I love to write stories set in fictional worlds, and part of the fun of creating a fictional world, is that you have free rein to do almost anything in it.
Something I’ve noticed is that while people are keen to have their characters running through fantastical places, they don’t always put as much thought into the world itself as they perhaps should have.
Knowing what your race of people looks like and what their cities look like is important, but no matter how much effort you put into describing it, it will feel flat and lifeless if there is no explanation as to why things are like that. Why do your people dress that way? Why do they hold celebrations on the solstice? Why do they put spires on the tops of all their buildings? Why do they ride the giant tigers, instead of the giant wolves that also roam the countryside?
It seems an odd statement, but it’s true. Western culture only adopted pants as being fashionable and acceptable for men when they implemented cavalry. Once the idea of mounting soldiers came about, people quickly realized horses were advantageous on the battlefield. They also realized that skirts were not. And thus came about a fundamental shift in a culture that has lasted for a thousand years.
The history of your people’s fashion is only one small part, but it is something to consider nonetheless. But what about their stories, the fables they tell their children? Stories were the way people taught valuable lessons, be they life skills, morals or warnings. The nature of a culture’s stories can also tell you a lot about the culture itself. Are they peaceful or war-faring Intellectual or ritualistic? Perhaps they are a combination of these. Whatever the case, it will be reflected in their legends, beliefs and customs.
If you have different cultures, consider how they interact with one another. Is one civilization visibly dominant over the other, or have they come to a mutually beneficial partnership? Perhaps one nation is clearly larger, but unable to support itself without the resources from its weaker neighbor. What’s to stop them invading and taking those resources for themselves? Perhaps the smaller country has a formidable military, or has made the geography work to their advantage, providing a natural defense.
Consider the economy of your people. Is there a wide and obvious gap between the rich and the poor? If so, what defines this? What are the markers or wealth? If your people live in an arid desert, the greatest marker of wealth may not be gold or jewels, but an abundance of water. If the climate is cold, perhaps it is furs or firewood that define the wealthy from the impoverished.
Whatever world you decide to build, you the creator, have a lot to consider when designing it. Even if you don’t get the chance to relay every culturally enriching detail to your readers, knowing those facts will go a long way towards helping you understand your world and making it as rich and compelling as possible.
Are there any other areas of culture and world building that you find vital?
Have you designed your own world and discovered any of these things for yourself?
I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions.