Race Building Part 2: Culture and Environment

Race Building Part 2: Culture and Environment

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In Race Building Part One: Appearance, we discussed how to come up with your race’s general appearance and also how to come up with what about their appearances vary. Today, we’re going to talk about the details of why. Remember, these are just the things that I do, so you can always find a technique or way that works better for you as the writer.


Once you know what your race looks like, here comes the time when you need to put your thinking caps on and put them on tight! For me, this is probably the most difficult part sometimes and then other times, it’s super easy. Usually, if I found a race on Pinterest that I liked, I’ll look at the picture and along with tweaking how they look, I’ll come up with an aspect. Maybe in the picture an elf-looking person has a fireball in their hand, so it gives me the idea: what if this race all use fire, but instead of a magic, what if it’s another muscle? So they have to train it just like they would their arms or their legs to do other things such as sports and so on.

Now you need to figure out your race’s culture and that often stems from environment. The world and the place that they live often creates a cultures actions and habits. For instance, a race who lives in a snowy world or region might have to collect oil for fires whereas a desert-dwelling race would need water. So in the desert race, maybe water is so precious to them, it’s like gold and people can even be executed for wasting it. Maybe the snowy race collects oil and it’s like a fun little festival – whichever family collects the most wins a prize, so they make a yearly tournament out of it. That starts to build your race’s culture – their holidays and beliefs, what they do, how they act.

Maybe the desert race because they constantly need water, maybe they’re usually really stingy with resources. This means they’re probably self-reliant, so they don’t typically like help from others or helping others so they’re selfish and independent. Maybe they’re a nomadic race, so it’s every-person-for-themselves as they fight for resources. On the other hand, with the snowy race having an oil-collecting game/festival, maybe they’re all about family and friends. They live together, work together, have fun together. Maybe their culture is more laid back and all about fun and games.

See? I figured all of that out just by the environment in which they lived. That kind of goes hand-in-hand with world building. What kind of world does your race live in? Pinterest has a lot of fantasy landscape ideas to get you started, but if you need more information on World Building, I’ll eventually be doing a  World Building Series of articles in the world building topic!

Other times, your race’s appearance can determine their environment and help with the world building and then the culture comes from that. For instance, if your race has wings, maybe they fly. Since they fly, maybe mountains or rocks on their world float so they live way up high and fly to their nests or maybe they live at the top of giant jungle trees and their world is mostly thick jungle with dangerous creatures. Both of these ideas determines a different type of culture and lifestyle. The flying race who lives on floating mountains maybe has a freer culture where they go where they want and do what they want, whereas the jungle-fliers perhaps focus on surviving the difficult and dangerous jungle they live in. Or maybe your winged race can’t use their wings to fly it and it’s more for show and appearance to impress others. Maybe they take care of their wings the way some people here on earth take care of their hair and it’s a good way to attract a husband or a wife.

If you’re stuck, one of the best ways to make a culture is to look at real cultures here on earth all throughout history. Take our desert dwelling race for instance. We know they’re selfish and self-reliant and they don’t like helping others, but what else do we know? Maybe they’re like the cavemen of ancient history are thought to have been – slightly less intelligent, which is why they’re a little more barbaric than the snowy ones. Maybe they’re more like Native Americans, so they respect family and nature. That also can help you come up with a storyline of sorts – another race comes in and tries to take their home and at the same time, maybe the snows are melting because of something else the invading race is doing. With the desert-dwelling race, perhaps these gigantic creatures are becoming more and more violent so it’s harder for them to live in the desert and stay alive.

There is all kinds of periods of history to choose from and thousands of cultures to go with it. It’s not plagiarizing because they were real people. Pick aspects that you like or maybe even combine different cultures. My two favorites are Native Americans – the plains ones, like Sioux – and Japanese Samurai from the 1500’s to the 1800’s. I’ve combined their cultures and merged them together for more than one race and each way is different. You can do the same. Choosing cultures and periods of history will also help you plot build, because let’s face it, history has a lot of good ideas for a story.

Adding a culture and environment for your race to act like and live in doesn’t have to be hard. In fact, it can be easy because there are lots of sources and things for you to choose from to help get your creativity flowing.  Tune in for my next article on Saturday, a week from today!

Joanna White

I'm a Christian author with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Writing for Entertainment. I love God and my family and am passionate about writing Christian Fantasy. I'm a total nerd; I love Star Wars and video games and many other TV Shows.

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