course always on the specific needs of each story, but I think history is perhaps the most overrated aspect of worldbuilding. Relevant stuff is almost always within living memory, and beyond that things really can be kept very rough. It helps to know what larger conflicts are actually about, but what played out so far between different groups generations ago rarely has any impact.
     
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