Guest Post: Steven A. Guglich: Culture Shock… A World Building Story Element

Here is yet another online writing group friend of mine who ALSO lives in North Dakota! He’s the closest I’ve come to a writing neighbor, even though we basically live on opposite ends of the state. Someday, I hope to meet in person, but for now, the internet will have to do. 

First and foremost, what you need to know about Steve is that he has an amazing worldbuilding series on his own website, where he introduces pieces of his own world. If you’re looking to dive into worldbuilding and want to see great ideas of someone else, definitely go there! 

The thing that I like most about Steve is that he is ALWAYS so encouraging and positive. 

I hope that you enjoy this nugget from him about worldbuilding. Don’t let the length deceive you, this is PACKED with useful information that would easily keep a worldbuilder busy for months. 

And, p.s., there’s a GREAT resource at the end of the article. I’ve downloaded it. You probably should too.


One of the things I love about science fiction and fantasy are the varied races that occupy these new worlds. Each has a distinct society, a culture, a way that they view the world around them. Creating a new species for a story is not just taking a human and saying that he is some other species. I see a lot of stories that make that mistake. The alien that acts just like someone from our own culture, complete with slang terms and a penchant for corny jokes. This just doesn’t make sense. Just think about our own world and the cornucopia of cultures we have. Take an aborigine tribesman out of the Australian Outback and place him in New York City. The way he acts and reacts will be completely based on how he was raised in his culture. This man from the wilds of Australia will face total culture shock in the Big Apple. And this makes for a great story. It would not make sense for such a person to acclimate so easily and begin talking, acting, and reacting like a New Yorker.

How much more so would an alien from another world act and react in the same situation?
Or an elf taken from his home in the woods and placed in the bustling metropolis of a human city on his own world?

Culture shock.

It makes for a great element to any story.

But how would one know how an elf reacts to a dwarf or how a Klingon reacts to a group of Tellarites? The author of the story knows because he has created a rich and diverse culture for these strange and alien races. He knows their traditions. He knows how and why they think the way they do.

In most cases, a sentient species will have a world view that its people base their lives on. Sometimes this world view involves religious or origin beliefs. Other times it involves one’s identity as a female or male of the species. And with this world view comes a whole slew of traditions, customs, rules, and taboos. One’s environment is also a good indicator of behavior that lends itself to traditions or customs. Weather patterns, average temperature, terrain, water, and proximity to others all play a role in the development of one’s culture and beliefs.

These are all considerations, and more, that a good world builder should have when creating dynamic sentient species to inhabit his or her world. A tool that I use when creating sentient species is a Race Generation Guide. Many years ago my Dad started world building as Game Master for our RPG group. As we branched off from Dungeons & Dragons and into sci-fi territory, using the GURPS rules my Dad created an entire galaxy of planets with unique races. To create his races he developed the Alien Generation Guide. Over the years he and I have adapted it somewhat to include fantasy races as well, simply calling it the Race Generation Guide. This document guides would-be world builders through a series of questions and blanks to fill in on all aspects of an individual race of sentient beings. I have used this same document to create the six sentient species for my series, The Veil Saga. It has helped my writing exponentially, giving me the ability to get inside the heads of my characters, understanding what motivates them and how they might respond to any given situation. I have made it available for anyone who wishes to use it. Use it and watch your world come alive in ways that it has never done before.

2 thoughts on “Guest Post: Steven A. Guglich: Culture Shock… A World Building Story Element

  1. Reblogged this on Let Me Take You On a Journey… and commented:
    During my journey as a world builder I have to think about how the various cultures of The Veil Saga will interact with one another. Why don’t the dweorg like the koth? What do alfargnym find amusing about the faun? How does the main character of The Veil Saga react when he is taken from his hum drum life in New York City to the Elven Capitol of Shayalla?
    I recently had the honor of guest writing for a fellow writer’s website. In this article, I talk about how culture shock can make for a great story element! A special thanks to Cari Jehlik for inviting me to be a part of her writing journey.


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