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satyesu
09-04-2014, 05:50 AM
More than the typical dungeon master would go.

Filigree
09-04-2014, 06:54 AM
Stop thinking like a dungeon master, and begin thinking like a historian or a war correspondent. What are that culture's foundations and challenges? How do they see themselves and how do others see them? You don't have to write this all at once. Chances are, it will be a process of discovery.

rwm4768
09-04-2014, 08:07 AM
Ask yourself a lot of "what if" questions. Start with your basic premise, then figure out how that will affect various aspects of that culture. You might want to check out Patricia C. Wrede's worldbuilding questions on sfwa.org. They're a good place to get ideas of how everything works together in a fantasy world. You don't have to answer all the questions. Just keep them in mind a you build the world.

I usually work on a few basics, and then I fill out the details as they become relevant in the story.

Kerosene
09-04-2014, 08:10 AM
Steal from real ones.

Liosse de Velishaf
09-04-2014, 08:11 AM
Read Limyaael's Fantasy Rants (http://www.insanejournal.com/tools/memories.bml?user=limyaael&keyword=fantasy+rants&filter=all). If you still have questions, come on back.




Also, I concur with the above comment. Please don't think like a DM.

Roxxsmom
09-04-2014, 08:19 AM
I enjoy her (or is it his) rants, but they always demoralize me. I realize I'll never, ever be able to write a story he or she would approve of that I'd actually want to read. Why not? Because some of the rants are obviously triggered by some of my favorite fantasy novels :(

blacbird
09-04-2014, 11:42 AM
Have your characters do stuff indigenous to their culture, describe what they do and experience, but do NOT EXPLAIN what they do and experience. Any indigenous culture will consider what they do and experience to be completely normal and part of their lives. Their culture won't be weird to them. If they have leaders who can levitate and are telepathic and can make fire come out of their eyes, that will be completely part of everybody's day. Let it happen. Don't explain it.

caw

Liosse de Velishaf
09-04-2014, 01:10 PM
I enjoy her (or is it his) rants, but they always demoralize me. I realize I'll never, ever be able to write a story he or she would approve of that I'd actually want to read. Why not? Because some of the rants are obviously triggered by some of my favorite fantasy novels :(

Well, most world-building and story advice stuff is to be taken with a grain of salt. I find that even when I disagree vehemently with some piece of advice, it's useful because it helps me codify my own personal preferences and style.


Have your characters do stuff indigenous to their culture, describe what they do and experience, but do NOT EXPLAIN what they do and experience. Any indigenous culture will consider what they do and experience to be completely normal and part of their lives. Their culture won't be weird to them. If they have leaders who can levitate and are telepathic and can make fire come out of their eyes, that will be completely part of everybody's day. Let it happen. Don't explain it.

caw

The above is pretty decent advice in my book.



The OP might also try Patricia C. Wrede's world-building questionnaire:

http://www.sfwa.org/2009/08/fantasy-worldbuilding-questions/

Holly Lisle's World-building Faqs(Although I personally dislike this one and it is full of factual errors, some people swear by it.):

http://hollylisle.com/questions-about-worldbuilding/

This guide put together by NaNoWriMo participants(This also has a few factual errors, but I like it and it's still being expanded):

http://www.involuntaryart.com/worldbuilding/index.php?title=Main_Page

Teinz
09-04-2014, 02:58 PM
Get to know the filosophy of your culture. Get to know their religion. Think about what they deem right and wrong. What do they love and hate.

Once you get that framework right, the actions of your characters will flow naturally from what they believe.

Dennis E. Taylor
09-04-2014, 06:47 PM
One of the big problems with D&D is that it's almost all predators. You wander around the countryside, and pretty much everything wants to eat you. Or worse.

I was once in a game where we got attacked so many times by so many things, I ended up calculating that to feed all these beasts when there were no players wandering through, you'd have to be six feet deep in rabbits!

Point being, there are certain basic rules of logic. You shouldn't have an ecology that's all predators, you shouldn't have a school filled with traps that would kill students on a regular basis (not naming any names...), and the society shouldn't be so dangerous that all the peasantry would be dead or gone in a week.

