Looking for something?

In Standard

10 Questions to Ask When You Create a Fictional Culture

10 Questions to Ask When You Create a Fictional Culture

The way I build worlds is by collecting cool stuff from the history, myth and people around me. I blend these details with my own imagination, and create my own cultures. Culture is a vital part to realistic worldbuilding.

Normally there are a few particular cultures that interest me at a given time. I read whatever I can find about them, their environment, their traditions and their myths. The interesting details filter into the new world I’m creating (example: at one time, Venetian widows could only remarry on the stroke of midnight).

In the long term, there is nothing more inspiring and challenging than visiting foreign cultures yourself (especially if you can get far beyond your comfort zone to do it). This is the truest way to experience culture, and I really believe it shows in your writing.

Questions to Ask When You Create a Fictional CultureBut reading (non-fiction, myth/legend/fairytales, as well as the classics like Dune and Lord of the Rings) and watching documentaries/films can get you a long way toward filling up on your inspiration tank.

It’s important to remember: Culture in fiction isn’t a rod to get a point across. At its best, it is something beautiful, otherworldly, amusing, and sobering. The more layers and contradictions your culture has, the more real it will be.

Some questions you might ask yourself are:

  1. What is the most important ideal to this culture as a whole? What would other countries say is the stereotype? (Brutally simplistic examples: America = freedom, French = romance) BONUS: How is this ideal positive, and how is it negative?
  2. What is the setting of the culture? (History, myth and geographical location are huge huge huge players in the formation of culture.)
  3. How did this culture come into being? How has it changed between then and the start of the novel?
  4. How does the culture influence my protagonist? In what ways is the culture antagonistic? In what ways is it beautiful?
  5. What are three detailed, specific things about this culture that I love? What are three that I hate?
  6. What are exterior influences on the culture? Who’s living next door? What are relationships like between nations?
  7. What does your culture look like to a native, and what does it look like to an outsider? (Place a native from your novel in an intensely cultural part of your world (for instance, a market place). Describe the scene. Then place a foreign character in the same setting, and describe it again.)
  8. What is one yearly ceremony or celebration that is important to the culture (and your main character)?
  9. What is one specific action/ritual/habit this culture has (and why)? How would they react to someone who breaks it? (Example: The Pashtun don’t throw away bread crumbs, they put them outside so the birds can eat them. If you brush off your shirt over a trashcan, they will take the trashcan and try to sweep the crumbs onto the ground outside.)
  10. What things are you passionate about? (Example: books, dancing, music.) What things do you not understand, or wish you understood? (Example: child marriages, rednecks, monasteries, the “brotherhood of soldiers” trope.) Writing about these things will help fuel your diligence, but will also force you into a sort of seeking—and when you’re seeking, your culture will become more vivid.

Bonus Questions:

  1. What is this culture’s religion, and how does it effect daily life?
  2. How does this culture treat its vulnerable–the children and the elderly? Are they burdens, are they honored, or something in-between?
  3. What is the height of honor in this culture? (Examples: Giving one’s life to protect others, committing suicide rather than surrendering.) What is the height of dishonor?
  4. How does courtship work in this culture? Who approaches who? How involved are parents?
  5. How do fathers treat their daughters?
16 Comments 21062 Views

16 Comments

  1. Honestly, as a person who is worldbuilding in a story that isn’t fantasy, this post is a godsend. Usually it’s hard to find informative and interesting questions that encompass all genres rather than just ones that usually have the most need for world building therefore the same old same old magic system questions. Thank you for this post, you’ve gotten yourself a follower

    1. Glad you found it helpful, Cait!

  2. […] American English Dialects. David Morrell On the Key to Settings. 5 Ways to Take Your Readers Back in Time: The Importance of Historical ResearchWritersDigest.com. 21 Writing Prompts for Setting a Scene in Your Novel. 10 Questions to Ask When You Create a Fictional Culture | Alyssa Hollingsworth. […]

  3. Hello,

    If you *really* want to get into depth on a fictional culture, how about treating it like you’re writing a (fictional) ethnography? There are a number of free academic resource out there, and in a few seconds of googling, I found

    http://www.engagingcommunities.org/

    As an open-source textbook on ethnographic writing.

    Cheers!
    Craig

  4. […] make your main character an expert on the subject. Some authors who write fight scenes well are: Fictional Culture. The way I build worlds is by collecting cool stuff from the history, myth and people around […]

  5. […] Classes. Songwriting. http://Www.fictionalley.org/primer/title.html. Fantasy cannot build its imaginary worlds in short fiction. Short Story Ideas and Creative Writing Prompts. 9 Fundamental Fears That Motivate Your Characters – Character Secrets. Worldbuilding: 10 Questions to Create Fictional Cultures. […]

  6. […] Shepherd, and Devon Boorman, the swordmaster of Academie Duello in Vancouver. (I lost my program, so if you remember who else was there, please leave it in the comments, below) For me, this talk was so fascinating, it was worth the cost of admission to VCON. In fact, I spent days thinking about the topics discussed and tried to incorporate them into The Watcher Saga. These are just a few of them as I remember it. 1. First of all, if you’re not technical and don’t know the details of fighting, you shouldn’t try to write about them. Moreover, if you don’t feel comfortable or knowledgeable about fighting, don’t make your main character an expert on the subject. Some authors who write fight scenes well are: Fictional Culture. […]

  7. […] 10 Reading Exercises for Fiction Writers. Creative writing tools. Plot Scenario Generator. 36 Surprising Ways to Boost Creativity For Free. Fictional Culture. […]

  8. […] Hollingsworth shares ten useful questions to ask about your fantasy world’s culture. How do you make your world seem as real as our own. Our world that has seen many changing tides […]

  9. […] There's all these little details and things to consider, and I end up drowning in a sea of interconnected facts that, nonetheless, do not spawn a coherent and entertaining story on their own. There are a lot of world-building worksheets out there; this one is a little different. This world-building leviathan, so called because it is a many-tentacled thing that expands as you work on it and eventually creeps into every corner of your brain — this world-building leviathan is designed with natural segue into writing one (or more) specific novels or series of novels. In other words, this world-building creature requires that you have an outline. Créer une prophécie. To keep in mind when writing our own History. How to build a fictional world – Kate Messner. Limyaael Rants Archive – Curiosity Quills Press. Fictional Culture. […]

  10. […] In the broadest sense of things, the creative process allows us to believe in that old adage that is said to come from Nietzsche: Feature Story: Writing to Heal: Research shows writing about emotional experiences can have tangible health benefits. For nearly 20 years, Dr. James W. The Creative Journal. Religion in fantasy novels. Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions. World Builder Projects. Maps Workshop — Developing the Fictional World through Mapping. Religion in fantasy novels. Fictional Culture. […]

  11. […] LA NARRAZIONE. Fictional Culture. […]

  12. […] 10 Worldbuilding Questions […]

  13. Love this post! I’m in the middle of revising my novel and these questions couldn’t have come at a better time. I especially love what you said about getting out of your comfort zone and traveling. So true! I’m not a military kid but a nonprofit kid and have been fortunate enough to travel the world. I’ve found travel to inspire so much of my writing. Thanks for the tips Alyssa! 🙂

    1. Love me some nonprofit kids! Glad you found this helpful. 🙂

  14. Love this so much, it’s exactly what I was looking for. Perfect advice and guidance to help me construct my world. It got my brain flowing finally.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: