Lesson 3: Culture IIA Lesson by Mila
A continuation of the first culture lesson covering different types of culture and implementing it in your plot!
Last two parts regarding culture are continued here! In this lesson, we'll cover how to diversify culture and ways you can implement it in your plot!
Part III: Different Types of Culture
So we all know that the best thing about culture is how colorful we can make it. And by 'colorful' I mean by diversifying people, traditions, languages, societal living and so on so forth.
In order to properly show you guys how to start and be consistent with fine tuning your culture, we have to first go into what different types of culture one can explore. I've given a few very common ones my own names, and will delve deeper into them. As we explore the more common types, finding and discovering your own should come naturally!
1. Military Culture
2. Artisan Culture
3. Modernist Culture
4. Spiritual Culture
5. Industrial Culture
Military culture is as the name states. This sort of society is developed and shaped around its army and the growing and maintaining of it. Perhaps in this culture, young boys are trained to be warriors. Perhaps the ruler is a Warlord of sorts. Perhaps the country itself is based off of years and years of waging wars and taking lands. Of course, that's mostly how all countries grow, but some are more into it than others (ex: This is Spartaaaaaa!!!).
When writing a military culture, try and keep in mind that this is your world. You don't have to have just boys training to be warriors. Perhaps girls are in it to. Hell, perhaps it's a choice! Shieldmaidens was a common concept in old, ancient war-like societies, namely the Vikings. Gender roles can be toyed with here and there, so long as you have an explanation as to why women are (or are not) given those freedoms. You could tie that into religion, if need be. (See Lesson 3: Culture I under Part I #2, Gender Roles, and Part II #1, Structure of Religion for further reference).
Going past gender roles, you also need to focus on organization. We always assume that, having a military society, it's a bunch of heathens running around and stabbing each other. Upon further readings and analysis, you realize that this is not the case. They were, surprisingly, very organized, albeit not without their barbaric tendencies.
Now, I can't tell you exactly how to organize your society, that is up to you as the author. But, I can tell you that the military probably has a stronger hold on these societies than most others, and how you work that into your organization will probably define just how successfully you pull it off.
Ask yourself these questions: Who has the authority? Why? Who speaks for the main authority? What degree of power does the military have? What are the limits? What is the social hierarchy and why is it that way? Can one choose a life path for themselves or does every one need to have experience in the army?
Remember, above all things, you're developing a culture. Feel free to have more than one military society but distinguishing one from the other is key in adding depth to your world. Perhaps one is more strict than the other, and so on so forth. Be careful not to fall into a rut of redundancy with this one. You may think that there isn't much to developing a military culture but you'd be surprised just how complex they can be.
Let's take a step back to our World History class years, when your teacher began talking about this wonderful movement we here call 'the Renaissance'. Picture it (the Renaissance, not World History). Imagine the art, the literature, the enlightenment and the sheer need, nay, WANT for movement in imagination. Cities boasted glorious statues, architecture and art. Scholars began to think outside the box, and it was a time of art, glory, the celebration of beauty and, of course, someone saying something about the world not being flat and then being hanged for it...
So, so sad...
But now take that mental picture and implement it into our fantasy world and, there you have it! Artisan culture!
Basically, when trying to take a culture that celebrates art, you have to start with how people live their lives in this culture. Think about who, or what (event or time maybe?) that inspired this movement of imagination. What is the culture known for? Some art known to be more intellectual (think Great Britain during the Renaissance time) and others are more artistic in a literal sense (think Ital during the Renaissance time). Some express their capturing of imagination through poetry or literature and others capture it through paintings, sculptures and architecture.
Remember, when dealing with an artisan culture, you have to talk about what inspired it. What brought it about? Was it always this way? Perhaps they had a Renaissance of their own, but why? What was the cause? Did it come into its own? Remember what we spoke about in Lesson 2, with not dumping information into one spot just to get it out of the way. Work it into your plot, make it a point of conversation. If it's the main setting of your story, or one of them, go into more detail. If not, still bring it up. The beauty of having depth in high fantasy is having an explanation, bit or small, for anything that comes up. You can mention it lightly or go into more detail depending on it's importance. (We'll get more into all of that in a later lesson).