Reziac
09-04-2014, 07:12 PM
One of the big problems with D&D is that it's almost all predators. You wander around the countryside, and pretty much everything wants to eat you. Or worse.

This sounds exactly like the desert, where if the plants are to be believed, rabbits are predators and plants arm themselves accordingly. Seriously, if you stand still for five minutes, something WILL eat you!

I agree with those who say discovery works better than setting up the rules in advance. Let your characters act "naturally", then when you don't understand why they did something, figure out how it relates to their world. Extrapolate rather than dictate.

Tazlima
09-04-2014, 07:40 PM
This sounds exactly like the desert, where if the plants are to be believed, rabbits are predators and plants arm themselves accordingly. Seriously, if you stand still for five minutes, something WILL eat you!


Lol, this is so true. I grew up in the US southwestern desert. Almost everything there bites, stings, or pokes.

When I went away to college in Virginia, I felt like I'd stumbled into a Disney movie. Fwuffy bunnies and squirrels instead of rattlesnakes and scorpions. You could actually climb the trees without any risk of impaling your hands on 2" thorns (mesquite doesn't like to be climbed) and if you happened to fall, you landed on nice soft grass rather than a combination of cacti and sharp rocks.

Filigree
09-04-2014, 07:46 PM
I've been using the cartoon 'Adventure Time' as a great example of non-explanatory worldbuilding. There's a hell of a lot of backstory woven into the goofiness, but it's rarely addressed in an outright fashion. Mostly, the audience is just assumed to have an attention span and the ability to put clues together.

Buffysquirrel
09-04-2014, 07:58 PM
Don't fall into lazy stereotypes like making females automatically inferior, being gay automatically taboo, and so on and so forth ad infinitum.

Reziac
09-04-2014, 08:08 PM
Lol, this is so true. I grew up in the US southwestern desert. Almost everything there bites, stings, or pokes.

When I went away to college in Virginia, I felt like I'd stumbled into a Disney movie.

Oh, gar, yes, after 28 years in the SoCal desert I moved back to Montana, and everything here is so... safe. I can set something on the ground for five minutes and it doesn't disappear (cuz in the desert, if the termites don't eat it, the stink beetles will).

But that's a good example for worldbuilding. A desert dweller won't think too much about the voracious crawling pests; he'll just habitually hang everything organic out of their reach. (And douse everything wooden that has to touch the ground in gasoline or motor oil.) A newbie can help build the world by learning all this the hard way. In either case, no need to stop and tell the reader about it.

And the same for social and cultural stuff.

Basically, "learn by experience" applies to fantasy worlds too.

AVS
09-04-2014, 09:09 PM
Start with Earth. Each country has a cascade of different cultures as you go back in time... and there are about 200 nations currently. So there are a few thousand to start with. Then there are all the countries that no longer exist... in England (for instance) Mercia, Wessex, Northumbria and so on.
Mix and match, think how else it could be, extrapolate a national culture from a school or company you've worked in.
Then mix in other species.

Liosse de Velishaf
09-04-2014, 09:54 PM
I agree with those who say discovery works better than setting up the rules in advance. Let your characters act "naturally", then when you don't understand why they did something, figure out how it relates to their world. Extrapolate rather than dictate.


I think the best method is particular to the story and the author. A certain amount of dictating seems useful for me, especially if you have a very different culture in your story than in your real life. Our cultural biases are incredibly strong, and it's often hard for people to break out of them even in circumstances such as travel in a foreign country, where certain cultural differences could get you beat up, killed, or refused police support.

aikigypsy
09-05-2014, 03:53 AM
I started writing my fantasy series an embarassing number of years ago. Sets of the world-building questions and so forth can be useful. Drawing maps is fun, too. Letting your characters rant in not-for-publication first-person form starts to get closer to the heart of things.

