WORLDBUILDING CULTURES – Terrible Writing Advice

WORLDBUILDING CULTURES – Terrible Writing Advice


Is your fantasy or science fiction world missing
something? How can this be? We have a whole slew of races pilfered straight
from the Silmarillion. We have a detailed map with magically splitting
rivers and everything. Our cyberpunk setting’s international political
borders were lifted straight from the 80s. We even have an alien ecosystem built entirely
out of predators! Yet our evil empire seems a bit… flat for
some reason. Could it be that their singular drive for
world domination and complete lack of screen time has resulted in the imperial capital
being blander than a 90s sit com? What could be the problem? Why is the chapter featuring the wood elves
tree homes duller than well, a tree? What is missing? Wait. I know! We didn’t build a culture for our fictional
peoples! World building can be intimidating to those
who don’t spend every waking moment obsessing about it like I do, but keep calm and listen
to me carry on about how easy world building a fictional culture really is! Seriously don’t stress about world building
cultures too much. Real world cultures are far stranger than
anything ever written in fiction. Which means that any old half measure taken
in world building is okay and will produced exceptional results. And by that I mean that people won’t notice
unless you really really screw up. So let’s really really screw up… I mean really really dig into to how to properly
create a fictional culture! Now culture can be a collection of shared
values, social norms, artistic achievement, mythologies, ceremonies, and customary beliefs. All of that sounds hard to world build, but
all a writer has to worry about is mostly just a society’s dress and architecture. Just like smoke and mirrors, add those two
items and a writer is done! A reader wont notice characters from the far
future using modern day slang if we dress them up in funny hats and have them live in
fractal shaped houses! Our future society has technology completely
different from modern day, but their culture should still share the same values and taboos
as our own. Or, maybe they only have hyper drive and everything
else is just absolutely the same because access to the huge vastness of the void between stars
will change nothing about a society’s perspective. If an author worries that this wont be enough,
then just add a singular trait that the entire culture is built around! Need an antagonistic people to menace the
heroes, just build a culture obsessed with warfare at the cost of every other aspect
of their society. How did these guys invent hyper-drive if they
disdain all intellectual pursuits? Well they stole it from the precursors or
something. Look, you want thematically opposing foes
for our scientific heroes or what? Who cares if a culture’s core value is so
singular and strong that it would cripple any chance of them becoming a major power. Our isolationists should easily have access
to rare resources and technology even if they can’t trade to get those things. Don’t worry about trying to compensate for
these cultural weaknesses in interesting ways. We could, for example, give our isolationist
people an untouchable diplomatic caste who has to deal with outsiders, but whose specialized
expertise has resulted in the ascension of the very people who shun them. Wait. That’s dumb. I have an even better idea. Let’s make them all evil instead! A society built entirely around worshiping
evil, torture and death should function incredibly well. I bet a culture devoted to destruction is
very good and building the infrastructure needed to wage endless war. Also, cultures where the only form of advancement
is killing your superior must suffer no shortages of talent at all! Is coming up with a monolithic culture built
around a single trait too hard? I understand. Thinking up that one trait can be really difficult. Thankfully, a writer need not stress themselves
out over putting the most minuscule amount of creativity into world building a culture
when an author can simply steal one directly from the real world! Just borrow a contemporary or historical culture
and transplant them directly into a fantasy world or the far future, completely ignoring
the environmental conditions and historical context that shaped that culture in the first
place! Don’t worry. I’m not suggesting we actually read about
the real culture before pilfering it. Nah. Simply changing the name will dodge all accusations
of appropriation! Or at the very least it will hold up in court. A writer need not worry about stealing another
culture’s symbols because a proper author should be too lazy to use symbols in their
fictional cultures in the first place! No need for rich heraldry, clever mottos,
or emblems designed for instant recognition of a culture’s history or values. I suppose we could make a flag. Just slap some random shapes on there and
done! Wait. I have another great idea. Let’s over-design our symbols! Nothing like having so much crap on a flag
that it becomes unrecognizable. Nor should a writer worry about over-designing
a culture as well. This never becomes a problem when an author
becomes enamored with a culture to the point where they remove all flaws and have it represent
what they believe an ideal society is. Yes. That never gets on anyone’s nerves even
when the people of the author’s personal utopia constantly educate the protagonist,
and thus the reader, on their superior ways! Especially when the idealistic Pure Republic
of Mary Sue is ideologically opposed by the Evil Empire of Strawmanopolis. Immersing the reader into a fictional world
can’t be done by showing how a society handles disease, how do they regard personal hygiene,
what does their diet consist of, what kind of natural resources do they have access to,
how said resources influence technology, how does environment shape their beliefs, how
do their values differ from my own, what are this culture’s taboos, what values does
this culture hold that not all of its members live up to, is their society stagnate or is
it in the middle of a transformation? Could it be that things I had assumed were
default human nature were in face merely a cultural perspective not shared by every human
society? Studying real world cultures can truly open
one’s eyes to the complexity of human behavior and enrich a writer’s world view. Which is really bad because that might accidentally
happen to the reader as well and throw their fragile perspectives into chaos. Which brings into question how an author should
handle controversial subjects on world-building like a culture’s religion or view on gender
roles. Well you are on your own because I’m NOT touching that on YouTube.

