WORLDBUILDING CULTURES – Terrible Writing Advice


Is your fantasy or science fiction world missing
something? How can this be? We have a whole slew of races pilfered straight
from the Silmarillion. We have a detailed map with magically splitting
rivers and everything. Our cyberpunk setting’s international political
borders were lifted straight from the 80s. We even have an alien ecosystem built entirely
out of predators! Yet our evil empire seems a bit… flat for
some reason. Could it be that their singular drive for
world domination and complete lack of screen time has resulted in the imperial capital
being blander than a 90s sit com? What could be the problem? Why is the chapter featuring the wood elves
tree homes duller than well, a tree? What is missing? Wait. I know! We didn’t build a culture for our fictional
peoples! World building can be intimidating to those
who don’t spend every waking moment obsessing about it like I do, but keep calm and listen
to me carry on about how easy world building a fictional culture really is! Seriously don’t stress about world building
cultures too much. Real world cultures are far stranger than
anything ever written in fiction. Which means that any old half measure taken
in world building is okay and will produced exceptional results. And by that I mean that people won’t notice
unless you really really screw up. So let’s really really screw up… I mean really really dig into to how to properly
create a fictional culture! Now culture can be a collection of shared
values, social norms, artistic achievement, mythologies, ceremonies, and customary beliefs. All of that sounds hard to world build, but
all a writer has to worry about is mostly just a society’s dress and architecture. Just like smoke and mirrors, add those two
items and a writer is done! A reader wont notice characters from the far
future using modern day slang if we dress them up in funny hats and have them live in
fractal shaped houses! Our future society has technology completely
different from modern day, but their culture should still share the same values and taboos
as our own. Or, maybe they only have hyper drive and everything
else is just absolutely the same because access to the huge vastness of the void between stars
will change nothing about a society’s perspective. If an author worries that this wont be enough,
then just add a singular trait that the entire culture is built around! Need an antagonistic people to menace the
heroes, just build a culture obsessed with warfare at the cost of every other aspect
of their society. How did these guys invent hyper-drive if they
disdain all intellectual pursuits? Well they stole it from the precursors or
something. Look, you want thematically opposing foes
for our scientific heroes or what? Who cares if a culture’s core value is so
singular and strong that it would cripple any chance of them becoming a major power. Our isolationists should easily have access
to rare resources and technology even if they can’t trade to get those things. Don’t worry about trying to compensate for
these cultural weaknesses in interesting ways. We could, for example, give our isolationist
people an untouchable diplomatic caste who has to deal with outsiders, but whose specialized
expertise has resulted in the ascension of the very people who shun them. Wait. That’s dumb. I have an even better idea. Let’s make them all evil instead! A society built entirely around worshiping
evil, torture and death should function incredibly well. I bet a culture devoted to destruction is
very good and building the infrastructure needed to wage endless war. Also, cultures where the only form of advancement
is killing your superior must suffer no shortages of talent at all! Is coming up with a monolithic culture built
around a single trait too hard? I understand. Thinking up that one trait can be really difficult. Thankfully, a writer need not stress themselves
out over putting the most minuscule amount of creativity into world building a culture
when an author can simply steal one directly from the real world! Just borrow a contemporary or historical culture
and transplant them directly into a fantasy world or the far future, completely ignoring
the environmental conditions and historical context that shaped that culture in the first
place! Don’t worry. I’m not suggesting we actually read about
the real culture before pilfering it. Nah. Simply changing the name will dodge all accusations
of appropriation! Or at the very least it will hold up in court. A writer need not worry about stealing another
culture’s symbols because a proper author should be too lazy to use symbols in their
fictional cultures in the first place! No need for rich heraldry, clever mottos,
or emblems designed for instant recognition of a culture’s history or values. I suppose we could make a flag. Just slap some random shapes on there and
done! Wait. I have another great idea. Let’s over-design our symbols! Nothing like having so much crap on a flag
that it becomes unrecognizable. Nor should a writer worry about over-designing
a culture as well. This never becomes a problem when an author
becomes enamored with a culture to the point where they remove all flaws and have it represent
what they believe an ideal society is. Yes. That never gets on anyone’s nerves even
when the people of the author’s personal utopia constantly educate the protagonist,
and thus the reader, on their superior ways! Especially when the idealistic Pure Republic
of Mary Sue is ideologically opposed by the Evil Empire of Strawmanopolis. Immersing the reader into a fictional world
can’t be done by showing how a society handles disease, how do they regard personal hygiene,
what does their diet consist of, what kind of natural resources do they have access to,
how said resources influence technology, how does environment shape their beliefs, how
do their values differ from my own, what are this culture’s taboos, what values does
this culture hold that not all of its members live up to, is their society stagnate or is
it in the middle of a transformation? Could it be that things I had assumed were
default human nature were in face merely a cultural perspective not shared by every human
society? Studying real world cultures can truly open
one’s eyes to the complexity of human behavior and enrich a writer’s world view. Which is really bad because that might accidentally
happen to the reader as well and throw their fragile perspectives into chaos. Which brings into question how an author should
handle controversial subjects on world-building like a culture’s religion or view on gender
roles. Well you are on your own because I’m NOT touching that on YouTube.