But in my book(s), the most important thing is to give it time. I went back to my series after 6 years away, and found so much that I needed to keep building, along with things that I'd forgotten and which inspired new trains of thought. Worlds are not built in a day. Don't rush the process and be prepared to keep building as you write and revise (and revise again ad infinitum).

Mr Flibble
09-05-2014, 04:04 AM
I've been using the cartoon 'Adventure Time' as a great example of non-explanatory worldbuilding. There's a hell of a lot of backstory woven into the goofiness, but it's rarely addressed in an outright fashion. Mostly, the audience is just assumed to have an attention span and the ability to put clues together.


Adventure Time is an awesome example of Doing it Right

Also, my son reckons he is Finn (for more than just the hair -- you recall the hair episode? My son was tickled pink because he has that hair. See! he said See! I AM FINN!!!))

Rufus Coppertop
09-05-2014, 10:05 AM
Read some history.

I highly recommend Herodotus.

Liosse de Velishaf
09-05-2014, 11:40 AM
Read some history.

I highly recommend Herodotus.


Just remember to take any history you read with a grain of salt. Maybe look into some of the historiography in that specific area. Which in and of itself could be useful for world-building inspiration!

Reziac
09-05-2014, 02:43 PM
Read some history.

I highly recommend Herodotus.

Handy right here in a nice readable translation:

http://classics.mit.edu/Herodotus/history.html

And yes, classical histories should be regarded as in need of salt. Some are accurate; some are entirely fictional.

Buffysquirrel
09-05-2014, 03:15 PM
Suetonius.

CrastersBabies
09-05-2014, 08:47 PM
Read some mythology. From all cultures. It kind of rocks. :)

Liosse de Velishaf
09-06-2014, 12:12 AM
Read some mythology. From all cultures. It kind of rocks. :)


But make sure not to appropriate.

MDSchafer
09-06-2014, 12:20 AM
I really can't stress how important foreign travel is when it comes to world building. Living in Africa for a while changed how I write.

Smiling Ted
09-06-2014, 07:42 AM
Always have a warrior race.
Always give that race big, crinkly foreheads.
Always give that race's language harsh consonants, glottal stops, and really bad syntax.
Always make your cosplayers happy.

Liosse de Velishaf
09-06-2014, 02:17 PM
I really can't stress how important foreign travel is when it comes to world building. Living in Africa for a while changed how I write.


I don't think foreign travel is required for good world-building, but it can definitely give a writer useful new perspectives.

satyesu
09-06-2014, 09:13 PM
I might have been led to this by someone here, but this book has a list of 374 cultural values. I've picked ~3 at random before and got ideas. http://www.amazon.com/Brilliant-Positive-Psychology-Optimistic-Motivated/dp/0273738216/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1410023142&sr=8-1

SamCoulson
09-06-2014, 11:40 PM
Just remember to take any history you read with a grain of salt. Maybe look into some of the historiography in that specific area. Which in and of itself could be useful for world-building inspiration!

Herodotus IS history with a grain of salt. That's why it's so great. It's as much narrative extrapolation as factual history.

Liosse de Velishaf
09-07-2014, 01:07 AM
Herodotus IS history with a grain of salt. That's why it's so great. It's as much narrative extrapolation as factual history.


Every historian has their biases. That's all I'm saying.

snafu1056
09-07-2014, 11:23 AM
Historical travelogues are a good source of ideas too because the people who wrote them were concerned with the same questions worldbuilders are concerned with--where am I and how does this place work?

Debbie V
09-09-2014, 07:36 PM
You can start with character and work backward - discovery method.

You can start with world and go forward - how does the literal world fit into it's solar system? What does the night sky look like? How did this planet develop? What is it made out of? How do these factors effect climate? How did your species and others evolve? What aspects of that evolution have become myth? Which are collective memory? What cultures do all of these factors naturally lead to? What major events - natural disasters, space ships landing - impacted the developing cultures? Have past species become extinct? Hopefully, you get the idea. This is the developmental what ifs from the beginning of time in your world.

davidwestergaard
09-09-2014, 09:13 PM
Riffing on existing cultures with a social or economic twist, especially one driven by religion or a magic system, can go a long way to creating a believable, relatable fantasy culture.

