14.31: Cultural Setting as Conflict

Your Hosts: Brandon, Dan, Howard, and Mahtab

In this episode we talk about how to put characters in conflict with their setting, and how to structure our work so that these conflicts arise organically rather than feeling mandated by plot.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Dan Thompson, and master by Alex Jackson


Make an entire planet of you. Now create a trading post where people who are NOT you must find ways to interact with the world of yous.

13 thoughts on “14.31: Cultural Setting as Conflict”

  1. Apologies for the late episode. I left for GenCon Indy thinking I’d queued 14.31 up for release on the 4th, but no, I had not. And then I was at GenCon, and didn’t give anything which was NOT GenCon a second thought.

  2. Yay! I was worried when I realized it was Monday come and gone and still no new WrEx episode popping up in my inbox.

  3. The “Just Now” discussion made me laugh, because I’m used to the Caribbean version, which means “Be patient and it will happen”

  4. I recall the culture shock of going to Naval Officer Candidate school back in the early 80s.

    There i found myself in a very small minorty. Many had rare or ever been to church of any sort and were profoundly illitterate with respect to scripture, a few were even open atheists. No one so much blushed at the thought, let alone the deed of fornication. Drunkness was considered a normative good time.

    I also discovered a great number had no knowledge of their own people beyond their grandpsrents, if that. They may have had cousins somewhere. I knew the outlines of all branches of my family going back to colonial days, the earliest ancestor on these shores arriving in 1652. I could go back. Six, seven, eight generations, or more. They could barely go back two. I was torn brtween pity and revulsion, and felt like i has stuck among barbarian. It was a foreign land in almost every respect.

    I could wait to either get into the fleet, or back to Mississippi and civilization.

  5. The episode is missing from the RSS – both main and the current season one.

  6. Wow, I just realized that this is exactly why a series I’ve been reading has fallen flat in terms of one of it’s main characters.

    In the first book this character is completely at odds with his culture and his eventual fall was so impactfull because of its tight connection to this conflict. However in the second and third book the same character was reincarnated into the golden standard of the dominant culture, resulting half as much character arc and little build up.

  7. Possibly the greatest writing prompt ever. I hereby announce the creation of the Citadel of Mikes! Wubba Lubba dub-dub!

  8. The story of Korean food-handling etiquette reminded me of one of my favorite stories, involving Chicago corruption etiquette.

    I lived for three years in Chicago, where I learned (not, ahem, from direct experience) that in Chicago there is a certain ritual to bribing politicians. The money must be delivered in an envelope, and the politician must not actually open the envelope in the presence of the, ahem, donor. (For an example of how this works, see the scene in “The Untouchables” where one of Al Capone’s intermediaries tries to bribe Elliot Ness. Or see paragraph 21 in this complaint against Illinois then-governor Rod Blagojevich: http://graphics8.nytimes.com/packages/pdf/national/10illinois_complaint.pdf)

    Later, after I moved to the Boston area, I saw a news item involving a Boston politician who had been busted for corruption. The FBI had caught her on tape stuffing cash into her bra. I was shocked and appalled. To handle dirty money like that wasn’t just criminal–it was gauche!

  9. The social quartet, Brandon, Dan, Howard, and Mahtab, took a look at how your characters might be in conflict with their cultural setting, all the stuff that humans (and other sapients) toss into the worldbuilding stew. What kind of conflict? Change, or resistance to change? Think about immigrants, and their children, as they face a whole different culture. Using a character in conflict with the culture to enrich your story, to make the characters more real? And what smells, colors, other senses do you notice when the conflict shows up? Now now? Hey, read all about it in the transcript, now in the archives.

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