Ultimate Culture Creation Worksheet
When worldbuilding, one of the difficult tasks writers encounter is understanding the cultures they are creating. As it is, we often do not learn about the other cultures around us or even study our own cultures. One tool that helped me gain a better grasp on cultures as I was younger was the Cultural Worksheet.
Something similar to the culture worksheet was given to my 8th grade social studies class by our teacher, Ms. Derwinski, to help us understand cultures. I wish I knew her full name and where she got the original so I could properly thank and cite her contribution. I have since used it to help organize several of my fictional cultures. It has gone through a few minor tweaks over the years to improve usability.
This Ultimate Culture Creation Worksheet can be used as a checklist or guide. Fill in the document with the relevant information. The first few times you should go in order to help with organization, but feel free to go back and fix things if you change your mind later. This worksheet provides a framework to ensure you address all the major elements of a culture.
Before using this worksheet to flesh out your fictional culture try filling it out with your own real life culture or a fictional culture you already enjoy. Doing so will help you understand each of the elements better and smooth the process of designing your own.
First, title your culture.
I. Background of Culture
A. Time: When does your culture take place? This can be in Earth time or your world’s time.
B. Geographic Setting: Briefly describe the geography that impacts the culture.
C. Physical Description of People: What distinguishing features do they have, if any?
A. Values: What does the culture value highly?
B. Ethics: What is the moral structure of the culture? This is often heavily influenced by what they value.
C. Symbols: What objects does the culture have that displays or exemplifies their values and ethics?
A. Technology: Describe their tech level and availability of technology to the culture.
B. Magic/Supernatural: What magic or supernatural elements does your culture practice, have access to, or believe in?
C. Division of Labor: Who does what type of work? Are there class divides, sex divides, racial divides, or even species divides?
D. Trade and Money: How does your culture engage in trade of goods? Do they use money?
E. Transportation: How do the people of your culture get from place to place?
IV. Food, Clothing, Shelter
A. Food: What do people in your culture eat and drink? Like most elements in this section, food can depend quite a bit on the geography and the people’s physical features.
B. Clothing and Adornment: What do people in your culture wear either for functional or aesthetic purposes?
C. Shelter and Dwellings: What types of structures does your culture live in and why? Consider what elements they will need protection from and the social status of their dwellings.
V. Political Organization
A. Government Structure: Briefly describe the type of government of your culture.
B. Law Enforcement: Who enforces the laws, and how? Do they have prisons, capital punishment, public shaming, or banishment?
C. War and Peace: How does your culture conduct and view war and peace time? Are soldiers drafted from the general populace or do they maintain a standing army? Do they give up at the least sign of resistance?
VI. Family and Kin
A. Marriage and Type of Family Groupings: Describe the structure of your culture’s typical families.
B. Child Training and Rites of Passage: Describe the way children are trained and what they do to be considered an adult.
VII. Attitude Toward the Unknown
A. Religious Beliefs: Does your culture believe in anything they can’t prove? Do they believe gods live on mountains and spread disease? Do they believe there are powerful spirits who dictate their lives through a series of social contracts?
B. Religious Practices: What types of actions do people of your culture take based on these beliefs? Do they leave food for their spirit companions, or launch fireworks over mountains to scare away the gods?
C. Death Rituals: How does your culture deal with the bodies of the dead or the grief of losing loved ones?
A. Language: What language or languages are used in your culture?
B. Number Systems: What numbers do they use? We typically use one of the base ten systems, but there are many other possibilities and ways to communicate these numeric values. If it doesn’t matter then it may be easiest to stick with the Arabic numerals used by most of Earth.
IX. Arts and Aesthetic Values
A. Art: What forms of visual art does your culture produce? This can range across wall paintings, rug art, architecture, framed paintings, sand sculpture, tree cutting, flower arrangement, cliff carving, steel sculptures, or even to the fantastical energy spirals, planet carving, and star system arrangement.
B. Music: What music do your people create and listen to? What instruments do they use? What styles of arrangement are common?
C. Dance, Drama, Literature: What form of storytelling does your culture engage in? Do they hold elaborate plays in grand amphitheaters attended by everyone in the city, or perhaps publish short stories in pamphlets dropped across the populace by blimp every third day of the week?
A. Games and Sports: Games and sports tend to have some social function teaching skills or bonding people in the culture. What types of games and sports do they utilize to spread and reinforce their cultural values together or alone? Do they publicly observe these sports or are they conducted in private?
B. Use of Leisure Time: What do members of your culture do when they are not working or studying, when they can do whatever they want?
I hope this helps in your creations. If you’d care to share your ideas or cultures you’ve created we’d love to see them in the comments below.