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July 20th, 2005, 09:32 PM
I am currently in the midst of working on my novel and have been stuck. One of the problems, I realized, was that I did not have a good grasp of the two major cultures. They are simply groups of people with different names. I wrote down the following four questions:

What is taboo?
What is frowned upon?
What is accepted?
What is praised?

I think for a fictional culture to be interesting and different it should have at least one thing in each category which does not exist (or does not exist to the same extent) in our culture. For instance, it could be accepted to kill your young at an early age if they show signs of being slow mentally.

Currently, I can't answer any of the four questions for the cultures in my novel, but I'm working on it. For those of you working on novels of your own, can you answer it?


July 20th, 2005, 10:29 PM
Well I don't have all the answers in my story yet either, but I can tell you some.

What is taboo?
Being "lost." This basically means not having any direction in life. In order to not be lost you can follow a God, an ideal, or even a person, but you have to follow something...

What is frowned upon?

Attacking the convoys of friendly or neutral clans is frowned upon, but there is no real way to prevent it. It is frowned upon to be a member of the wandering clasns (only by members of the stationary clans), just as it is frowned upon by the wandering clans to be confined to a permanent structure.

What is accepted?

Attacking enemy convoys, hutning down and killing those who attack your own convoys (whether they are friendly or neutral). Attacking foreigners who do not have a clan escort.

What is praised?

Dying with with your eyes open. It shows that they were willing to accept death and confronted it instead of trying to hide. Also, it is praised to embrace death alone, they think it is weakness to search desperately for company in the last moments of life instead of nobly accepting death.

Maybe this will help you come up with some ways to fill in your blanks. I didn't think I could answer all of those when I looked at it at first, but I have done some pretty significant development of this group so I guess I am almost there 8). As far as accepted or frowned upon though, the possibilities are limitless... Taboos and praised are what would really separate them from others.

July 20th, 2005, 10:48 PM
Thanks for that Ear,

I have been brainstorming tonight, trying to think of things big and small. Not every difference has to be of earth shattering significance, but enough so that it provides some sort of insight into the culture.

Some I have come up with.

Eating with utensils is frowned upon. Only children and the elderly who cannot pull food apart with their teeth and/or hands use utensils. Often, it is an able bodied person who cuts up their food for them. This also puts some restrictions on what types of fod are often served.

Sex with strangers and with different people at different times and without emotional attachment of any kind is acceptable. Sex is seen not as a passionate thing, but more as a filling a need, like eating or sleeping.

To make it realistic, however, there has to be methods of abortion which are safe, non-invasive, effective, and socially acceptable. This is because women would not adopt such a casual attitude towards sex (anyone, anytime as the mood struck) otherwise. Carrying a child and giving birth makes it highly likely that the woman would take things more seriously than the man.

Those are a couple anyways.


July 20th, 2005, 10:56 PM
Women could have a socially acceptable birth control pill (if you are technologically advanced) or if you are primitive, eat a food that regulates estrogen hormones...
And then of course there are always sexual activites which do not lead to impregnation... (I will leave that to your filthy imaginations)

July 20th, 2005, 10:58 PM
It might be interesting to define these social markers in contrast.

For example, what might be frowned upon by one culture could be praised by another. This kind of thing helps the reader to draw distinctions.

July 20th, 2005, 11:01 PM
Actually choppy, I am doing that with my story (the stationary vs. the non-stationary). A lot of it is going to come down to a more warrior-ized version vs. a more mercantile version of the same people.
I kind of had that plan, just thought I would mention it... ;)

July 21st, 2005, 02:24 AM
A number of things I would say about this, but as normal this is just my opinion, the story is yours.......

Be consistent in the application of any customs and taboos.

Don't make them overly complicated unless there is a very good reason in the story for them to be so.

Please just don't throw them in for effect, if they do not impinge on the story line or characters they are excess baggage that will slow your story down and draw your reader into thinking they are important to the plot when they are not.

Unless your society is totally ruled by its customs and taboos don't make a big deal of them look at the cultures around you. Many have traditional customs and taboos and the majority of folks ignore them when it comes to it. Unless the custom or taboo is a focal point or point of tension between the characters and important to the plot line, keep it in the back ground.

July 21st, 2005, 06:12 AM

I would agree. Like my untensil one above, it would be worth a mention, but not spending paragraphs on it. I think these kinds of questions may help writers get to know their cultures better, even if the answers don't feature prominantly (or at all) in the story itself. When thinking about taboos, you have to think about what drives a society. What limits it? Societies that live in the desert vs. tundra vs. edge of nuclear waste land will have differnt taboos. Societies under constant pressure to fight extinction will have different taboos and different things which are acceptable.

The risk is putting a society in a different/unique/extreme situation and yet have its attitudes and behavior mirror ours.


July 21st, 2005, 01:48 PM
I think spending some time on taboos and such is a great way to flesh out a society, even if the actual customs don't make it into the story. The same could be said for a nation/tribe/etc. history. Although I may never recount how King Yahoo came into power, I fell as if if I have a better idea of the people, and how they would conduct themselves as whole, if I do know.

Of course, I've always found it easier to brainstorm about all this background information then to sit down and hammer out a story!

July 21st, 2005, 04:54 PM
I've gotta disagree with Holbrook, everything in your story shouldn't be about your story. Maybe this is to go for SOME readers, but there are also those who want to be immersed in your world.