Jacqueline Carey is my favorite example of this kind of worldbuilding, though she parallels actual Earth pretty closely.

Buffysquirrel
09-09-2014, 09:16 PM
Every historian has their biases. That's all I'm saying.

This would be why I listed Suetonius, who is a Big Big Liar.

Jenkki
09-11-2014, 02:35 PM
Read Limyaael's Fantasy Rants. If you still have questions, come on back.
Thanks, I will have to check those out.



The OP might also try Patricia C. Wrede's world-building questionnaire

This is what came to my mind when I saw the subject thread. These are extremely comprehensive however, and to do them justice you will probably be spending days if not longer answering all of these questions thoroughly and with originality. If you find yourself writing only writing one sentence replies or angrily typing "See above!" or "Ask me later" or "I hate you Patricia C. Wrede!" it is time to take a break. :)

Liosse de Velishaf
09-11-2014, 08:16 PM
If you find yourself writing only writing one sentence replies or angrily typing "See above!" or "Ask me later" or "I hate you Patricia C. Wrede!" it is time to take a break. :)


Been there. Back when I didn't have my own system for world-building.

Smiling Ted
09-12-2014, 02:09 AM
Back when I didn't have my own system for world-building.

Hey, me too! What's yours like?

I start by finding something that's without form and void. Then I say "Let there be-

-- message terminated -- originating IP address terminated -- network rerouting past EMP damage --

JustSarah
09-12-2014, 02:43 AM
I don't have any, world building has always been something I discovered.

Tyler Silvaris
09-14-2014, 11:17 PM
I try not to think of it as "world-building" so much as "discovery." When I start working on a story, I normally have some basic ideas I want to touch on. (ex. "story about one man's struggle against the shadowy guild that raised him along with his transformation and growth." or "I like a lot of supernatural fiction. Vampires and werewolves are cool after all. If I could make my own rules about the supernatural, what would they be?")
Then I hit the ground running. In the case of example A with one man's battle, I just start telling his story. I have a few vague people and places in mind. I give each a name as it comes up and then keep working out. As the protagonist travels and gets involved in bigger things, he sees more of the world, so I have to start developing the next town, the neighboring kingdom, the next continent. If I decide the character is going to gain direction from a religious source, I need to know what the main religion for that area is, then keep that in mind for each area he encounters. Major religions are rarely world-wide. Make sure you find things that either separate one region from the next (one culture is based in the standard medieval fantasy variety and the other is a blend of Japanese and Egyptian) or find reasons why two regions are not so different ("Those bastards across the river? Was part of Ghalor until some baron or other got uppity 40 years ago and started this damn war. They live like they're still Ghalorans, but I'll be damned if I shake hands with anyone what don't bow to Queen Loryia.")
If a random idea comes to me, I always make sure to try it out and see if I can make it fit with the world as I discover it. If not, take it back out.
Above all else, feel free to dream the world you see. Uncover it through imagination so you can see through the fog of reality to find each piece of this place. Your world. And like dreams, never forget the two most important things: anything you want to find there can be found if you look hard enough, and it's always under your control.

Filigree
09-15-2014, 12:17 AM
+1 for what Tyler mentioned. My 'worldbuilding' is much more a process of discovery and extrapolation. It helps to have gossipy characters who like to overshare. Much of the time I'm developing back story, I feel more like a journalist or a historian - even though I know perfectly well I'm handling both sides of the exchange.

Reziac
09-15-2014, 12:31 AM
+1 for what Tyler mentioned. My 'worldbuilding' is much more a process of discovery and extrapolation. It helps to have gossipy characters who like to overshare. Much of the time I'm developing back story, I feel more like a journalist or a historian - even though I know perfectly well I'm handling both sides of the exchange.

Heh... I'd call mine "discovery" too, but it's more like I'm always asking my characters, "You did what?!?"

