An Easy Guide to Crafting Fictional Cultures

Kristen Kieffer  

Let’s dive deep into the world-building process, shall we?

Whether you’re crafting an entire story world or delving into an alternative or fantastical reality here on Earth, developing fully-realized fictional cultures is key to fantastic world-building. But cultures are rather complex, nebulous beasts. Their ever-evolving nature can make them especially tricky to nail down.

So, what elements define culture? And just how much time and attention should you put into creating your own? Let’s discuss all this and more in today’s breakdown, writers!

Developing fictional cultures…

Culture, complex as it may be, can be defined simply as the customs, attitudes, symbols, and social institutions of a society or people group. Still kind of complex, right? Stick with me now.

It’s imperative that all writers — whether world-building, developing historical fiction, or basing their stories in the present — consider the cultures in which their characters live and were raised. Why? Because culture has a massive impact on one’s worldview, voice, beliefs, and beyond, regardless of whether they choose to align or rebel against the culture in which they live.

Thus, by better understanding our worlds’ cultures, we can craft stronger characters, plots, and themes, improving the whole of our stories in one fell swoop. So let’s not skimp on developing our fictional cultures, shall we? That said, how you choose to go about developing cultures will depend largely on your intent and personal preference.

Like the world-building process as a whole, fictional cultures can be built from the outside in or the inside out. In other words, you can choose to craft cultural details as needed when writing, or you can craft highly detailed cultures before developing your story. Bear in mind that neither technique is necessarily better than the other.

Do you intend your story to be an epic, sweeping fantasy or science-fiction adventure? You may want to fully-develop your fictional cultures before writing. Do you intend to keep your storytelling tight? Sticking with only the cultural details needed to establish your story world and develop your plot is likely the best way to go.

But what elements define culture, you ask? Let’s discuss! See More . . . 



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