Yes, politics, economics, art, magic systems–that all make Worldbuilding good. But what makes it great? Culture. Social Structure. Class conflict.
Though all these things, your world jumps from a blueprint to an actual society. You want that, don’t you? Here’s your guide to creating lively and realisitic social and cultural aspects in your books.
Ask yourself these vital questions before progressing with your worldbuilding.
What are the social conflicts in my society?
What are the isms? (racism, sexism, classism, ageism, ableism, etc.) To what extent to these isms go? Are there people that fuel these isms? Who are they and what role do they have in the world? A club? A clan? The government itself?
Generally, how are the people in your society? Submissive or empowered? Do they march the streets demanding change or sit back and stay passive? In contrast to this, how do your characters fit within that general complex?
What unifies my society? Festivals, parties, war?
What divides my societity? Racism? Civil War? Government houses?
There are HUNDREDS of questions you can ask yourself, but here’s what you need to understand. People run society. People are what lead to change. People are the key to all of this.
You need to understand your people. You have to act like an outsider and observe how they are, and then step into their shoes to understand them. This can only be adequetly explained through an example.
In A Court of Thorns and Roses, Calanmai is the mating festival in the Spring Court. In contrast, Starfall is the festival in the Night Court. These different social festivals serve to unite the distinct communities, therefor revealing much about their culture. You understand the people through the festivals.
A real life example is Christmas. Christmas unites not only Christians, but many people. Its a joyous time of giving and loving your family, and it shows the values in our communities. Each community treats Christmas differently.
Understand your people and what unites and divides them.
Your world is divided, whether that be through borders, race, class, gender, whatever it is. You HAVE to master these divisions and how the people interact with it to get your world to pop off the page.
Interactions, by far the most important aspect in this entire blog. How people interact, the social structure, the strata, the balance of powers, IS SO IMPORTANT. In every society, there’s a basic classification: rich, middle, poor. There are other dynamics too, like gender, race, age, etc.
You really can’t do without this.
You can create a world where everyone is equal, but here’s the issue. You lose CONFLICT in your story. There is no perfect world, no actual utopia, and if you write one, most of the time people won’t give your book the time of day. You need some societal conflict to push your story forward.
This affects all other aspects of worldbuilding. It affects tradition, religion, politics, economics, art, expression, magic systems, everything. How peopel interact with your world and with each other lays the foundations for war and peace, and you need to include it.
Is there a caste system? How are the classes divided? By factions, race, ecnomics, magic powers, skill, jobs, gender, species? Who is at the top and who is at the bottom?
How do these divisions interact? Are they amicable or is their major tension?
I want to use an example to validate my point. Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard features a society divided on the basis of blood color. This is a unique way of implimenting sociatl conflict, class, and interaction into her novel.
Think out of the box for these division or derive them striaght from reality, but make sure you harp on them and really have your characters interact with it.
To me, traditions are the best way to show off culture in your novel. It can be tied to religion or an old festival that serves as a theme for your book or as a motivation for your character. For example, in my WIP, I use the centuries old Blood Battles as a primary show of culture and social tension. The three realms compete for power once every century to determine who will rule that year…but it’s imbalanced, and that causes a lot of tension in the world. This serves as an interesting dynamic in my novel because people really care about these Battles. It’s part of their culture and history, and they have ringing patriotism for their realm.
Tradtions can also be festivals. Take Holi, for example. It’s a Hindu Festival celebrating the spring, distinguished by it’s unique and messy style: throwing powdered color at each other. It’s fun, yet serves a deeper purpose to the relgious community. That shows off their culture.
How do you decide on a tradition? Your best refrence is right around you. Earth. Look and research different cultures around the world. Look into your community and see what they value most. If they are a community around political power, maybe a race between different houses. If they are vibrant and excited, maybe a festival where they let ballons into the air. Maybe to celebrate the dead, they offer prayers and sacrefices while celebrating as a family.
Either way, the options are endless.
People really value belief, so you need to decide what they believe in.
Is it a all-knowing power? Or the nature itself? Maybe, it’s the highest in their society. Either way, religion is vital to creating a world, or lack of religion itself. Maybe it’s not a big part of society. Maybe it’s what rules society.
With belief system also comes morals. What morals does the people in your society follow? What don’t they?
Belief systems offer an anchor to your characters. The morals of the world around them either shape their own, or cause them to realize systemic problems that need to be changed.
Expressions come in a variety of ways: Music, art, dance, theatre, sports, games, festivals, anything that expresses the culture of your world.
If you listen to music around the world, you’ll notice they don’t all sound the same. Even the same instruments are played differently. If your character sings or plays a song close to their world, make sure that YOU know what it sounds like. Search up songs of different cultures and try to make something unique to your world. Does the music sound tangy? Like an explosion of strings? A quick paces pluck that you can shake your hips to or a long, expressive, whine of a string instument the evokes the deepest of sorrows out of people.
Different cultures have differnt music styles, like come on, even if your culture has a very expressive and jumpy type of music, they’ll be playing something sad at a funeral. The key is to note how you’re using music in your novel and then distinguish what it sounds like.
Music also leads to cultural changes and uplifts in communities. It also can represent the moods of characters or of worlds itself. For example, in La Casa de Papel (Money Heist in English), the characters sing the Italian Revolution song, Bella Ciao. They’ve theives that see something wrong within the system itself. This song represents their resistance and harps on the past, where this song was a memorable part of the Italian Revolution.
Art has been a way that human’s have expressed things for a long time. It shows a change in socities and history. The history of art is oddly facinating and understanding how it’s evolved in different socities can help you as a writer determine what role art (if any role at all) plays in your story.
In the Industrial Era, art changed fundementally, shifitng from scenes of people to reflective pieces on socitiy, industrializtion, and capatalism, making waves and fueling revolutions. Art gives people a visual stimulation to see whats going on in their world.
I think introspective art and propaganda is an amazing medium to use while enhancing conflict in your book.
Dance impacts in many forms. It shows culture, tells stories, and can even characterize your society. It can be rooted in religion or in pure entertainment fashion.
Theatre, like dance, tells stories and can reveal something about your world. Many plays derive from issues conflicting the world.
Sports are a huge part of culture. While they unite one part of the society, it also divides them from others. Sports can range from gladiator fights to a match of American Football. In my WIP, I use the Blood Battles as a tournament, therefor a sport of sorts. It needs stratagy behind it. It unites the realms to themselves and pits them against each other, fueling conflict in my novel.
In Veronica Roth’s “Carve the Mark”, killing is seen as a sport, and many people tune in to see exceutions and fights to the death. This characterizes society.
THANK YOU SO MUCH for reading this long blog. Obviously, you don’t have to take everything from it, but I hope you found some things useful. If you did, follow my newsletter for more exlusive content like questions to ask yourself.