[Write On Wednesday] Weird Little Customs

Culture infuses everything about our world, so ‘world-building’ is an important part of our writing. Today’s prompt encourages you to build a story around a cultural oddity.

Image: gangster in a  police lineup
Man dressed as a 1920s ganster in police line up

The Prompt

Think about a cultural norm in the world of your story and explore its ramifications for your characters.


  • We typically talk about ‘world-building’ in science fiction and fantasy because in those genres it is extra important to set the scene and orient the reader in an unfamiliar world. Really, though, most stories benefit from a little scene-setting.
  • If you’re trying to think of an example, you could use something like a restrictive culture prohibition (taboos or governmental decrees), or you could simply think about a weird little thing that is particular to the place you’re writing about. Make it a driving factor in the story. For example, where I live you can’t buy beer and spirits (‘liquor’) in the same place (until recently you couldn’t buy wine and beer in the same place either, and that place was NEVER a grocery store). I take it for granted, now, but when I tell other people they cock their heads and go ‘huh’? So I could talk about that in a story, but not the way I just wrote about it here. I could use it to force a character to go to multiple different locations, encounter different people, perhaps end up running late, or having an accident, or getting caught in the middle of a hold-up. I could even use it to do character work: showing that a character is from out-of-state and how they are regarded by the locals, simply by letting them grouse about this fact of life and showing the reaction of their scene-partners.
  • Using an unusual custom, rule, or taboo allows us to talk about deeper cultural issues or idiosyncrasies. It allows us to create a deeper sense of place, time and ’roundedness’ for our story. 
  • In a short story a tiny, very specific detail is a great way to create a sense of reality for the reader.

If you share you story somewhere (and here’s why you might not want to) post a link here so we can come and read it.

Leave a comment to let us know what you wrote about today, and how it went!

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