Filigree
09-15-2014, 12:44 AM
Usually followed by "Dear God, not again" and "How much trouble are you in, now?"

thothguard51
09-15-2014, 12:55 AM
And on the seventh day, I rested...

Reziac
09-15-2014, 01:20 AM
Usually followed by "Dear God, not again" and "How much trouble are you in, now?"

At which point my MC gripes, "What are you blaming me for? You're the one who dumped me in this mess!"

Liosse de Velishaf
09-15-2014, 01:55 AM
I've done both kinds of world-building, depending on what type of story it is.

For epic fantasy stuff, I prefer to be a bit more methodical, since there are often tons of plot threads to tie up by the end, some of which may not happen on the page.


For something like a standalone heroic fantasy or similar, discovery can be very effective and keep me from getting too caught up in the back-end instead of actually writing the thing.

emax100
09-16-2014, 01:11 AM
One of the big problems with D&D is that it's almost all predators. You wander around the countryside, and pretty much everything wants to eat you. Or worse.

I was once in a game where we got attacked so many times by so many things, I ended up calculating that to feed all these beasts when there were no players wandering through, you'd have to be six feet deep in rabbits!

Point being, there are certain basic rules of logic. You shouldn't have an ecology that's all predators, you shouldn't have a school filled with traps that would kill students on a regular basis (not naming any names...), and the society shouldn't be so dangerous that all the peasantry would be dead or gone in a week.

Sounds pretty much exactly like a typical wilderness in Africa or Australia where the number of animals than can eat or kill you, and will not hesitate to do so, goes well into the dozens. So that is hardly unrealistic. The key, I imagine, would be to carefully research various environments in all the populated continents and figure out which ones most closely match what you are going for as s starting point.

StarWombat
09-16-2014, 05:55 PM
If you can find a copy, Lin Carter's Imaginary Worlds I've found to be very useful.

Neverwhere
09-17-2014, 06:25 PM
Don't fall into lazy stereotypes like making females automatically inferior, being gay automatically taboo, and so on and so forth ad infinitum.

Well there goes my novel.....*flounces*:cry:

Appropriate like there's no tomorrow, just don't appropriate from fiction.

kkwalker
09-17-2014, 11:09 PM
Assuming the players in your story are human or mostly-human-like, I personally like to take a current stereotype of today and flip it on its ear, then build a culture around it.

Here's an example:
Stereotype: Families start with one man and one woman.
Flipped version: Families are bonded groups with at least five adults being bonded.
This being the cultural norm for my fantasy culture, the trick is to then figure out why this system developed. A possible reason is that the conditions of their world are so harsh that it makes more sense to work as a clan than as individual pairs. The result would be a complete lack of understanding of the concept of jealousy within the bonded group. It's the social norm to have more than one partner.

Another flipped version: Families start with bonded pairs that are same-sex. These pairs don't necessarily have sex, but they do raise the children, work as a team, etc. Expanding on that, sexual matters aren't necessarily limited to the bonded pair--so basically, the bond is more a matter of partnering up for survival, and they can go to whomever they like for sex. Makes for an entirely different cultural feel than the one we live in.

All of this goes along with playing the 'what if' game someone mentioned.

Things get even more fun when the people you are playing with aren't exactly our version of human.

What if the world developed around the use of magic? How would that change the dynamic? Who would be in charge? How would the government be arranged? (For high fantasy writers, this might easily come into play for the elves.)
If you want to mess with the male-female dynamic on this, what happens to the balance of power if only women are traditionally able to use magic? What happens when a male is born who can use the magic? (I'm kinda leaning on Romany gypsy tradition here. Using the tarot and having a third eye is traditionally only for the female.)

Anyway.... you can see how it constantly expands. Pick a dynamic from the existing culture that interests you and set it on its ear somehow.

Lady Chipmunk
09-17-2014, 11:58 PM
Figure out the economics. Seriously, what a culture values, the attitude towards money, it plays into a lot of other elements, and it is something that is often overlooked in world building.

Reziac
09-18-2014, 12:34 AM
Figure out the economics. Seriously, what a culture values, the attitude towards money, it plays into a lot of other elements, and it is something that is often overlooked in world building.

