How to Create a Rich Fantasy Culture
Updated: Aug 30
Hello my aspiring creators of far away fantasy worlds! Do you wish your fantasy people had more depth when it comes to culture? I can help you there!
What is culture made of?
There are countless cultures in our current reality, and subcultures within those cultures! That's very exciting for authors trying to create their own culture because it gives us the opportunity to learn about other groups of people while getting inspired for our art. All cultures are complex and can be categorized by many things which can help you start to build your world.
Every region on earth has their own food that they are famous for. This is based on what type of spices, livestock, fruits, vegetables, and grains grow in those regions. You can search up a list of national dishes from around the world to get inspired on creating your own fantasy foods! Food is one of the most important parts in culture because of the long-standing tradition of such home-cooked meals, younger generations continue to have a sense of their cultural background.
Although music has developed throughout history, the roots of music are deeply embedded with culture. Every culture has their own instruments. For example, the Digeridoo is an Australian instrument, and the Harp originated from Ancient Mesopotamia! There are many reasons for playing music rather than the obvious reason for enjoyment. For example, ancient cultures played music for religious purposes as an act of prayer, contributing a song of gratitude, or invoking spiritual assistance. Learning more about such unique origins of music can help you develop such origins for your fantasy culture.
There are infinite styles of dance. Some require years and years of practice. Dance is an art form. The French have Ballet, and South America has the Tango! As we know, dance is an important part in creative expression, but was also an important part in socializing. Balls in the 19th century were famous for showcasing once's etiquette and elegance. Though such parties were mainly held to allow young suitors find their perfect match. Dancing could have very well been a formality created to intrigue and impress the opposite sex. We see such similarities in nature as well. Many species of birds such as the Laysan Albatross, Red-capped Manakin, and the Magnificent Riflebird use dance as a way to attract a female mate!
D. Belief system!
How do cultures treat other people? Other people within their culture vs. Other people outside of their culture. What supernatural creatures do they believe in? South American has the legend of the Chupacabra and the Russians have the legend of Babayaga.
Belief systems include religion. Religion is very complex in our world. There are so many types of religion, and many of the ancient religions play a big part in fantasy today. Like the ancient Greek and Egyptian 'gods'. Polytheistic religions run deep in Asia's history, and monotheistic religions might sound similar until one delves into the laws and beliefs such regions share. When including a unique religion into your story, I advise you to research the religions found here on earth. How do certain religions pray, what types of sacrifices do they do, how do they show gratefulness, where do they worship, how are their sacred places of worship decorated, do they pray to a picture, a statue?
As mentioned in the dance section, male birds often dance to attract a female mate. However, there are some exceptions in nature. Did you know that male birds are more colorful than the females of the same species? The more colorful the male bird, the more attractive they are to the female. Unlike in human society, the males in nature must impress their females with their physical beauty. Perhaps that is something you might like to incorporate into your fantasy writing.
Apart from this, attire is very important for any culture. The more conservative and religious the culture, you will find that the more conservatively dressed its people are. Fashion, too, plays a big role. For example, you will find in urban areas, fashion in the greater world is very important, yet not important for those not living in urban areas who will stick to traditional types clothes worn by their people for generations. The more modernized a region gets, the more such ties of tradition wane.
H. Types of work.
In many cultures, work often revolved around food. Families tended to their livestock and their vegetation or worked for those who were providing it to the larger community. You must eat to live, after all. Based on the agriculture in the region, there were different jobs available. Where there was rice, there were rice farmers. Where there was silk, there were people who spun it on spinning wheels. Where there was lumber, there were lumber jacks and so on and so on.
Of course in every culture there are also spiritual jobs: priests, medicine men, match makers.
And jobs for other necessities other than food like seamstresses, shoe-makers.
And the unconventional/ impractical jobs: jobs of the arts (dancer, painter, sculptor, singer), prostitute, embalmers, scholars.
jobs of the less fortunate: servants, slaves, concubines, maids.
