Where do you get your fantasy culture inspirations?

Still looking for some inspiration to make my fantasy cultures more interesting. Any prompts or advice is appreciated.

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I make mine up. But… I’m not allowed to tell you where you can find examples to explore it in these forums. (Hint: it’s in my profile.) :sunglasses:

I read about various real cultures and when I find an interesting aspect, I add it in my world. Also when I find a cliché I try to write it in a different way. For example, there is a ton of stories with neko girls (or boys). But how would be the life of a middle aged, average looking neko guy in human society?

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I read Plato, Homer and in general i read about old cultures like babylon and so on ^^

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History! Nothing helps better then looking into the past and seeing how different generations of people, from all walks of life, lived their day to day lives.

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If you look long enough at a situation that appears a mystery, and try to answer it as best as you can, you will inevitably run across your own true idea of a new fantasy novel.

But writing comes with a warning. Life is often stranger than fiction, and requires a large portion of faith to believe. This is scary because believing in something takes bravado in this generation; however, to write fantasy/fiction means you have more faith than the normal bloke and just haven’t realized it yet.

Let me explain. For a writer to come up with an idea is the simple part. But to make it a new world of understanding is where the faith of that writer is truly tested. As a writer you will have to go “all in” with guns blazing and critics chattering your world to form a pure substance to be digested by a reader.

Personal experience is one thing, but relatable effort for a reader is fantasy at its most terrifying form. - Alethea Stauron -

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This!! The most popular/influential fantasy genre authors have used historical cultures as a source of inspiration! J.R.R. Tolkien largely drew from his background in studying early Germanic literature, as well as Celtic, Finnish, Slavic, and Greek language and mythology. J.K. Rowling, a more modern influence, largely drew from Ancient Rome in both their mythology, as well as their dead language of Latin as inspiration for the spells themselves!

History and mythology is the best source material, imo, to adapt from to shape your story’s culture and history.

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Yeah, that was a pretty silly question title. Started a different topic, changed my mind but couldn’t delete it, so I changed the title to something else.

I look at other artworks such as animations and live action to see their world.

I really like breaking the stereotype, so I just add a twist on what change I want to be seen represented differently. For example, trolls are seen as big and dumb, so I’ll make them rogue scholars.

Wizards are all knowing and powerful? They’re gonna be nervous when performing their spell, because they have a lack of self-esteem.

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I mostly just take bits and pieces from real-life cultures that I find interesting and mix them with things I made up. One of my races is partially inspired by the Sami people of northern Scandinavia. Another one of my countries has one religion that draws from Zoroastrianism and Jainism. Other influences for me personally include Nordic countries, Uighurs, eastern Europeans (like Romanians or Belarusians), Native American tribes from the Pacific Northwest, Maya people, and people from the islands of French Polynesia. I read their folklore and stories, and that usually gets my brain moving.

But there’s so many little pockets of interesting culture in the world that I want to learn more about. Indigenous Australians, the Ainu of Japan, Mongolians, the many peoples of Papua New Guinea. Thank heavens for the Internet.

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I really recommend a show called Over the Garden Wall if you’re looking for cultural inspirations, at least when it comes to Western civ. The show has a lot of different time periods and subcultures shown in it, including turn of the century Americana/folklore, the Puritans, Georgian England and Rococo France, 1980s suburban U.S., etc. It’s really inspiring for fantasy, IMO, and just generally an overall great show :slight_smile:

From whatever point in time in history that inspires me. I particularly like the 16th~19th centuries. Mostly Europe, not gonna lie. I use it as base and then tweak the heck out of it to make it my own. One thing I do add is something unusual. Something that is not that typical. Unusual things accepted as normal make fantasy cultures interesting.