Remember, this is fantasy. You can take the technical definitions of an artisan culture and add fantasy elements such as magic and so on so forth. Make sure that, when you have it, you have to incorporate is as part of the culture or society. Don't just have dragons flying around everywhere spewing fire without a reason or explanation. Remember, this is YOUR WORLD. As long as you have an explanation for it, there is no reason to not have it in there. As long as you follow the basic "flow" of what an artisan culture entails, adding your own spice to it is all in your hands, as the author.
Another good point worth mentioning in an artisan culture is that it can be mistaken quite often for a modernist one. Modernist is more of an intellectual take on an artisan. They deal in trade and the arts, trying to spread their forward thinking through visual interpretations. Modernists usually work with the books, and those are your poets, scholar enlightenment sort and intellectuals. Which, in fact, is a great lead into...
So as we were talking about artisan cultures in #2, we go into it's sister culture, the modernists. When I was in high school and we were studying modernism, a lot of the lesson plan had to do with intellectual, forward thinking such as the enlightenment period with people such as Voltaire or Locke. Modernism, in a way, is more of a period of time than a society, but a culture can most certainly be built on modernist thinking. It's just a tad more complex and, if you want to have a culture with a modernist background, the best way for you to go about that is to either have it as a small part of your world or a large one.
Cardinal rule of dabbling in modernism: there is no in-between. You're either all in or not so much.
So how does one start with modernism? You first have to realize that it's all about the cultural mindset. People, the majority of them, especially those both up in ranks or up-and-coming, tend to be more forward thinking. You need to start with developing the people in the culture before you get into the culture itself. A good thing to remember is culture is developed by mindset, politics, geographical location, history, a mix of many of them and so on so forth. Modernists are thinkers and intellectuals, so their culture starts with that one dude going "but maybe there's more to this..." or someone writing up a treatise or essay and so on so forth.
They are eloquent speakers, usually, and are quite forward with their ideas. They are known to have lively and heated debates about anything under the sun from political systems, to economics, to science, to art and so on so forth. They dabble into the finer points of religion and spirituality. They think beyond the limitations of what they grew up with and, most importantly, they aren't afraid of showcasing it. When drawing up a modernist culture, you need to work with a group of eclectic people, all of whom share very different beliefs.
This would be a good time to mention another cardinal rule of modernist (and any, for that matter) culture: NOT EVERYONE FOLLOWS IT. NOT EVERYONE IS A MODERNIST. YOU WILL HAVE PEOPLE WHO ARE JUST GOING ABOUT LIFE, NOT BOTHERING WITH HOW THEIR CULTURE SHAPES THEIR SOCIETY. YOU WILL HAVE THOSE PEOPLE. DO NOT FORGET THEM!
You are trying to draw up a depth in your world. In order to do that, you HAVE to remember that there are people who live normal lives, work in regular trades and are just going about their day. There are multiple walks of life. If you write a society with one group of people being showcased, trust me, it will be very boring! Again, we'll get into this deeper in future lessons.
Again, this being fantasy, you can always incorporate your own themes into it to make it your own. Just remember how a modernist culture generally works before you add in your own themes to make it your own! Mixing cultures is your interpretation as the author, but you have to remember at least how they work before you mash them up and revamp it!
A spiritual culture is going to probably have authorities in a holy house. Think of the Holy Roman Empire, and how much the pope had power over the royal houses during Europe's monarchy history. A spiritual culture, depending on how you develop your religion, will place a great importance on their faith and incorporate it into how your society is being run.
Very likely your religious leaders will call most of the shots in the society. Gender roles may depend heavily on what is said in the faith's holy books or scriptures. That can also apply to the basic rules of society as well, and how the breaking of such rules are tried and punished for. If it's extreme, you have to find a way to justify it within the faith, but also remember that these are people you're dealing with, not robots. They will try and interpret the rules of their faith that govern them to their advantage depending on the character or state of affairs. Be ready to remain consistent with the characters you have in that regard. A villain won't exactly 100% follow the morals and ethics of his faith, while a hero will try and do what's best.