That's a really good point. And it can justify all sorts of related worldbuilding. Frex in my SF Epic, we have the relict of an anti-smuggling tactic. So I had to figure out: Why did this exist in the first place? Why is smuggling illegal? And that led to: Because planetary governments (and for that matter, local gov'ts) depend on export tariffs, which are viewed as payment for value removed from the planet. Which in turn means poor planets with few or no exports have no government to speak of, which in turn means little or no enforcement against smuggling, which leads to a sort of permanent free-for-all zone, and that's involved in current politics... you can see how it all ties together as background for my society, all based on who gets money how and for what.

Liosse de Velishaf
09-18-2014, 02:27 AM
That's a really good point. And it can justify all sorts of related worldbuilding. Frex in my SF Epic, we have the relict of an anti-smuggling tactic. So I had to figure out: Why did this exist in the first place? Why is smuggling illegal? And that led to: Because planetary governments (and for that matter, local gov'ts) depend on export tariffs, which are viewed as payment for value removed from the planet. Which in turn means poor planets with few or no exports have no government to speak of, which in turn means little or no enforcement against smuggling, which leads to a sort of permanent free-for-all zone, and that's involved in current politics... you can see how it all ties together as background for my society, all based on who gets money how and for what.



I wish we saw more evidence of explicit planning such as this in modern SFF.

Reziac
09-18-2014, 02:38 AM
I wish we saw more evidence of explicit planning such as this in modern SFF.

Ha, planning, not hardly. More like my hypertrophied Node of Extrapolation at work. One thing follows from another, and another, and another... but what that prevents is shit dropped in at random with no connection to anything else.

Tho the aforementioned relict was a throwaway... it just needed explaining. :)

JoshSpaceCole
09-21-2014, 07:27 PM
Play a lot of video games. My favorites are the ones with entire worlds you inhabit, that still feel like they live without you. Elder Scrolls (Skyrim especially), The Witcher, Dragon Age, and Fallout are great examples, but you could be surprised at the amount of world-building that goes into something like GTA or even Killzone. Some of that's science fiction, of course, but might still inform.

But once it's built, don't talk about it. Just show it.

It always bothers me when like every peasant in a fantasy world is pumped to share the town's history with the protagonists like that's all that people in that world think about. Leave it in the background, where it'll strengthen the plot rather than step in the way.

Oh, and I think it's been mentioned, but avoid creating cultures with a single focus. Some cultures favor war, or profit, or whatever, but most are a lot of things. Even Klingons have opera.

Tyler Silvaris
09-21-2014, 09:44 PM
Oh, and I think it's been mentioned, but avoid creating cultures with a single focus. Some cultures favor war, or profit, or whatever, but most are a lot of things. Even Klingons have opera.

A favorite tactic of mine is to have a fantasy race that is clearly based on one that is easily recognized in fantasy writing and then develop a very different culture for the race than what the norm is. Now here's the catch: even though the race is way different, the other races in the world still apply all the same clichés on them that readers would. So after chapters of talking about them one way, like you expect, you are suddenly struck with something completely different when you really get a look at the race.

Example in motion: current WIP features a race based on the Minotaur. Typically, this is a race viewed as a monster, most often as a ravenous flesh eater that guards the center of a labyrinth somewhere that is most inconvenient to the characters. A lot of times, they aren't even really sentient in the traditional sense, being more beast and than man.

Our Minotaur were certainly descended from those bull-monsters of lore, but were very different. They had a complicated social structure that revolved around their own religious philosophy (they adamantly refuse to worship the traditional gods on their world) called the Atok'baratta. Here is a clip from our WIP. It is one of the Minotaur responding a the MC's observation that it sounded like they worshiped the god of war:

"No, Human," the Minotaur said finally, "the Minotaur do not follow your war god. I am not talking about a never-ending battle. I am talking about conflict. It is what we call the Atok'baratta. To you it would mean something close to "The Two-Fold Conflict." ... There is always conflict. It is what makes us stronger and what makes us try to be stronger. Each challenge in the conflict will be harder. Eventually we are no longer strong enough. Conflict makes all things and unmakes all things.