99 thoughts on “WORLDBUILDING CULTURES – Terrible Writing Advice

  1. Cultures based on Matriarchy. See those all the time. What could they be based on? Literally, nothing even remotely similar to them existed at any point in the entire history of any culture across the globe. Unrealistic, senseless catering because of "lol women equal to men mmkay".

  2. i can describe all the videos this guy has made in one sentence.
    "All fiction is written badly and only i know how to write well."

  3. Some good advice on worldbuilding:

    Start with an existing culture, then research why the culture became that way, and look to see where you can change things. What would Roman Culture be like if it wasn't Hellenized? What if China shared the far east with literally any other civilizations of equal size during the Qin Dynasty? What if the English weren't the product of a millennium of foreign invasions (Celts, Romans, Angles, Saxons, Normans)?

  4. Don't forget that you can make any culture both "gritty", slightly removed from our own and instantly identifiable by having it's members repeat the same made up swear word three times in every sentence!

  5. In Star Trek it is implied that the federation gave the Klingons warp tech, and they do have scientists they’re just not respected and treated like shit. But yeah the federation should be able to wipe out the Klingons so fucking easily

  6. Well that last bit of advice before the sponsorship was probably a piece of good advice.  You sure you want that on this channel?

  7. I think the interview link is broken. That's disappointing, because I am really digging this channel so far, and would love to hear about your path. (I've recently decided to start writing with the goal of publication instead of just my own entertainment.)

  8. There's also flags that are severely under designed. Like Australia and China's. Australia's is literally just a few stars in no order on a blue background with the union jack thrown up in the corner. Come on, they could have done better than that. I guess they were way to busy fighting off Emu's and giant spiders to invent a flag. China though… over a billion person population along with some of the greatest scientific minds of the world, and their flag is even more bland than Australia's. A few gold stars on a red flag (because nothing symbolizes communism like a red background apparently).

    Take flags like the Soviet Union in contrast. A very simple design, but very symbolic… it gave the people a strong symbol to rally behind.

  9. Talking about utopian cultures, does someone remember the bald alien people from “Valerian”, ever since that movie, everytime I show my mom a sketch of a character without the hair, she waves her arms and say “look at me, I’m super happy!”.

  10. 1:05 The problem with using real-life cultures is that you'll get panned for "cultural appropriation" the moment your work comes out.

  11. how about make an Elf race split them up into 2 Make one Became Green make one Be Red

  12. "In the Republic of Mary Sue, there is only the like button." Well if there's no dislike button and no option to click neither buttons, then I really don't have much of a choice, do I? Consider this video liked.

  13. Best advice everyone ALWAYS (without fail) gives me: "It's your story, and it's fiction. Your universe your rules. Doesn't matter because there is no 'right'!" 😂 [writes science fiction…gets this answer for every event of hairpulling over logistical nitpicks]

  14. Can't think up an original culture? Have the people be thieves of other cultures from Earth. (Scoopers from URAHARA; a rare series where I know it has issues and I still love it)

  15. I recently realised that the intro is destroyed because it blew up during action scenes, the last episode so yeah

  16. "I watched the prince of Egypt when I was a kid, so I guess you could say that makes me an expert at copy and pasting utilizing the bible in my writing."

  17. I kinda like the Tal'darim in Starcraft 2: they're a warrior culture where the only form of advancement is to kill your superior in ritualistic combat (However, anyone who's loyal to you is allowed to support you during your fight).

