Last week, I talked about the core elements a fictional culture needs, and over time I’ve written posts on many different worldbuilding concepts and how to build them well. Today, I want to share with you a worldbuilding checklist that includes all of the elements (both general to a world and specific to various cultures) that I see as integral to a functioning world. And I’ll include a printable version, too, so stick around to the end for that. Continue reading “Worldbuilding Checklist – The Basics”
There are a lot of elements to consider when you’re building a fantasy world. It can be hard to know where to start. Which elements of culture are the most important? Different authors might have different answers, but here are the four elements I think operate as the pillars of a fictional culture.
Element #1: Worldview
The worldview of a culture colors everything that culture does, so it’s an important element to develop. I talked about this more in-depth a few weeks ago, but worldview is the axis on which a culture turns. Without an awareness of what that axis is and how it moves the culture, you might end up with a culture that feels off-kilter, like it’s just barely off the mark. If you feel like your fantasy world is missing something, it might be that you’re not digging into the goldmine of worldview.
Element #2: Religion
Religion is closely interwoven with worldview, since the worldview of a religious person or culture will be influenced by their faith. The prominent religion in a culture will affect how its people act, what laws it passes, and what sorts of taboos it has, among other things. It might also affect what type of government the culture chooses and what the culture believes about science. It might affect their interactions with other cultures. It’s up to you whether you want this religious view to be the correct one in your world. A strong fictional religion is one that impacts the lives of its followers and operates like a real-world religion, with faith at the core and works forming the shell that others see.
Element #3: Traditions
As with the other elements of culture, tradition is tied in with its neighbors. Tradition is born out of worldview and religion and reinforces both, as I talked about a couple weeks ago. Traditions are a big chunk of what bring your culture’s worldview and religion into the tangible so that you can make them accessible to your readers through your characters’ actions. As with most things in writing, worldview and religion need to be shown rather than told, and traditions are a great way to do this. Traditions could be things like holidays and festivals, or they can be simple everyday things like prayers before a meal or chanting a mantra when you get up. Traditions are consistently repeated actions, no matter the frequency or size of the action, that reinforce beliefs. And these ought to be present throughout your characters’ lives, just as they’re present throughout our own lives. We take them for granted, our characters may take them for granted, but our readers will appreciate the glimpse into your character’s world and values.
Element #4: Education
Like tradition, this is an element of culture that both stems from and feeds back into worldview and religion. Education passes on both information and values, and it can encourage or discourage certain worldviews and faiths. This then impacts character voice, as you determine how your characters would have been trained to think. Education will also impact your character’s everyday life in your story. If they’re still students, it might impact their flexibility. If they’ve completed their education and they’re looking into careers, what education they had could impact their prospects. Are they content with their available options, or would they rather have a job they’re not currently qualified for?
Education can give a great look at the values of a culture, since education systems can and should differ significantly based on the values of a culture, as I explored last week. Education is an underutilized tool in displaying culture.
Bonus Element: Government
Government draws its influence from all four of these core elements of culture, which is why I didn’t make it a pillar itself. Government is decided based on a culture’s worldview and religion, and maintained through the influence of all four pillars. While it does feed back into a culture’s worldview, education, and even religions and tradition, I see it as secondary to these four. If you want a quick guide to government types and what cultural values they go along with, check out this post I wrote for Lavender Bleu.
What are your thoughts on these elements of culture? Are there any more important elements you think I missed? Do you develop these elements first, or do you prefer an inside-out approach to worldbuilding? Or do you mix and match? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
I’ve said this before, but there are many ways to approach creating a fantasy world (or sci-fi world). Should you work outside-in or inside-out? Should you use vignettes? Beyond the basics, what is the best order to take things in? Those are questions that are going to be unique to each writer (and potentially each world), so I can’t give you a concrete answer, but in this post I’ll show you a few of the processes I use for my own worlds. Continue reading “Worldbuilding Process: Three Examples”
Something I’ve always found fascinating, as a Christian with an interest in story, is how so many mythologies have points in which they reflect the truth of how the world was made, how it flooded, and even sometimes how it was saved and how it will end. When something is true, it is impossible to completely obscure that truth. Which is why I think it’s important for authors to lay out the groundwork for their fictional worlds fairly early on; the foundational truth of your world will shine through in many different areas. Continue reading “Deciding the Foundational Truth of Your World”
Religions have a significant hand in shaping the cultures around them, and developing them can be a powerful tool both in developing those cultures and in exploring worldview. While I’ve talked before about the basics of creating a fantasy religion, today I want to talk about some of the complexities and details that will deepen that religion (or really any organization or culture) and make it feel more organic and complete. Continue reading “How to Deepen a Fantasy Religion”