“When there is no Atok’baratta, there is nothing. Atok’baratta made the gods to conflict with the world to form, then created conflict among them so that there would always be Atok’baratta. It is why all things, Good and Evil, have a place on Vankan. They must be there for the Atok’baratta; for the conflict. Without them, there is no conflict, no Atok’baratta, no world."

Sprinkle in complex traditions about names and titles and suddenly the monsters of before are a philosophical warrior race. Mazes still factor in to their artwork and their city designs, but mostly for defensive purposes; they never get lost in a maze, but an invading army will.

Give the cultures of your world life and the world breathes with them.

eqb
09-21-2014, 10:06 PM
Two things to remember:

Race != culture
And neither one is a monolith

JoshSpaceCole
09-23-2014, 12:43 AM
Two things to remember:

Race != culture
And neither one is a monolith

This, exactly. Couldn't be said better.

And cultures are pretty complex, but most people think of themselves as simple. Any one representative of a culture is going to value different aspects of it, idolize aspects of other nearby cultures, resent some parts, embrace others. If you asked me what it meant to be American, or Pennsylvanian, or even from my town, I'd tell you something different from the guy next to me. And we'd both be right.

A culture is like huge character that can never be fully understood, and is all the more enticing for it. I know I'm always learning stuff about the worlds I write as they go on, and I'm sure you will too. So sometimes, you really don't want to wait.

Also, I don't know if this helps, but I think it's interesting: bee hives have personalities. They are neither individuals nor groups, but they have distinct enough characteristics that a beekeeper would know the difference. I know learning that shaped my methods for writing and understanding culture, but it's a kind of weird observation nonetheless.

Bolero
09-23-2014, 01:24 AM
Another one for economics. Work out how goods exist and be consistent.
For example, character has a lovely wrought iron gate. Fine in itself, but - does the society have:

Mining of iron ore
Charcoal production
Blacksmiths
Transport sufficient for moving wrought iron gates around

So a rich family near an iron working area may well have such a gate. A farmer further away from any mine/metal working area probably uses wood from on the farm.

Some worldbuilding is done as a beautifully painted still life - lots of gorgeous things piled up and described, but it is a bit of a random pile....

If your farms are reliant on hay, then they will be able to overwinter far less stock than after root veg like mangolds were discovered.

Salting of food vs smoking - distance from salt mines/the coast/woodland.

Buildings were generally constructed of the local material - stone, wood, brick - so varying regional appearance - unless very, very rich.

Mutive
09-23-2014, 02:39 AM
For me, a lot revolves around asking a bunch of questions (and regularly looking at real world cultures for answers). For instance, let's say you want to write about two cultures that have recently come into contact with each other. A question that immediately comes to mind is "why now?" (Generally the answer will involve a lot of different factors, from economics to technology to geopolitics to cultural mores. In general, the more of these that hit, the more realistic the culture will seem.)

Let's take Spain in the New World. "Why now?" was a conjunction of political (Spain had agreed to cede the southern hemisphere to the Portuguese + had just finished their re-conquista), technological (newish navigation technologies + boats), and probably a host of other things I'm not thinking of. But it didn't just happen because one guy said, "Hey, the world is round!" and everyone went, "Woah, I never would have thought of that!" (Especially as Renaissance Spain both knew the world was round and had a pretty good idea as to how large it was.)

JustSarah
09-23-2014, 02:56 AM
I actually plan a large cultural event, plop in the middle of the book, and just see where the story takes me. No world building needed.

Tanydwr
11-21-2014, 11:01 PM
Sprinkle in complex traditions about names and titles and suddenly the monsters of before are a philosophical warrior race. Mazes still factor in to their artwork and their city designs, but mostly for defensive purposes; they never get lost in a maze, but an invading army will.

I love this idea. All of it, the concept of conflict as creating life and death, philosophical minotaurs... Wow.

