Character Building Blog 2 (Culture)

So in my first blog about character development I discussed race.  Along with race it is important to establish the culture of those involved in the story.  Fantasy writers have to work especially hard at this, but all writers should have an understanding of the culture that their characters are involve in.  Sometimes it is easiest to write a story based on your own culture, but involving cultures outside of your own with help put depth into your story.  I live in upstate New York, but if I want to write a story based in the New York City area, I should seek to understand the way of living there, as it would be different than here. 

If you are writing a historic piece you will want to read what the culture was like during the time your story is set.  What was the technology of the time?  What were the primary religions?  Was it an insult if a man wore a hat in a restaurant among other seemingly small things.  This is also good to figure out if you are writing supernatural books.  In one of the stories I am working on there is a ghost of a man who died in the 1920s so I have been asking myself questions such as:  What kind of slang was used?  What was the town like when he was alive?  What did he listen to for music?  What kind of vehicle did he drive?  And other things as they pop up?   Even with futuristic writing it is important to set up what the culture will be like.  This will take some creativity but having an idea what the culture is like that the characters are placed in will help the story to move along.

You may have to do some creating for non-human races such as vampires, zombies, and others. 

Fantasy writers especially can have a lot of fun with this.  You can create races right from scratch.  The Hobbits in J. R. R. Tolkien’s writings had their own little culture up in the Shire. 

Here is a list of things when looking into culture

          Government Style

          Most Widely used language and minor languages

          Religion and its influence on culture

          Various ethnic groups

          Modes of transportation

          Sources of entertainment

          Dress Style

          Food and drink

          Various jobs and occupations

          Money system (Bills, gold, silver, trade)

          Appropriate greetings (Handshakes, bowing, cheek kissing)

          Gender roles

          Education system

          How the military works

          Law and order – What is legal and what isn’t

          Taboos (What kind of things are rude and offensive)


Cross Culture guide

Books that may be helpful (Affiliate Links):

World Cultures: A Global Mosaic, 5th Edition

Book of Peoples of the World: A Guide to Cultures

National Geographic People of the World: Cultures and Traditions, Ancestry, and Identity


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