As we see in archeology, humans have not only adapted to surviving, but have come to do so in style. Earlier generations of humankind created useful pottery and other such tools, while later generations have added characteristic beauty to such objects that later became the basis of art for their community. As modern humans with advanced technology based on the information we've learned from our ancestors, we can easily survive, and therefore, are able to put more effort in art rather than survival. Everything is an art form! From culinary cuisines to regular household items! Everything we choose or create is art! From our shoes to the things we hang up on our walls or place decoratively on our shelves. Archeology is a wonderful source that allows us to understand our humbled beginnings, but can also help us writers to get a feel of what creations we can adapt into our stories to create a vast and beloved culture.
How can we make our fictional culture magical?
Using the inspiration of the cultures found in our real world, we can mold them to create something magical and unique.
If your fantasy world has unique fantasy foods, might it be possible that the vegetables, fruits, and meat in that world be much different from our own? For more detailed information on how to incorporate food into your fantasy novel check out my blog post: HOW TO INCORPORATE FOOD INTO YOUR NOVEL!
Music: When stripping a song into individual parts, you can distinctly hear what instrument is being used. Perhaps your fantasy world has different instruments than we do here on earth. If so, what are your instruments made of? What types of sounds do they produce? What do they look like, feel like? Are they easy to play, or do they require much skill and practice? If you decide your fantasy world share the instruments of our world, then perhaps there could be a difference in how your fantasy people play the instruments. For example, in the 2007 movie, August Rush, talented orphan, Evan has the unique ability to play multiple instruments. Though when he plays the guitar, he accompanies the strumming with drumming against the wood. That is a unique way to change the usual way one plays an instrument.
Dancing: Music and dance contribute to one another and are a pleasure to experience audibly and visually. If the music you envision your fantasy people enjoy is upbeat, then perhaps you can invent a lively dance based off of the lively dances in our world. If the music is more classical themed, perhaps your fantasy people would have an intricate slow dance like the Waltz.
Belief System: As we discussed earlier, Belief system has many aspects involved, passed down from generation to generation. This includes how one sees the world around them, what they think the meaning of life is, how they treat others (people in their families, their friends, others in their community, others outside of the community). Are they prejudiced towards any other nation dissimilar to theirs? Or are they a welcoming people with emotional depth and cognitive understanding?
Religion: There are so many types of religion in our world stretching out from monotheism to polytheism. Throughout human history we see the remains of such religions left behind in places of worship, statues, idols, sacred scrolls, books and so forth. However, as religion is a tricky topic in today's age, it might not be so important to include it into your novel. After all, we do not know what god(s) the fantasy people of the Lord of the Rings worship. However, we do know what god the Narnians worshiped because C.S. Lewis had a target audience in mind. You are more likely to reach a larger audience for your book if you left religion out of your story. But if you are trying to relate to a specific audience, feel free to include it. There is a book out there for every reader.
Attire: Somehow, all fantasy literature includes long robes or cloaks, signalling to the readers that the person wearing them is a magic-wielder of sorts. If it's not robes, it's armor. If it's a woman wearing armor, her voluptuousness must be revealed to appeal to the sexual-seeking audience, leaving all her vital organs left exposed during combat. If your characters are not wearing such clothing, perhaps they need a trench coat or vest with a pocket watch and a top cat because it's an old-English themed fantasy. Or what about a pretty ball gown for all the nice princess themed fantasy?
Have you sensed my sarcasm yet?
Attire is something you can be really creative with! You do not need to submit into the "usual fantasy" route. Do not forget that fantasy is the ability to imagine things that are impossible or improbable in our natural reality! If your having trouble, google different clothes in a certain era and find which type works best for your fantasy people. Or if you're up for the challenge, invent your own and become the new norm for fantasy attire!
Types of work:
Think of the agriculture in your fantasy world and build up from there!
Using inspiration from our world, what type of creations would your fantasy people make? Even the circular doors in the Shire are an artistic creation!
Hope this helped! Tell me about your fantasy culture in the comments below!