Part 4: The People
Every post in this series so far has been leading up to this.
The people. The people who live on this massive chunk of land we named and mapped out, who belong to the history we fashioned, and who hunt the animals and harvest the plants we created.
The culture is probably the most important part of world building. Especially if your MC, or if any of your MCs, grew up there.
This post is going to be unique because of how important the content is. I’m going to go step by step as usual, but I’m going to go through the previous posts and go in depth about how they influence the people of your world. (If you missed any of them and want to catch up, you can read post one on maps here, post two on history here, and post three on wildlife here.)
Step #1 (Aka. Post 1): The Map
Where you live really influences culture. A village in the mountains is going to have vastly different daily activities than a village, say, on a tiny island. A village in the desert will have to get most of their food by trade, so the villagers will not be gardeners and they will rely on something else to get goods to trade with. But a village placed in lush green fields with ground perfect for farmland will be full of farmers.
I'm going to use my map again as I create a culture. I'll plop the scanned pic of it here for you.
Ain't she a beauty? XP
Alright. So, I already have an idea of my main character's backstory, and in my mind I see him coming from the far right of this map, in the province Chenpei. His home village is among the hills you see to the right of the rivers.
So he lives in farmlands. With rivers. Hmmmmmm.
Get your creative juices flowing. Logic it out. His family is probably not what you'd call wealthy, since there aren't going to be a bunch of big cities and opportunities here in the middle of nowhere. But living where they do, they won't need much money anyway. The people are likely tight (an everyone knows everyone kind of thing) and so it's a quiet town allowing those who grow up there to do so peacefully.
And just from that, from deciding the people are mostly on their own out here in these farmlands, and pretty self sufficient, I already know quite a bit about the culture of this little town. They do as they're told for the most part, because they like their quiet life and don't want to be disturbed. So they send in their taxes (which could be very high and causing a rebellion in less quiet places) and they don't complain. This works out perfectly for me because my MC in this project is a thief. He's crazy and always on the run, very defiant ... You can see how the culture of his little world shaped him. Plunk a person like him down anywhere, and he's going to do all he can to defy every stereotype and rule placed before him.
NOTE: As I'm building the culture of my MC's hometown, it spreads out. I know that most of the villages around his will be similar. There are few big cities in this area, and even those are small. The BIG cities where lots of people are will be further north of the province, closer to the desert and the border.
Step #2: History
What happened in your story world in times past? What happened before the Now will really effect culture today. Say there was a war fifty years ago. Not everyone will have recovered from that. And the war had to happen between two countries ... and someone had to lose. These two countries probably don't get along too well, which gives culture and conflict. The people would still be recovering too. They might have to be careful about rationing out food and water and clothes.
Say one hundred years ago, the people of Chempei and Khamir had a war. The ruler of Chempei, after looking through old history books written by the Founders (the four Chinese people who found this world) finds something about a great wall from the Founders' homeland that was built to keep out intruders.
The emperor thinks this is a good idea.
So he decides to build a wall.
Now, this influences culture in several ways. Villages near the wall most likely house lots of imperial soldiers who are either quiet and nice to the villagers (ha) or who like to rough them up and make them cook for them and stuff. TENSION. CONFLICT.
NOTE: see how much world building does for conflict? If you're stuck in your WIP, just do some world building!
ANOTHER NOTE: The history is likely going to include religion. What do these people believe? What do they worship? Back to the village of farmers that my MC grew up in, they lead quiet lives. They, as a whole, don't really care about religion. But there are probably a few older natives who are very adamant about it, who rise early every morning with the rise of the sun to pray in the hills, and go out every sunset to do it again. Instead of praying as we think of it though, they spread their arms and face the rising/setting sun and close their eyes and throw their head back and they stay that way for sometimes hours at a time. The village children who have not been taught what this means might even dare each other to sneak out and poke one of the statue still worshipers to see if they'll move.
Step #3: Wildlife
As you've probably guessed, this has an enormous effect on the culture. What they eat, how they eat it, when they eat, how frequently they are able to do so.
Are pets common? What types of pets? Why that certain type? Are medicines hard to come by, or are there an abundance of healing herbs to help treat illnesses and pains?
You can use animals to come up with great local stories/myths too, that mothers tell their children to scare them into obeying. Say there is rumor of a giant wolf that dwells in the hills. At night, the wolf ventures down into the village. The children must stay in their beds and not venture out, or else the big bad wolf will snap them up and devour them.
What if there's a certain type of weed that, even at the smallest taste, causes a rash to spread over your tongue and down your throat?
What if the Empress of the land loves lilies, so the villagers grow them in her honor, and hang them over their doorways as a sign of respect? And, each time they enter their home, they look up at the lily and cross their heart, as a promise of loyalty to the royal family.
There are so many possibilities.
And remember: A little goes a long way.
Step #4: Day to Day Life
Another really good way to develop culture is to figure out what your MC does everyday [Or, if your MC is crazy (like mine) then what their parents or best friends do].
Do they rise to pray with the sunrise? Or do they rise before then to take the long walk to their work in the city twenty miles away? What do they eat before they leave? Do they walk there, or do they have a horse or bike or some other method of transportation?
When they get there, how are they treated? Is their boss terrible or does he never even show his face? Do they get a lunch break, or do they work till dark with no respite? Do they make their way home in blackness? Do they have to carry something to protect themselves against robbers who might lurk on the sides of roads, waiting to rob the workers heading home?
There are so many possibilities. And it all affects your MC. How they act. How they think. How they respond to situations. How they treat others. What they believe.
That's it for now! I am very sleepy and can't really think of much else right now. Not to mention camp nano starts today and as I am typing this, I still have to write over 2k words. *pounds head against desk* AND IT'S 12:30. WHAT DID I GET MYSELF INTO?
Any-who. There are just a few things coming up this month.
Due to camp nano craze, I will probably end up skipping one or two posts, or just writing very short ones.
Also: I am guest posting over at A Writer's Faith on the 16th. Fun, right? I'm so excited and honored! I will not be writing a full post here on that day, but I will link you to Katie's blog so you can read what I have to say over there. XP
That's about it, I believe. Did you like this series? I will probably write another post to add in any extra aspects of world building that I forgot or didn't have room for (like religion).
Do you enjoy culture building? Is it hard for you? Are you doing camp nano? Anything else going on? Please share in the comments!