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Add “Culture” to Your Writing

According to my Webster’s New World Dictionary, culture is “the ideas, customs, skills, arts, etc.  of a people or group that are transferred, communicated or passed along, as in or to succeeding generations.”

Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, using cultural traditions, beliefs, practices and communication patterns can make your characters seem more real. According to the book The Cultural Imperative by Richard D. Lewis, several things shape culture, including climate, geographical environment, history, religion and language.

These things influence our core values, including how we perceive space, time and communication. In turn, this affects communication patterns, listening skills, body language and other values.

How Can You Use This in Your Writing?

Conflict is essential to every story. Cultural differences and differences in core values creates conflict.

Even if you’re not telling a story that involves more than one culture, your character’s culture can influence his personality, his role in society and his values. For instance, if your character is American, she might value:

  • Social justice
  • Perseverance
  • Problem-solving
  • Equality
  • Individualism
  • Democracy

These values will affect her behaviors and her decisions. It will influence how she behaves in a relationship, how hard he works at his after-school job, whether she does her homework or blows it off for her boyfriend and how he reacts when he learns his parents are going to find out he got another “F” in math.

Characters who value different things from their friends, family or society at large can also create conflict. For instance, if a teen tells her Christian parents that she’s an Atheist, her parents are unlikely to respond well. If a teen has a mom who is one of the top ten surgeons in the nation and a dad who is lawyer for a major firm, his parents may not respond well to his announcement that he wants to be a teacher. They probably don’t see anything wrong with teachers, but it’s not what they wanted for their kid.

What are some of your character’s values? How are they the same or different than his or her culture?

Stop by next Monday to learn about creating a cultural background for your character or your world – whether it’s modern Earth or another world entirely.

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Comments

  1. That’s a good tip to pit chars. against their culture. I’m just a place in a WIP where that’s a timely reminder. Thanks.

    • Great post, Robin!
      I was thinking the same thing, Dee. Knowing the cultural backgrounds of our characters can help us pit them against each other because conflict works in fiction, and it’s life, the real world. What better way to show the values of our characters than to justify why they act a certain way, and how their life experiences and beliefs make them different than our other characters, and maybe the villain, in our stories.

  2. Robin McClure says:

    Delores,

    I’m glad it helped! I hope you have fun incorporating culture. I think it’s fascinating because there are so many ways to do it.

  3. Robin McClure says:

    Michelle – I love the idea of emphasizing the differences in values between one’s main character and the villain!

  4. Well put, Robin. In one of the books that i’m currently writing, the main character goes against the wishes of his parents, regarding his future, and expectations with respect to their culture.You have given me a better insight as to how to approach this dilema. Thank you. Blessings.

  5. Robin McClure says:

    Johnny – that sounds fascinating! Glad this helped and have fun writing.

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