Lee Killough's 'Checking on Culture'

Posted by Derek Chamberlain on Monday, October 31, 2011 Under: Book Review
Lee Killough has published a great book called Checking on Culture: A Checklist for Culture Building. The second edition, available from Yarddogpress (http://www.yarddogpress.com/Checking%20On%20Culture.htm) is titled, Checking on Culture: An Aid to Building Story Backgrounds. It is priced at $6.00 + Shipping. You will have to buy it from the publishers as Amazon.com lists it as being out of print. It is a bargain at twice the price.

This review is based on the first edition published by AG Press, Manhattan, in 1993.

The AG Press edition has no table of contents or index, only a brief introduction, then the main text. It does, however, include a Checklist on the last page that I have found it useful to photocopy and include with my notes on the various races/species I have created.
Killough's book is a must-read for anyone wanting to do any world/culture building, whether human or alien. I have found it more useful than Stephen L. Gillett's World-Building: A writer's guide to constructing star systems and life-supporting planets. Killough's book is a check-list for making sure you, as a writer, have at least thought about all the different aspects that make up the complex web of a culture or social system. The main text includes everything from the checklist plus commentary and examples from her own works. Topics include, but are not limited to: Habitat, Psychology, Childhood, Communication, Education, Family, Government, History, Housing, Knowledge preservation, Law, Medicine, Pregnancy, Religion, Sex, Timekeeping, Transportation/Travel, Weights/Measure. There are fifty topics listed on the checklist.

I made some adjustments to the checklist I made based on the one in Killough's book, changed a few titles, added a couple of others, but my own checklist is heavily based and influenced by her book. She asks questions that get you thinking about the people you are creating, and about the effect that the physical refinements you are including will have on their culture. We, as people, both are shaped by our environment and shape it. Any culture you invent, has to take these different causes and effects into account, or risk having your book laughed at when you undermine its credibility by having individuals do things that should be impossible given their anatomy, or would be cause for blood-feud given the context of other things you have written.

The biggest thing you can do to create the miraculous sense of envelopment in your story, is to make sure you are consistent in the way you portray your characters and their culture, and by having enough depth there that even the large ideas you are dealing with can maintain their buoyancy. All of that comes from knowing your culture inside out, back to front, top to bottom, and using that information to enliven your characters. Killough's book helps you to do this.

In : Book Review 

Tags: culture development  world building  background  research 
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Meet the scribbler

I'm a writer, editor, indie publisher, and dedicated Magic Spreadsheet user. Originally from Adelaide, Australia, I've been living in Japan since 1995. I've had a life-long interest in writing and in speculative fiction. My first book was published in mid-2014.
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