Questions for my Readers, Writing Tips

World Building: Having a Cultural Focus

If you have been following my posting series on world building in novels, then we just covered various types of governments for your fictional world. However, simply having a government does not make a culture. If you want to create a realistic and powerful culture, we need to go beyond in our world building.

Having_a_cultural_focus_in_your_writingIn the real world, people see Britain very differently from America. One is all about tea and the other guns, right? :p Okay, so that is a simplification, but the stereotype is there for a reason—though there are plenty of exceptions in both cultures.  If you compare more drastically differing cultures (like Arabian to French), you will find that they value different things. That is what we want to create for our own fictional worlds.

In a sense, building culture is simple. You only have to ask one question: What do they value?

However, answering that question can be hard—if you already know what your culture values, then you are one of the lucky ones who doesn’t need to read any father. But if you are anything like me, then here are my best suggestions and methods to push for more in your cultures. You don’t need to use all of my methods, but hopefully, one of them will help you answer that basic question.

  1. Truth vs. Honor

This is actually a big deal in the real world. In fact, it is the main separation between the cultural West and East. What matters the most to your nation: telling the truth or preserving someone’s honor? Is the higher misconduct to lie in court or to ruin another person’s honor? Now, I believe that both are good and should work together, but that is only in theory. In reality, societies tend to lean one way or the other.

So where does your society fall?

  1. Look at the land inside the country

Is your nation in the middle of a desert? Those people might value water so much that they craft a religion or strict rules around it. This culture might consist of small bands of nomads since the land can’t support massive cities. This could lead to a really strong familial bond and a mistrust of outsiders.

See what I did? I took what I knew had to be true about the land and then I took it to its nature conclusion. You can do this with anywhere.

What would a nation in the middle of a fertile prairie value? Well, a good partition of the society must be farmers, but there has to be trade happening between the farmers. Maybe they value communal time with their neighbors. They are most likely to be friendly to outsiders since there aren’t many, and they are not crowded in a harsh climate.

So where is your country located? What can you draw from that?

  1. What job makes the most money?

Money drives the economy and allows people to live. It is a fact of life on this earth: people want money. So how would someone in your culture get the most money?

In a fishing culture by the sea, it probably isn’t the fishermen making the most money. Most likely it is the merchants and sailors who bring the fish to other nations. So is there an elitist society with the merchants? Is your nation a plutocracy (see my other post.) Do the fishermen feel wronged? Is there common war and thievery? Do foreign items show riches and not the locally made things? Is the sea seen as the ultimate chance for riches and freedom?

  1. Where is the nation located?

This is very similar to #2, but here I am asking about what is around your nation.

Is it surrounded by mountains and a desert/ocean? Then there probably aren’t many foreigners (so different might be seen as bad), and there probably are not many wars going on, and the people probably do not value fighting or warriors. The might mistrust those who aren’t from their area. Is there even a need for a central government (aka is it anarchy?)

How about a place where the nation is completely landlocked and surrounded by other countries. They probably value warriors a lot—in fact, defense and offense might be an integral part of their society.

  1. Pick a random virtue

Now, I would really only suggest using this method if the other four don’t work. Here you would pick a random virtue that you want your culture to extol above all others and focus on. Then you would build the society around that.

How would a country that extolled grace and mercy look? There might not be any courts or judges. Punishing a crime could be frowned upon. Would there be gangs because of that? Would there be people responsible for trying to get the criminals to repent instead of punishing them? (Actually, that could make a really interesting dystopian story. Could you see it: missionary police? :p )

So how do you create a culture in your novel? Do you have other methods than these? What do you think is your most developed culture? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

World Building Series:

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11 thoughts on “World Building: Having a Cultural Focus”

  1. Hi there! I’m fairly new to following your blog, but I love what I’ve read so far, and it has helped me greatly in my own writing endeavors :). It is so inspiring to see a sister-in-Christ on a similar writing journey.

    I am actually immersed in worldbuilding for my fantasy series at the moment, so these posts in particular I am finding most helpful. For instance, I didn’t really think about the whole truth vs honor concept when designing my world’s cultures, so that will be a good reference–not an absolute one, of course. And there are other things I found useful in this post, but that was the one that stuck out to me the most.

    I would share some of the culture points I’ve come across and used to develop my world, but I am currently without my computer, which has all my notes–and typing this bit all on my phone is tedious enough as it is. Anyway, I look forward to reading more of your posts, and I hope we can connect and learn from each other in the process.

    Have a good evening, and God bless :).

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    1. Hey, Kyle!
      I’m glad my blog has been helpful, and I’m excited to get to know you, too! I absolutely love when others comment and chat with me– it is so encouraging to talk with other teen writers, especially (like you mentioned) when they are Christians, too.
      Oooh! You’re worldbuilding right now? I am sure your world will turn out amazing. Do you enjoy the process? I know, the truth vs. honor thing really struck me, too. My world history teacher made us read a book which talked a lot about it. In fact, the truth vs. honor basis can be traced back to Greek (truth) and Arabian (honor) thought, and it is really evident in the Middle East crises today. I can refer the book to you if you would like. However, I think one of the coolest things is how you see Hebrew culture (and therefore God and Christianity) is the perfect blend of the two.
      Oh! I would love for you to do that. In fact, if you e-mailed me (my address in on the contact me page), I might be able to post your points as a guest post on my blog. Would that be okay with you?
      Have a wonderful day, and God bless you, too.
      Gabrielle

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      1. Yeah, absolutely! I’ve only recently started networking with other Christian writers, so the more, the merrier, I say. And I’m actually not a teen anymore; I’m in my 20s–I hope that’s ok, as I’m still a teen at heart most of the time, except that I’m out of school and have a full-time job, haha.
        And yes, I do really enjoy the worldbuilding processs; I had started writing my story with little thought as to what the setting would be like, except that it would slightly resemble medieval Europe, but as I wrote more of my first draft, I realized how necessary worldbuilding is to keep all of my setting details and cultural concepts straight, so I’ve been diverting more focus there, and it has drastically helped me flesh out my story in ways I didn’t know it needed to be–that, and writing character bios, but that’s a whole other topic, as I also read in your blog ;). I use Microsoft OneNote to keep my worldbuilding notes in distinct sections–kind of like a series binder, though probably not yet as organized (I’m working on that)–to make it easier to document things as I think of them. And I bullet-point EVERYTHING, because bullet-point outlines are my life, and it makes it so much easier to categorize topics and subtopics and sub-subtopics (if that’s even a word). I read through so many worldbuilding posts on Pinterest, it amazes me that I can still see straight–I think that’s how I came across your blog to begin with–but yeah, the book you mentioned sounds really interesting, so a reference to that would be great 🙂
        And I am honored that you would ask me to guest-post; I would love to! It may take me a few days to put something coherent and concise together, but I am taking this week off work, so I will actually have some down-time to do it (as well write/worldbuild more in general, so yay!). I will send you my contact info today, and then let you know within the next few days when my post is ready.
        Thanks and God bless,
        Kylie

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