Another thing I do, and you might try, is think of a country you would like to visit one day and then go look them up in Wikipedia and scroll down to the culture section. OR, look up documentaries of different cultures and travel docs and stuff. Those can be really inspiring because it gives you the sight and the sound. I take bits from this place, that place, another place and mix them altogether :wink:

In my current book I used history too. One of the cultures is a mix of japanese isolationism, Filipino culture and thai/siam grandeur.

Another is similar to the Lakota people, but with the spiritual beliefs tweaked to revere spirits and the idea of death being a metamorphosis.

A third culture is similar to New Orleans, a mish mash of culture and slavery and wealth.

I made the mistake of only doing broad workday busing a few chapters into the story, so I know I need to go back and pepper the cultural references through the early part of the story.

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18th century Europe. Bedouin and Romani culture. Jewish mysticism.

One of my stories in the works is based on the Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong.

Loads of ancient civilizations have really interesting practices. I’ve been reading a lot about Sumeria and ancient middle Eastern civilizations as well as Roman, ancient Indian and Chinese.

Inspiration for most of my own fantasy cultures comes from my own people. Maori may not be as old as some global cultures but I have adapted a few traditions and cultural practices to suit my work :slight_smile:

Agreed, with the caveat that the problem with looking into real history and real cultures for inspiration is that sometimes it isn’t plausible enough for fantasy. You have to tone it down.

For the one I have up on WP, I took some inspiration from Scottish history, from ancient and modern Mongolian culture, and some elements of Persian culture. But I ignored some of the weirder stuff. Got enough flack from Beta readers about things like a semi-nomadic tribe having an electric butter churn.

Look this yak butter ain’t gonna churn itself. On a serious note I agree with you on that. Some stuff from real history just doesn’t translate well, but to add on to what you said it helps build a frame to better fit your ideas into.

To mirror what you said, my story is based upon the Byzantine empire and its use of arms, armor and tactics. From there I basically added my own stuff and went from there.

I kinda just write and the “fantasy culture” falls onto the page. :joy: Literally, the characters will do or say things that I didn’t see coming.

It’s editing afterwards that’s hard. Trying to make sure everything is seamless and makes sense is pretty difficult when going in blind. So I can’t really say my process is spectacular. :joy:

This has been pretty helpful for me:

Some highlights:

  • In the 2019 NBA finals, the Toronto Raptors, as the first Canadian team to play in the NBA finals, had to explain to their hometown fans that it is not customary for basketball fans to cheer an opposing player’s injury.

  • The German baby food company Gerber once tried to enter the African market. In Africa many food companies put pictures of the packaging’s content on the packaging, eg. a can of chicken meat has a picture of a chicken, because of high illiteracy rates. Unfortunately, Gerber food had a picture of a baby on its packaging, thus making the jars look like they contained human meat.

  • This New York Times article demonstrates it even further—most European and Asian parents think their American counterparts are far too clingy/uptight/overprotective. Indeed, many American expats have reported getting funny looks at their child-rearing habits. Most of the parenting practices described in the article wouldn’t bat an eye in their respective countries, but a good chunk of them would get the police or CPS called on them in the US.

  • In My Little Pony, in contrast to Fluttershy, the Japanese fandom doesn’t like Trixie much , as arrogance is viewed very negatively in Japan, which is why it’s a popular trait in many villains depicted in Japanese media. By contrast, Trixie is popular enough in her native North America that she has appeared multiple times in the toy line…

  • Despite being somewhat well-received in any other country, Winx Club is more of a subject of divisiveness in Russia. A lot of flak was caught from anime fans (those of Sailor Moon especially), as well as Moral Guardians due to main characters’ Stripperific outfits.

  • In general, space stories almost always flop in China. The Last Jedi was the biggest box office bomb of 2017 in China, but the second-biggest one happens to be Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets , the year’s other high-profile movie set in space. No one is entirely sure why, not even the Chinese

@LoneStarDragon
Well I got the culture structure from my fantasy story by reading Egyptian mythologies, watching docuseries of African culture and watching GoT & storytelling videos.