Worldbuilding: Part Three (Society & Culture)


This is Part Two in my worldbuilding series. Read Part One (Introduction) here, and Part Two (Geography & Terrain) here.

game of thrones animated GIF

Society and culture is another big element to your world: people’s actions, views, beliefs, and traditions make the world what it is.

(Important note: I’ve excluded religion completely from this post. While it is part of society and culture, I’ve dedicated a whole post on it in a few weeks time.)

Let’s start off with something simple, which also happens to be my favourite topic: FOOD.

  • What do your people eat? This will largely depend on the climate/natural resources of your world/region, tooEg, fish and other sea creatures are most likely going to be consumed in towns/cities, ect, that are located near seas and rivers. These sorts of foods are obviously not going to be available in deserts unless imported from another city, yet then you have to ask yourself the question how these foods are preserved. You’ll find that it would be harder to grow crops where there is ice and snow (unless that plant is particularly resilient), though foods are more likely to last longer due to the preservation properties of the cold. Food crops would be grown whether the temperature/weather suits it more.
  • You’ll also need to consider the economic status of your characters. Kings, nobles, ladies, and other people of a higher importance are going to get the biggest cut off the food. They will have servants and cook preparing and serving them, so it is unlikely they would have to do any of the work themselves. But also consider that hunting, especially, may be considered to be a recreational activity in some cultures. If you’re poorer then you’re going to have to hunt and forage for your own food — or, depending on the circumstances of your characters, perhaps even steal it. Peasants are obviously not going to be eating luxurious foods.
  • Though I said I’m not going to go into religion, consider what effect religion might have on their food — eg, does it prevent them from eating certain things such as meat?

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Good god now I want pizza.

Another thing to examine in your world are the types of classes of people. Here are some examples to get you thinking:

  • Noblemen/women/aristocrats: What role do they play in society? How did they come into power — were they born into it, or are they a tyrant/usurper that took control forcefully? How do these nobles treat people of a lower class? (As I was writing that, this quote came into mind: “If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.” — Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J.K Rowling.) This might also help in fleshing out your characters, too.
  • Peasants: How are they treated by other people? Where do they live? In the slums of city, or broken down houses that litter the outskirts of your city towns? How do they feed themselves? Do they have enough knowledge to be able to hunt effectively? How common are peasants? Are there any benefits that the government can give the poor?
  • Slaves: Are there slaves in your world? Have there ever been — if so, how were they banned? (This could also be part of your world’s history, which I’ll elaborate on later.) How badly are slaves treated? Are they beaten/abused? Are they chained/locked up? Used for sex/domestic chores/servants/fighting?  How did most of them come into slavery in the first place? (Eg, born into it, paying off a debt.) Is it possible for a slave to be freed? Can they buy their own freedom? Or does their owner have to give them formal permission to leave? If they have children, are they free or are they born into slavery too?
  • Women/role of women: How are women viewed in your society? Highly? Poorly? Are they considered to be “important”? — if so, why? Because they can carry children? Do they hold any political power? If your society votes, do women have the right to vote? How are the treated by other people — men in particular? Are there any women in powerful positions — such as a queen, military adviser,  ect.? Are woman considered to stay indoors, raise children, clean and cook? Do they/are they allowed to learn to fight/defend themselves? Are they punished more harshly than men? Are they expected to marry from a young age to produced children? Or can they choose love themselves? Are forced/arranged marriages common? (This is likely to be the case for a noblewoman — marrying someone of high rank for political and military reasons.)

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  • Races: This one is especially important though might only apply to those writing fantasy. Is there more than one race besides humans in your world? Elves? Dragon-people?  Dwarves? Orcs? (yes there is totally a LoTR theme going on here…) How are they treated in comparison to others? Are humans viewed as the all-mighty race? How do they treat each other? Is there war/friction between races? Why? Why not? (This war and/or friction can also be part of your world’s history!)

Education is an integral part of every culture, so I think it’s important to add in into your worldbuilding, whether it’s just a reference here or there to a past lesson learned. Also:

  • The class of your society/character will effect the extent of your characters’ education. Noblemen and woman are more likely to be educated in things such as literacy, numeracy, fighting (especially if the character is male), horse riding, hunting, wielding weapons correctly. And some, perhaps an heir to the throne, will be educated in how to rule a kingdom/country well.
  • The poor are not likely to have this education. What they learn is likely to come from experience and/or what their family tells them.

That’s pretty much all for this week. Sharing a glimpse into these cultures and societies is going to strengthen the worldbuilding in your novel, even if just a little bit. Remember that:

  • Each culture is going to have different ideas and are likely to clash on ethical/moral points.
  • People of different cultures tend to clump together in certain areas — eg, elves in a forest, dwarves in a mountain, humans in the big cities. This does not always have to be the case but should be considered.
  • Remember that I’m going to be going into more detail about things such as religion in later weeks, so keep your eyes peeled for that.

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Next week on Writerly Post Wednesday — Worldbuilding: Part Four (Names), in which I talk about . . . Yes, you guessed it, names! Which is both a fun/hard part of worldbuilding.


5 thoughts on “Worldbuilding: Part Three (Society & Culture)

  1. Society and culture just makes me realise all the homework I have to do for…um, society and culture. BUT LET US NOT THINK ABOUT THAT. Seriously, these posts are so awesome, I love them – it’s crazy how much planning has to go into fantasy, particularly epic fantasy. I am soooo referring to these posts if ever I write one :P

  2. Great post! You’ve done a great job covering everything relating to society and culture. There are so many things to consider for world building, especially in a fantasy. And it’s the every day things like food that make your world feel realistic. Look forward to the next installment.

  3. It’s only in the last year or so that I have really come to love fantasy and to read it a lot more. These posts are making me realise just how much hard work goes into writing fantasy and how much an author has to think about before they even get started.

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