When dealing with human characters and faith, it is important to remember that they are human.
Remember that a society is not only about the rulers, it's about the people as well. Not everyone in this sort of culture will zealously follow the faith that rules them, so you're not breaking any rules, per say, by having a few black sheep here and there that go about their lives as usual without stopping and bowing to the spiritual ideals that rule them. That is how you diversify a spiritual culture.
A common trend in High Fantasy is writing in a medieval setting, with Kings, Queens, Lords, Ladies, Knights, Dragons and so on so forth. A lot of Fantasy we read today is in that sort of setting from A Song of Ice and Fire to Wheel of Time to The Night Angels trilogy and so on so forth.
Why do they do this? Well, maybe because we can often attribute a medieval setting to one that is developed. When you write a fantasy story that is in a more modern setting, that tends to lean more towards the science fiction region, but it can have its fantasy aspects as well.
That being said, an industrial culture can be portrayed easily in a more progressive society, such as a setting that mirrors steampunk. But that is not to say that you cannot have an industrial culture built into a medieval setting. Remember, industrialization is just a fancy term for modernizing, experimenting, inventing and forward thinking. There are many ways one can industrialize that don't have to do with steamers, trains and factories.
You, as the author, when building an industrial nation must as yourself these questions: how are they industrializing? Why? What do they want to be known for? For how long as this been going on? What is the end game? Are they competing? With whom? What sort of inventions have come up?
If you're industrializing in a medieval setting, you have to be cognoscente of that. If we're talking about knights, ladies, kings, and queens, you won't be seeing a lot of trains, planes and automobiles going around. I know it's fantasy and you have full reign of what goes on and what goes where, but a touch of realism has to be accounted for. You can twist and bend the rules of certain settings so much. So, if you want to industrialize in a medieval setting, try artistic industrialization. Play with the arts. Go literary with the scholars and writers. Perhaps throw in a printing press. Make it a modernistic industrialization as opposed to the actual "steampunk" we're so used to associating with it.
Remember, these rules apply no matter what setting you're going for. I know I bring up medieval a lot because that is the more popular one in high fantasy, but there are other settings and if you go with them, you need to be consistent with the mindset and the "era". Don't have pistols in an ancient Roman setting. Don't have cannons in a tribal setting. So on so forth. Take your own spin on it but take consistency into account. Remember, you're the author, but you're also appealing to your readers. Most of them won't react well to cannons in a setting meant to reflect ancient Rome.
In short: industrialize in a way that suits the time period you're mirroring your setting in. And remember, this is fantasy, if you want to throw in magic with industrialization or some sort of fantasy element, do that.
Also, remember that you are building a culture here. You want the industrialization to have some sort of heavy impact on your society. Make sure that it's there, or the whole concept will be deadweight. I think I've mentioned it before, but one of the worst enemies of any genre is mentioning something the readers will remember and then never bringing it up again.
First things first about naval culture, you cannot have it developing in a landlocked area. Naval cultures happen around large bodies of water, like the sea. Think of the greatest naval culture in our own history: Great Britain. What do we know about it? It's an island. Literally surrounded everywhere by water. Now, if you want to build a naval culture, you don't have to make your country an island, but a good portion of it has to be touched by a coastline.
In my own story, I am developing a naval culture of a landmass where the entire Eastern border is a coastline. That is an example of how you can build a naval culture without making your region an island. It works, because a good portion of it touches a large body of water, but there is room enough to develop an intricate society.
This is one of the few cultures you can build that heavily depends on geographical location. But besides that what else can we look for in a naval culture? What else makes it stand out.
Perhaps the navy? You definitely want your naval culture to have a better navy than, say, a non naval culture. If your spiritual culture has a better navy than your naval culture, then that's a wee bit of a consistency problem. Also, you want most, but not all, of your society to have some sort of connection to the sea. Perhaps there's a tiny pirating culture developing after a ton of navy officers found themselves out of work. Remember about ports, because a lot of nautical culture happens in those areas. Don't shy away from the tavern/brothel culture of the ports either, remember you want to make this as believable as possible.
