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Planning Your Culture
Whether you realize it or not, culture is central to your story, even if you write a story that takes place in modern times. Over time the clothes that are worn, the music that is listened to, the way people travel, the hobbies that people have, the way people practice their religion, the way that people look at things - these will all change. If you want your story to survive through the ages and be read time and time again, you need to write your story not just for the time, but for all times. How do you manage to do this?
Cultures are made up of people (or animals, if that is the way your story works) who share a common interest, who share a related outlook on life and who keep certain goals. It may be required that some of the citizens set aside differences. Of each member personal sacrifices of time, effort and resources are required for the good of the community if it is to survive and flourish past the lifetimes of those who are in it now.
Let’s take the Writer Culture as an example. (I chose the Writer Culture for obvious reasons). The common ground of writers is to put words formed into a story or article onto paper, a computer screen, or clay tablets (depending on the time in which they live). Their mutual outlook on life is that they have something they need to share with a few people or a lot of people. If they are lucky, what they write down will actually be read. But that doesn’t matter, a writer's compelling need is to write it down.
Their goals are to finish whatever they are writing, send it out to an editor and hopefully be published. They may have the goal of writing so many words each day, or so many paragraphs, chapters, or scenes. When writers meet with other writers, they generally are able to set aside differences in religion, politics, personal beliefs, and so on and just discuss their true love of writing.
Where does making personal sacrifices come into the writing culture? Well, writers may sacrifice time that most people spend watching television, sleeping, or even going places in order to have time to write. You need to write even when you don’t feel inspired, but inspiration chooses to hit at the most unexpected and inconvenient times. A writer may be in the middle of doing something he really enjoys when the inspiration for a scene that has been eluding him comes. Then the choice must be made whether to leave what he is doing and write the scene while the inspiration is fresh, or pray that later he remembers it.
Writers work together for the good of the entire group by sharing information with each other. If one knows how to write great descriptions, he will share how with the others. They would also make suggestions to each other. One may share with another how he makes notes so that momentary inspiration is brought back to memory later.
When new writers appear on the scene, they are supported so that the writing culture will continue and grow. They should be encouraged to write and send work off to editors. It is impossible to be published if your work never leaves your house.
The same thing also works with musicians, artists, mechanics, and many more. There are also subcultures, where the membership is more restrictive, within each culture.
You need to show the culture at work in the lives of your characters and let your reader know why they act the way they do and speak that way they speak. Your work is more likely to stand the test of time if these things are made clear to the reader. People still enjoy books written by Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, and Shakespeare even though the way we live now is far removed from the way life was in their books.
Basically, your planned culture needs to cover the home life, the community, religious beliefs, practices and government. The more that each section relates to your story, the more deeply you need to plan it out.
It is fun to create a culture, one where you decide the rules and the way of life. Just be careful not to get so caught up in creating your culture that you forget about your story, the reason for creating this culture in the first place.
In Create A Culture Clinic, author Holly Lisle goes even deeper into how to successfully create any kind of culture. She provides questions that you need to answer to ensure that every part of your culture is planned out. This is simply a great book, one that I highly recommend you make part of your writer’s library. I have provided a link to if you wish to purchase this book from Holly Lisle.
Create A Culture Clinic, by Holly Lisle
Content copyright © 2013 by Lisa Binion. All rights reserved.
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