    Because this society values martial strength above all else, they are almost entirely reliant on stolen technology to support themselves, and their nation's population is tiny compared to most of their neighbors. The Tal'darim homeworld has only 12 million individuals; meanwhile their neighbor, the Protoss Empire, has over 200 million individuals, even after most of their populace was massacred in a series of catastrophic wars.

  18. At least with the Klingons there are plenty of times their culture has been dissected in universe and the flaws in it explored. Star Trek 6 is literally about how being a bunch of aggressive isolationist dick heads will destroy them. Of course discovery ruined the Klingons but there’s still plenty of other canon material that deals with them really well.

  19. It really sucks when people assume that all Americans view themselves and their country as perfect and don't respect other cultures at all as if they were ignorant and spoiled, when that couldn't be further from the truth. Other cultures show pride in their countries and celebrate their traditions and holidays, so why is it a problem when Americans do the same? Besides, it's not like every other culture is 100% perfect. There are plenty of disgusting and horrifying things that are considered "normal" in other countries, so why is it "intolerant" to speak out against them?

  20. Lol I went into this expecting to be shamed for making a Roman expy for my D&D world but at least I am trying to justify it in universe too.

  21. One aspect not mentioned in the video of culture is the question of individualism vs collectivism. Most cultures outside the US are considerably more collectivist, focused on family and community, than Americans are. Varying levels, possibly between generations and subcultures, can be used to differentiate peoples in an interesting way.
    Or you could have an uber-individualist show all the collectivists how wrong they are, and watch as they drop centuries of history because the hero makes a ten-page speech.

  22. i wanted to call one of my characters with an added roman ordinal numerization because he was the successor for the throne of an empire… Now i feel like a clown, thanks TWA >='[

  23. How to start worldbuilding?

    I recently had an idea about a culture where family is important, due to during the origins the communities need for protection from dangers of the environment and outsiders. A family, not an individual, is elected as the leader of the community. Over time communities grew and joined together making the system too complex. And the power of leading family was abused to the point where the society eventually became a monarchy.

    Then eventually set a story during the monarchy period.

  24. “Just build a culture obsessed with warfare at the cost of every other aspect of their society” You mean the spartans?

  25. Unfortunatly any culture of a species that is similer biologicaly and developmentaly will look very similer to our own because our society is rooted in logical cause and effect of our evolutionary and sociological history.

    Therefor to have a truly unique alien race, a author would have to change something funimental about their physiology, such as sexual reproduction.
    How would a scociety that has 3 sexual members needed to compleate a sucessful reproductive cycle differ from our own?
    Would the inclusion of a third shape their culture, storytelling format, and politics differ?

    So much of our scociety's story telling history is rooted in the experances of our primative ancestors's experaincees.
    Cycles of opposeing contrasting forces exchanging control. Day night, sun moon, summer winter.

    Imagine the diffrence in culture a planet would have if the planet revolved slowly, haveing a continuously hot side, continuiously cold side, and a thin temperate area in the middle.

    Lets just not bother useing our brain when woldbulding and instead take a current day idology, put big ears on them, and presto! Wood elves!

  26. Remember if you want to rip off the Imperium just make massive gothic temples and coat everything in GOOOOOOOOLD! GLORIOUS GLIMMERING GLITTER AND GOOOOOOLD!

  27. A culture built around war… Evil… Heartlessness… Crime…

    Lets just rip off the old Spartan Culture.
    Romance is illegal until you are 30 after your military service
    Weak children left to diee
    Flogging teens to test willpower
    Cheating and stealing is good
    Okay, change the name and we ARE good.

  28. "A writer need not worry about stealing another culture's symbols, because a proper author should be too lazy to use symbols in their fictional culture in the first place!"
    One of your all-time best. Touche.

  29. Is it bad that I’m actually creating a world that is parallel to ours in terms of cultures? I’m making a game called Legacy of Avian and much of its culture is identical to those of our world, I did this to add characters either based on real people or create brand new characters that suit them, or to even legitimize certain characters such as King Arthur or even Jesus. For example, I created a country called Sharlyn, which is based on medieval Germany in terms of geography, and its language is indeed a derivative of Old English, although it’s never called that in-universe because this world’s equivalent to the Anglo-Saxons weren’t ever referred to as Anglo-Saxon, and therefore were never referred to as English. And a brand new culture of people I’m creating for it simply referred to as ‘The Terrans’, as the full history of their culture was destroyed by an evil cult, spoke Latin. Although again, it’s never referred to as ‘Latin’, just as ‘Terran’, and that evolved into a brand new race of creatures called the Avians, one of which you can play as, but no chosen hero stories because that usually means ‘the chosen one is destined to succeed’, as you stated in the video you made about chosen hero stories. Anyway, they are basically demigods that can control the elements of the earth and have human-like qualities combined with those of five deities of Earth itself.

