Wednesday, 21 February 2018

The Inspiration of Culture


Cultures have been coming up a lot in different place around me lately. It’s started me thinking about why we cling to our different beliefs and ways of  living. Religions, music, customs, mythology, laws, etiquette, language and superstition.

I’ve always been a bit of a history geek, particularly when it comes to ancient societies and places, and now I’ve taken Ancient History as a subject in school. It’s such a fascinating thing to study—How people have lived, why they did these things, the rumours surrounding them, the evidence for their lifestyle…all of it! We can look at so much about these people’s lives and I think that we all find this interesting to some degree. Sure, maybe you don’t all go and look up different tribes in your spare time for no purpose other than fascination, but there is so much out there just waiting for us to discover. And after all, if you are reading this right now you can most certainly discover more seeing that you have near endless knowledge at your fingertips.

Lately I have looked at the ancient Egyptians, the Spartans, the Zulu, the Greeks and Romans, the Aboriginals, the Babylonians, and heaps of other groups in our world’s rich history. And, as always, it gave me some cool ideas for writing.

Having had studied different cultures for their music, myths, art, superstitions, traditions, and even their skin pigments and hair colour (let’s ignore the randomness there) I began to look back on Chosen by Fire and feel somewhat discouraged. Waaaay back in NaNovember I had created a fantasy world with different races and customs. It seemed very complex at the time that I had created it. After all, I had the unusual set up of the cities and country as it had been made by magic, and I had each sector containing a slightly different race of people, but that was only obvious by their appearance. Fifth Sector People tended to be smaller in stature whilst Sixth Sector People were taller with a more square face. Oh, and they had faint accent changes.

That was the end of the racial differences. 

Those liiiiittle points. Sure, I had different weird magical creatures in different areas to correspond with the area’s old magic, but it was all very much a surface thing.

To make a fantasy culture effective, you need to go deeper. Often it helps to study other past cultures to gain inspiration and to look at things in a different way. It then allows you to ask the questions of how the government is run, what places eat what food, what different types of music people listen to, different traditions that have been around since ancient times but have lost relevance, what superstitions they have, how their currency works and what their ethical beliefs are.

There have been a few texts that I have looked at recently that really made it obvious how much these little details help in world building and how much people depend off traditions to run their lives.

One of the most notable of these has been The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson.

You must read this. It is probably the most epic fantasy book I have ever read. (Pun intended.) He has made an amazing world with so much depth and detail, and tied it in super well with the plot. His characters are constantly being affected by the world around them, whether by society or by the actual, physical world. I am absolutely LOVING reading it and seeing how the cultures interact, what they value, fight for, the history, and how that relates to magic and the plot. It is a totally different style to my other favorites, but still equally as amazing, and with theme and characters that also tie in with the culture. Culture is so important in these books, and it is beautifully woven into every part of the story, the world, and the characters. Yes, as it is an epic fantasy, you can’t get all of this intricate detail into a super short book, but I think we all could if we tried, and it just makes the world feel that much more real.

Another one was one I only heard of today: The Lottery by Shirley Jackson.

This is a short story that explores the very motivation of humans. It looks at how we can gain a tradition or ritual and refuse to step away from it—no matter to how twisted and totally messed up it is. In this case, it is the tradition of drawing out a piece of paper, and if yours has the black spot on it, you get stoned to death by everyone in the town. When a mother draws it, even her children join in with the stoning. It very bluntly depicts how much we rely off our traditions, and often that is what determines our morality and our capabilities.

Now I want to toss a prompt your way, but hopefully you were able to get some ideas from the rest of this post.

There you go! Have you some ideas? Have you ever written a fantasy or dystopian story that involved different cultures and races? What were your struggles? I love to talk to you!


  1. Ahh yes yesss. Allll the world building and cultures. I'm kind of doing some of that at the moment with PRINCE and trying to develop that nicely.

  2. Yay! I'm looking forward to seeing how PRINCE goes. World building is great! So much you can do.

  3. Sorry this is a bit late. :-Z
    I LOVE CULTURE!!! I haven't really used a ton in my writing, since most of what I've written is Dystopian or historical fiction; but when I start my Sci-Fi novel I am going to use a TON of different cultures. XD That inspiration is AWESOME. :-D

    1. YES! Culture is always heaps of fun and can be woven into most genres.
      Lots of different cultures can be great, (I mean, look at The Way of Kings) but one of the things to be careful of there is overload. But yay! I'm looking forward to hearing more about it!