Notes From Building Cultures at Westercon


Building Cultures
Ted Butlet
Robin Hobb
Rhiannon Held
Frances Pauli
S.A. Bolich
  • When you are creating a culture (or recreating a historical one), if things differ, you need to spend time educating the reader: and you have to pick and choose what you spend that time,
    • e.g. historically women wore these incredibly tall french wigs that we would consider ridiculous looking. if you want to make that work, you have to show people flirting with that women, so the audience understands it is attractive. but is that worth it, or do you pick something else to spend the energy on?
    • e.g. werewolves heal really quickly, so a werewolf culture might be prone to fighting/tussling. a reader might perceive that as extremely violent. so you can choose to tone down the violence or educate the reader. 
  • cultures don’t stay static. how far back do you go to understand the culture?
  • you don’t want to dump all the culture on the reader. the writer needs to understand it.
  • we bring all of our cultural assumptions with us when we read. “it’s beneficial to be faithful.” can we write a culture that doesn’t have that?
  • avoiding infodumps
    • Ted Butler:
      • assume intelligence on the part of the reader
      • do it implicitly.
      • if something needs to be explicit, bracket it with action scenes.
    • Robin Hodd
      • book was in 1st person
      • but needed to convey information that the first character wouldn’t have known or have naturally shared.
      • so each chapter started with a letter or a news article or something.
      • also, in our culture, we teach our children through nursery rhymes and sayings. we can use this in writing.
    • Rhiannon Held
      • it comes up in problem solving scenes. who gets to speak, who has to argue for their ideas vs. whose are just accepted. who doesn’t get a voice.
  • you can create cultures based on earth cultures:
    • the wolf cultures are based not so much on wolves, but on hunter-gatherer societies, and how they achieve status within their culture.
    • spaceship cultures can be based on sailing ship cultures… a closed ecosystem, long time enclosed, etc.
    • or weird cultures: 
      • eskimo: elderly walking out into the cold to free up community resources. 
      • baby boxes: for abandoning children
(Buy Silver by Rhiannon Held: werewolves in urban setting, how they fit into human culture)
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