    I’m not intending for them to be Mary-Sues, as in a world where religion is more legitimate because of magic, it’s less surprising. The difference between the Avians and other humans is that they have a direct connection with the deities of earth, and from that, they have the potential to grow wings, and although they are technically immortal, they can still die when their faith is lost, as they are, by nature, defenders of the earth, and when the compassion needed to defend the world from any evil forces is lost to them, they retain their godlike powers but become mortal because they have abandoned their deities. Like I said, religion is more legitimate because of magic in this world.

    The deities themselves are bird-like because I figured that a creature that can move effectively on land, in the air, and even in water (look it up, birds can absolutely swim underwater to hunt) can hold the entire world in their nonexistent hands if given the knowledge to do so.

    Well, whatever, what I just want to know is: Is it bad that I’m literally just cherry-picking pieces of cultures that already exist to create a world for a story I’m making?

  30. me: Ok…i'll just…yoink some Zoroastrianism…some ancient egytpina shit…AH! Vedic shit! aaan… um…Taoist shit! Hell yeah!

    looks at the trainwreck created lmao

  31. I can see the Sith cult of Exegol falling into the “society built on evil itself” trope, but the evil space magic was there before the weird guys in hoods, so it’s more like they’re taking advantage of a natural resource.

  32. https://d-place.org/ Saw a thread where people thought pure modern-day politics is the same as culturebuilding here, so I’m linking this database so people actually interesting in worldbuilding and not forwarding an agenda can research shit

  33. The intunewithnature folks have a river around their tree village where they wash themselves, split by gender. Some meet at where the river becomes one again, and that's their way of sending nudes.

  34. Do not ever challenge your readers worldview. Especially if they read military scifi, or military fantasy, or military, or if they have a medieval setting. And completely ignore all social implications of magic or technology. Unless it turns the wielders into self centered arrogant entitled twats.

  35. I don't get all the hate towards Star Trek, it explores a lot philosophical concepts and it's really well done culture-wise
    ?

  36. In my fictional culture, before they sit down to eat their food they all have to punch themselves in the balls, or else you're considered disrespectful.

  37. To be fair, I want to run a DnD campaign in Roman Republic times, so step one was wholesale plop fantasy races into the various cultures, i.e Orcs as Germanics and Elves as Greeks. But I've been working on a social status modifier to give flavour, and restricting certain items and classes due to living in a pre-Steel Age. As well as the aforementioned reading up on those cultures.

  38. Damn, your so good. You advice on what not to do, showing that you know exacly how it us supposed to be done. Keep up the great work.

  39. For me the values is easy enough since it is more individual based then group think, as there are ideals for many things (law, warriors, intelligence, war, loyalty and so on) that people have reached or want to reach with famed families typically being a family of paragons in that particular field (free will and fate, it makes no sense and perfect sense at the same time). Of course when the first major conflict is against a being who could only be killed by a paragon of virtue and the ensuing backstabbing caused a civil war that lasted about 1 million years or so, a civilisation is not inclined for the more ambitious folk to gain power.
    I just have to figure how to not have society advance when everyone is busy trying to figure out more efficient ways of warfare and communication how coal wasn't found out.

  40. Hi. I know you won't see this because I'm late to this video. But just in case you do (or some other helpful person does): You mentioned various aspects of a culture such as hygiene, disease, diet, technology, values, taboos, etc. that one should include to make a well-fleshed-out civilization. Can you tell me, how does one do this in-story without it sounding like an exposition dump? What are some ways to show these aspects without it appearing to be contrived and forced just for worldbuilding?

  41. Monolithic cultures are reality, though. It may be hard to imagine as an American, where culture is amorphous at best. But in other places, and at other times, it is rare to find dissent. Native American tribes were very monolithic. Asian countries tend to be monolithic. The idea that any given territory should be occupied by people with a wide range of idea and habits is actually counter to reality.

  42. You will problary might like my comic which i am making, the setting is mostly just fantasy one empire i am making has a bit of influences from the Roman side.

    Still deciding whatever or not add races or keep it mostly human races.

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