100 thoughts on “WORLDBUILDING CULTURES – Terrible Writing Advice

  1. If you steal a culture and place it in a world with similar environments with almost no difference, could these cultures still work without seeming fake

  2. I was more expecting him to rip on how there's always a culture based on Japanese society in stories. Usually JRPGs. The Wutai Principle I believe they call it.

  3. Um, excuse me. The world’s first Orcish cop is a genuine hero, and he deserves your respect.

  4. So… WHERE'S MY BOOK??? WHERE IS PART 2??? WRITE, DAMMIT, I need to know what happens to Terra.

  5. Lol Bright is what happens when you watch all of Terrible Writing advice and take the sarcasm literally. When your Dark Lord is literally called “The Dark Lord” and your Mcguffin magic wand is literally just called a “magic wand,” you know you’re creatively bankrupt.

  6. Actually something that I'm currently writing has a large part of the world with a form of magic that is unique to itself and has forced itself into a perpetual dark age because this magic is outright exceptional at killing and harming from afar with little proof left or effort required. As a result they are an extremely insular and hyper paranoid people that have yet to evolve beyond savages in mud huts because they keep killing those who discover some kind of advancement out of jealousy.

  7. thing that was not mentioned: cultural differences are easily affected by biology. switching up basic things such as dietary needs, erogenous zones/nerve clusters, likelihood of genetic variation, or the aging process could lead to INSANE differences.

  8. What…

    You mean no one's talking about the continuity in the intros between 26-28?

    That was the best part!

    (Even if it does look like a creepypasta opening if you just jump into 27 without anything else…)

  9. 4:49 I recently read something that had precisely this problem. The author spend half the book explaning how awesome this parallel world is. For example, they use super magical cristal as a source of energy instead of oil, because they want to protect their ecology! It's not like the human would use these super magical cristal with infinite energy and no disadvantage if this parallel world would give them some…
    Oh, and according to the lack of knowledge of science of the author, the hole in the ozone layer is cause by CO2, and not by product that humanity stop using 20 years ago…

  10. And if you are taking inspiration from other cultures, don't acknowledge any flaws or violent history they had and put them as a peaceful, harmonious society and blame all their problems with others…

    Looking at you, Pandaria

  11. 3:27 as much as I liked Starbound, it suffers from this trope a lot. Out of the seven playable races, four are directly based of real cultures, and another is shamelessly ripped off of Orwell's 1984. Ironically only the vanilla Humans and the savage Florans are original in any way.

  12. Simple. Good guys should be feminist utopia where everyone lives happy and bad guys should be hyper masculine evil and also super stupid bunch. Book like that would sell well in modern political climate.

  13. Its funny, I can world build pretty well… but I can't write an actual story for shit.
    I might as well just make my story a history textbook.

  14. Yeah but the flag would be the same gobbledygook every time, so it would recognizable to its citizens. If it changed constantly then maybe you’re correct. But then it would be a flag really.

  15. Yeah, U.S state flags can get super ugly. Colorado is as far as they should go, Maryland is completely insanely ugly.

  16. Thanks for that little bit of honesty near the beginning TWA. As a writer, world building and culture can be very intimidating, but this relaxed me a little bit.

  17. Yeah gender issues in Fantasy. Talked with my Girlfriend about name of the wind when she finished it recently. Despite numerous strong female characters in the story, an entire culture that is build around an matriachat (Ademre) and a main character that praises women in high tones, she found the hair in the soup by pointing out that some of the cultures in it are medival in their gender roles (well what do you say about that…its a medival setting) and the main fact that the main character happens to be male. I guess there can not be a single thing right in such cases then…

  18. It's ok I will jump into that dumpster fire for you.

    Ps, this is a horrible idea.

  19. My literature high school teacher asked us to hand in a short story as our final test. I really wish I’d discovered these videos 3 months ago.

  20. how should a wrter approach things lke religious views and gender rolls? simply dont give a fuck about what the reader thinks but offer a varied spectrum of views.

  21. Cultures based on Matriarchy. See those all the time. What could they be based on? Literally, nothing even remotely similar to them existed at any point in the entire history of any culture across the globe. Unrealistic, senseless catering because of "lol women equal to men mmkay".

  22. i can describe all the videos this guy has made in one sentence.
    "All fiction is written badly and only i know how to write well."

  23. Some good advice on worldbuilding:

    Start with an existing culture, then research why the culture became that way, and look to see where you can change things. What would Roman Culture be like if it wasn't Hellenized? What if China shared the far east with literally any other civilizations of equal size during the Qin Dynasty? What if the English weren't the product of a millennium of foreign invasions (Celts, Romans, Angles, Saxons, Normans)?

  24. Don't forget that you can make any culture both "gritty", slightly removed from our own and instantly identifiable by having it's members repeat the same made up swear word three times in every sentence!

