D – Deconstructing Cultural Beliefs

Taking yesterday’s post about Constructs of the Mind and giving it a wider context… Deconstructing Cultural Beliefs is another useful tool for writers.

Whether you write stories set in real places or fantasy ones, understanding how culture shapes different societies and beliefs into a common mindset amongst a population can help make your characters and world more believable.

What is a cultural belief anyway? It’s things like “success comes with a white picket fence”; “There’s no point in voting, it makes no difference”; “Nature is a resource for those assertive enough to take it”.

The first, success comes with a white picket fence, is an ideal. It’s something a culture recognises as the ultimate goal and will work all their lives trying to attain it whether it’s what they really want as an individual or not.

The second, “There’s no point in voting, it makes no difference”, is an apathy. It’s born partly from experience and partly from an abdication of responsibility. This apathy is strong in western culture and is what allows those in power to remain so in a self-perpetuating cycle: because no-one goes against the status quo by voting how they truly feel, the apathy is self-fulfilling.

The last, “Nature is a resource for those assertive enough to take it”, is an ethic. An ethic being a chosen way of behaving that suits a belief. This example is one that is prevalent in the world of business. It is a cultural belief because not all cultures behave this way.

Another interesting thing to note about cultural beliefs is that not everyone within a culture will follow or believe it but it must be prevalent in the way the culture operates as an organism.

Take the last example again, I believe the exact opposite, that Nature is wondrous and should be respected, nurtured and revered. I am not alone in this belief but because it is not the one that is prevalent in the workings of society you could say that it is an undercurrent culture or even the potential for a movement or for change.

Stories need conflict and what better conflict than the clash and resolution of an antithesis of cultural beliefs?

How do you use culture to shape your stories, does it play a role in your characters beliefs or does it propel the story directly?




4 responses to “D – Deconstructing Cultural Beliefs

  1. Maybe I’m lazy, but I tend to write to and about the culture I am a part of. Because of that decision, I think that cultural beliefs are unintentionally deeply intertwined into the story and the characters. Deconstructing them is an accidental result of certain interplay between the characters and their environment. It is the source of tension in my stories, and I love, love that tension.

  2. I write different cultures and cultural beliefs and the intertwined behaviors play a big part in the story. Thanks for the informative post.

  3. I write historical, and write many stories set outside of North America (or at least have immigrant characters not native to the predominant culture), so I’ve gotten familiar with a lot of different cultures. There are issues like kinds of conversation (many Europeans, particularly Russians, have long, intellectual conversations instead of smalltalk), male vs. female roles, and what constitutes success.

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