Working with Different Cultures

by jeanineoloughlin

Thinking Through My Fingers

“Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers.” – Issac Asimov

We’ve continued to talk about different characters the past few weeks and I think it’s important to bring up culture. There are a lot of things that can define a culture and even what constitutes a sub-culture. When writing in fiction there are a lot of opportunities to create unique cultures to the world you’re writing in, and in some cases the differences might be subtle given the context of the story.

A great example that I’m working through right now is that a project I’m working on takes place in one country. Now in a lot of ways that narrows the scope of my cultural differences. Instead I try to think about the different life experiences that my characters have. Some characters come from rich families, some with religious or political upbringings. Then there are those who come from a poor or middle class and even outsider perspective. All of these considerations affect the culture which the characters were raised within.

In instances where you are writing characters from a more standard definition of culture I encourage you to do your research. What makes these cultures unique and don’t just consider the customs as events that take place, but why they happen. In many cultures traditions are built based on some real life need or expectation. Think of the environment and how that would affect how people live and any religious beliefs that may influence the people. In my limited experience those tend to be your two key factors for cultural development at least at its root base. Then things evolve, take on new meaning as their origins are lost, manipulated, and their environment changes.

If you are writing about an existing culture then again research as much as possible. I often find a friend from the culture that I’m writing about and with a given discussion of disclaimers I ask them to read through it and let me know if what I’ve touched upon is accurate (or “close enough”) and especially if I’ve offended (unless I meant to have a character offend on purpose). The importance is just to try to respect the culture for what it was and represent it in a way that you intend to in your story. Something I hate doing is failing to communicate a perspective I really want to show my readers, especially if it offends them unintentionally.

Happy Writing!