This culture may stand out more than the rest but remember that some of the rules, if not all, of societal living still stand. Structure, gender roles, social hierarchy, even spirituality. A lot of naval cultures stand similar to regular societies with a touch of salt water.
You cannot forget that not everyone in the naval culture is going to be connected with the sea. You need to remember this for all of your cultures that, no matter what it is the culture is about, not everyone will be a part of it. The normal folk that go about their ordinary lives in whatever place you develop are important because that reminds is that there is a sense of consistent normality in any fantasy world that is developed.
No matter how you take your culture, there has to be a taste of everything in it. Just think of our own culture or other cultures around the world. That is the best template for you. See, observe and research before detailing a specific culture in your fantasy story.
And, when in doubt, toss in a few dragons. ;)
Part IV: Traditions/Diversity
So I'm going to let you beautiful people in on a liiiiiiittttttllleeeee secret. Fantasy worlds are more than capable of having just as much diversity as ours has.
Diversity? What? What does that mean, Mila?!!?!?
Don't panic, diversity can mean a whole number of things that range beyond what first comes to our mind (and that may vary per person, but the first thing that comes to MY mind when someone mentions diversity is race).
Just step back and take a moment to reflect on this: you are creating a fantasy world here, so do you think every single person in this world is going to think, act, look, walk, talk, dress, eat, drink, sleep etc. the same? Hopefully not, because that would be only a tad redundantly boring...
Diversity, fellow pupils, is your best weapon. It is the one thing you have in your arsenal that will really make your world your own. It will add in those fine touches that you as the author seek.
I'm going to list a few things that one can consider when thinking to add diversity to their world. Note, please, that what I list is not EVERYTHING encompassed in the term of 'diversity', but it is indeed some of the main ones.
3. Cultural Traditions
4. Morals/Ethics/Basic Principles
6. Public Interactions
Like I said, this is certainly not everything, just SOME of the more broader aspects.
I will now break these down in short detail.
Variety in race seems to be a hot topic in most aspects of literature. There is a common trend to make most all characters Caucasian and, if you are writing in a world that focuses on one significant culture or country, then there is no harm in that. If, however, you are writing in the perspective of a world, then variety in race will be helpful in making your world look more well rounded.
As the author, it is in your hands to decide what skin color, hair color, eye color and so on so forth goes where. Remember, this is a fantasy world, so some rules can be bended and molded to fit your descriptions. Think of it this way: in a hot climate, would there be a lot of pale skinned folk? In a cold climate, would there be a lot of tanned skin?
Although there are many things in society that we have in common with one another (saying "hello" and "goodbye", "thank you" and "you're welcome" etc.) there are some things that are done in one place more than the other, and that usually comes with certain upbringings.
What country will you find the more intellectuals? Possibly the country where the households stress on education. What country will you find to be the most conservative? Possibly the one that teaches certain decorum, or the one that is more religious. Often, the upbringing in a single household is what shapes the societal and cultural views of a nation, so you have to be careful not to make them all too similar. Each nation's culture needs to have its own sense of individuality.
Think about it this way: The nation is a world, and the cities and states are the people. Even within a nation, the cities don't always have to be similar. Each household has its own personality, per say, so while you're painting the overview of a culture by describing what generally happens in its households, be wary of the fact that having them ALL BE THE SAME will make your culture seem a tad boring.
Jerry may not have been raised the same way as Freddie even if they grew up in the same street, in other words.
This ties into upbringing a little, but what I'm really referring to here is the festivals, holidays and such.
Culturally, when you think of your society, what are some things that come to mind? 4th of July in America, Holi in India, Bastille Day in France etc. etc. Different things come to mind when you think of the traditions of other countries in our own world, so you want to make sure that you incorporate that same mindset into the world you're trying to build.
Your festivals could be anything from religious to something in your nation's history. Think of the 4th of July--it was the day America won its independence. That is a day that is sacred to us, even though it does not pertain to religion. Take into extra account the significance of the days on which the celebrations are held, because often, those aren't scheduled on accident.
More to come when I snag some more time! Good luck and happy writing, message me with any questions! :)
Part V: Culture in the Plot
Added on November 26, 2014
Last Updated on February 21, 2015
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