  25. In Star Trek it is implied that the federation gave the Klingons warp tech, and they do have scientists they’re just not respected and treated like shit. But yeah the federation should be able to wipe out the Klingons so fucking easily

  26. That moment you made a theocratic empire of carnivores in a sci-fi. Who are good guys.

    "Did I do it wrong?"

  27. Well that last bit of advice before the sponsorship was probably a piece of good advice.  You sure you want that on this channel?

  28. I think the interview link is broken. That's disappointing, because I am really digging this channel so far, and would love to hear about your path. (I've recently decided to start writing with the goal of publication instead of just my own entertainment.)

  29. There's also flags that are severely under designed. Like Australia and China's. Australia's is literally just a few stars in no order on a blue background with the union jack thrown up in the corner. Come on, they could have done better than that. I guess they were way to busy fighting off Emu's and giant spiders to invent a flag. China though… over a billion person population along with some of the greatest scientific minds of the world, and their flag is even more bland than Australia's. A few gold stars on a red flag (because nothing symbolizes communism like a red background apparently).

    Take flags like the Soviet Union in contrast. A very simple design, but very symbolic… it gave the people a strong symbol to rally behind.

  30. 2:08 – 3:15
    Remembered me of the Saiyans, at least in the original run of Dragonball (Z/GT).

  31. Talking about utopian cultures, does someone remember the bald alien people from “Valerian”, ever since that movie, everytime I show my mom a sketch of a character without the hair, she waves her arms and say “look at me, I’m super happy!”.

  32. But you know what can make any culture better

    A love triangle

  33. 1:05 The problem with using real-life cultures is that you'll get panned for "cultural appropriation" the moment your work comes out.

  34. In retrospect, maybe Tolkien wasn't such a good culture-builder as I thought…

  35. how about make an Elf race split them up into 2 Make one Became Green make one Be Red

  36. "In the Republic of Mary Sue, there is only the like button." Well if there's no dislike button and no option to click neither buttons, then I really don't have much of a choice, do I? Consider this video liked.

  37. Best advice everyone ALWAYS (without fail) gives me: "It's your story, and it's fiction. Your universe your rules. Doesn't matter because there is no 'right'!" 😂 [writes science fiction…gets this answer for every event of hairpulling over logistical nitpicks]

  38. Key to TWA:

    JP shits on something and says it's too hard = DO THAT

    Everything else: NO DON'T DO THAT

  39. I spend lots of time making maps. But I'm also spending lots of time making a language so

  40. I am gonna spend such a long time making culture, maps, language and stuff. So yeah

  41. Ceasers legion from fallout new Vegas are exactly this and it's still excellent writing

  42. Can't think up an original culture? Have the people be thieves of other cultures from Earth. (Scoopers from URAHARA; a rare series where I know it has issues and I still love it)

  43. I recently realised that the intro is destroyed because it blew up during action scenes, the last episode so yeah

  44. 0:55 Its alright man, I spend too much time making flags.

  45. "I watched the prince of Egypt when I was a kid, so I guess you could say that makes me an expert at copy and pasting utilizing the bible in my writing."

  46. I kinda like the Tal'darim in Starcraft 2: they're a warrior culture where the only form of advancement is to kill your superior in ritualistic combat (However, anyone who's loyal to you is allowed to support you during your fight).

    Because this society values martial strength above all else, they are almost entirely reliant on stolen technology to support themselves, and their nation's population is tiny compared to most of their neighbors. The Tal'darim homeworld has only 12 million individuals; meanwhile their neighbor, the Protoss Empire, has over 200 million individuals, even after most of their populace was massacred in a series of catastrophic wars.

  47. dang, where'd you get that aeon legion map of time? An image search didn't turn it up

  48. Just saw an ad saying no channels we're doing writing humour, I'm legit insulted on your behalf

  49. can you make an episode about representing mental illnesses and autism in stories

  50. At least with the Klingons there are plenty of times their culture has been dissected in universe and the flaws in it explored. Star Trek 6 is literally about how being a bunch of aggressive isolationist dick heads will destroy them. Of course discovery ruined the Klingons but there’s still plenty of other canon material that deals with them really well.

  51. It really sucks when people assume that all Americans view themselves and their country as perfect and don't respect other cultures at all as if they were ignorant and spoiled, when that couldn't be further from the truth. Other cultures show pride in their countries and celebrate their traditions and holidays, so why is it a problem when Americans do the same? Besides, it's not like every other culture is 100% perfect. There are plenty of disgusting and horrifying things that are considered "normal" in other countries, so why is it "intolerant" to speak out against them?

  52. Lol I went into this expecting to be shamed for making a Roman expy for my D&D world but at least I am trying to justify it in universe too.

  53. One aspect not mentioned in the video of culture is the question of individualism vs collectivism. Most cultures outside the US are considerably more collectivist, focused on family and community, than Americans are. Varying levels, possibly between generations and subcultures, can be used to differentiate peoples in an interesting way.
    Or you could have an uber-individualist show all the collectivists how wrong they are, and watch as they drop centuries of history because the hero makes a ten-page speech.

  54. i wanted to call one of my characters with an added roman ordinal numerization because he was the successor for the throne of an empire… Now i feel like a clown, thanks TWA >='[

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