Shallee McArthur (science fiction author of The Unhappening of Genesis Lee), was featured on the topic of world-building and creating the culture of your story. She referenced her opportunity to travel to Ghana, a culture which everyone told her would be inconceivably different from our own western United States. Like anyone charged with the optimism of youth, she thought she appreciated this information and went buoyantly onward, unaware of the shock that was awaiting her once she touched African soil.
'Eventually I realized my biggest problem with culture shock was that I couldn't forgive Ghana and its culture for not being MY culture. I didn't understand the values behind the behavior, so I couldn't accept it. Once I was able to learn from the people around me, and to look at things and say, "this is the way it is because of this reason," I was able to love it.'Her experience with a very foreign country has helped her get to the root of world-building. It isn't different dress or language or even customs which make a culture so new to us, it's values. Good, bad, mixed up or misplaced, values are the core of a culture. This is something which I understood intuitively, but until she put it down in words and diagrams, I had not really looked the matter in the face. As humans, we are (as much as we may try not to be) eminently logical creatures. Purpose and reason define our functions. We do not eat our food, put on our wardrobe, or order our days, without reference to some set of values which, to us, make sense.
The same applies to world-building in fiction. Without values, anything we invent for our worlds has no foundation, no purpose or reason, and feels detached. It runs the risk of lacking a certain depth which every writer covets for his writing. But these values are at the core of a civilization. How do you weave them into your novel when they lie beneath the surface of the visible attributes of your world?
A lot of people have mentioned to me that the main character of Plenilune does not ask some glaringly obvious questions when confronted with the brave new world of the novel. Well, first of all, the main character doesn't have the sort of personality to immediately ask those pat questions we've come to expect of characters encountering new cultures. Secondly, I don't feel like patronizing the reader and giving the fatal "info-dump." These unspoken questions continue throughout Plenilune, and are subtly answered along the way as the main character begins to learn and appreciate the value-system of the culture she is experiencing. As the reader and the main character begin to understand the value system of these strangers, and learn what they consider important, their moral sine qua non, their treasured beliefs, the structure of their civilization and their actions make sense.
what are the values of your world?