Hi! I have a fantasy setting that I've been developing for about two years, and while I'm happy with most of it, I struggle to really fresh things out and make the races and societies seem real, compared to rl ones. Do you have any tips to essentially fill in the blanks or make things closer to a cohesive country? Thanks!
I always find that the easiest way to fill in those pesky details is to sit my character in a place within the world (on a park bench, on a bus, in a chapel, in an office building) and observe.
You can practice by literally putting yourself on a park bench, a bus seat, etc. and looking at all that’s going on around you. Imagine that you’re an alien or a time traveler and notice the nuances of every day life that speak to our society and culture…things that might make no sense to someone from the outside. We don’t really think twice about seeing someone wearing a Doctor Who shirt, or someone bobbing their head to the music in their headphones…but what if an onlooker didn’t know the purpose of headphones? Or hadn’t experienced music outside of a live performance? How do you explain the blue Police Box shirt to someone who doesn’t know the reference, or the commonality of having pop culture images on our clothing to advertise our personal interests?
When you sit and observe the intricacies of our world, you can think back to the roots of the behavior, that object, and apply similar lines of cultural evolution to your own world.
Write a scene (one you might very well never use in your novel), and let your character(s) notice the random little bits of their world. What do people do in their free time? What types of activities constitute hobbies? How socially acceptable are certain behaviors or fashion choices? We don’t bat an eye to someone sitting on a busy street corner playing a guitar…but what about if your character passed by someone playing music on the street corner and noticed passers-by snickering or giving the musician a wide berth? That action speaks to the commonality of troubadours, or the acceptance of the arts, without spelling it out in the narrative (show, don’t tell!).
For the following list, you can consider the history of each item, its influence on the present, the what and the why, the opinions people (most importantly, your characters) hold about them…any and every aspect you can think of.
Elements which might be used to fill in details:
- Language (how freely it’s used)
- Interactions with Strangers
- Differences–or lack thereof–between genders in society
- Theatre (in any form it might be present)
- Hierarchy of careers
- Ideas of casual vs. formal
- Structure/intimacy/location of residential areas
There are undoubtedly more, but I hope this gives you a starting point. I went pretty general since I’m not sure exactly what points you’re specifically wanting to fill.
Also, always keep in mind that if you have multiple races or species within your world, then these points will likely vary between groups. You wouldn’t make the same observations on a New York street corner that you’d make on a Paris street corner or in Madrid or Tokyo. There should be variety among your fictional cultures as well. It really helps each of them pop off the page!
If you have any more specific questions, don’t hesitate to ask.