Playing with tropes is so much fun, and exploring history to find out real aspects - whether warriors were expected to play music or recite poetry or drinking to excess was actually considered bad manners; that in some cultures 'slaves' (or thralls or villeins or serfs or cacht, and so on) had the right to the protection and care of their owners, and could even achieve freedom; that some cultures set a price of gold on a man's life and in taking it the killer and his family would pay a fine, rather than the killer face death or imprisonment (see wergild/weregild or galanas); or that the liver was believed to be the seat of emotions, not the heart - can really make a difference to creating a new world or culture. I quite like mixing and matching - creating cultural reasons why that country uses weregild but will execute killers for killing by poison, or why that one never takes slaves, or why those two fight for seven hundred years, but band together whenever a neighbour attempts a strike again one or other of them.

In short, world-building is fun. My problem is that I use it to procrastinate on the actual writing. And that I keep starting new stories without finishing others.

Spy_on_the_Inside
11-30-2014, 06:29 AM
On top of all things, avoid making your race just a case of cultural appropriate. Remaking the Japanese culture and just giving them a different name and different racial characteristics will capture no one's imagination, and might even offend people.

Some of my favorite examples of fantasy races are the Gyptians of His Dark Materials and the Dothraki of Game of Thrones. These races clearly took influence from existing cultures, to the point where would could still guess what culture were inspired by, but the also changed and elaborated on the details enough to make them something completely unique.

RDArmstrong
11-30-2014, 11:22 AM
Start with the beginning. Imagine the landscape, imagine someone or some people finding the landscape and building the first house, imagine how they survived, imagine why people flocked there to build, imagine how they managed people when the population got into the 100s, imagine what people did with their time when they weren't surviving, imagine what they believed their purpose was, how was it managed with a 1,000 people, 10,000 people, 100,000, etc.

Each step is guided by those that precede it. Feel free to inject extra outside influences that came to alter the culture as you go from step to step.

If you want help, read a history book on the start of a civilisation and imagine how it would change if you altered extraneous variables that affected it as it was growing.

Once!
11-30-2014, 01:26 PM
Read history books. Ask yourself why something happened - why a civilization flourished and then fell, why it built monument X and believed in God Y.

In particular, notice how each culture responds to its environment and its technology. Things generally happen as a response to something.

Then when you've done that, do it again from a different perspective. The viewpoint of a king is very different from that of a servant. Don't just assume that civilization A plus event B = outcome C. Lots of things will be happening at the same time.

Then build a civilization that is the way that it is for a reason. If your civilization is a nomadic warrior race, how did they manage to bypass all the technological advantages that come from not being nomadic warriors? Did they go through the agrarian revolution phase or just steal the technology from others?

And when you've assembled the back story for your civilization, please please please resist the temptation to dollop it into your story as huge indigestible lumps of info dump.

robjvargas
11-30-2014, 09:26 PM
And when you've assembled the back story for your civilization, please please please resist the temptation to dollop it into your story as huge indigestible lumps of info dump.

I'm going to offer a radical variation on that. Forbid yourself from explaining the culture AT ALL. Think about yourself and those around you for a minute. How often do people in general go around explaining to each other the origins and the evolution of a culture?

Let the culture reveal itself organically. Let the story flow and grow and do its thing. Culture, environment, history, evolution, physics, magica, there are all kinds of huge subjects that can tie our stories in knots and mire the plot deep in lectures on why and wherefore of the time and place of our story. If you think it would be neat to include that, think about the sentence I just wrote above. :D

Try denying yourself ANY text explicitly explaining the culture. See what happens. It's not like you can't change your mind, or find a happy medium.

JRTroughton
12-01-2014, 12:18 AM
The more you read on any aspect of society, the better informed you will be in creating your own consistent world. Economics, sociology, anthropology... it all helps us understand how and why things are they way they are. Are.

Nothing wrong with a bit of appropriation, if you ask me. But you can't just change the name of the Romans to the Dangon Empire and expect anyone to buy into your world!