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Many years ago, I wrote a short story that used specific information from my cultural background e.g. a belief that if you dream something, it is a form of a vision (superstition, some may say!). This was an asset because my target audience then was mostly people from my cultural background.

I want to update the story now and publish it to a wider audience who obviously are not aware of the cultural significance of the information. The cultural information hold the plot of the story so it cannot be simply discarded.

Question: Are there techniques that I can use to make any story sound less culture-specific?

Perhaps the alternative question is: How do you blend cultural information in a story so that it can also appeal to a wider audience?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 8 down vote accepted

I had a similar problem with my book, since it was aimed mainly for Portuguese speakers but the two main Portuguese speaking countries - Brazil and Portugal - have really different cultural scenes and even the language is somewhat different.

In some cases, I had to use footnotes and explain outside of the narrative what somethings were. At other points, my characters spoke in the book about the cultural thing that needed to be explained. I don't see how you can escape from those two approaches if you want to make your "localized" book accessible to people who are not familiar with you culture.

Quentin Tarantino has a wonderful example of how to do it in Pulp Fiction in the famous Quarter Pounder with cheese scene. He uses some hilarious European details and toys with them under the optic of an American; in the end, the viewer understands the differences perfectly with amusement.

Having the characters use those localized cultural details in the book is better; but sometimes that is not possible. In such cases you might try my approach: use footnotes to explain the less important ones and characters to explain the more important ones.

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When my edit appears, please check that "OFF" was expanded correctly. (There may be other issues with the edit, but I was really uncertain about the expansion of OFF.) –  Paul A. Clayton Jun 14 '13 at 13:30
    
Please change a small detail: " in an only for fun manner". In the original, I used OFF since I wanted to say that the explanation was OUTSIDE the history. The author was explaining, not the character. But I don't think in an only for fun manner means that... Maybe you could find something more suitable. –  Psicofrenia Jun 14 '13 at 13:47
    
Sorry, I took "OFF" to be an abbreviation, not SHOUTING. Will fix. –  Paul A. Clayton Jun 14 '13 at 13:52
    
Perfect now. Thanks –  Psicofrenia Jun 14 '13 at 13:58
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If these are insignificant details, footnotes or mentions by characters are okay.

If these are more central to the story but not likely to be widely known, a cabbagehead may ask for detailed information.

If it's central to the story, the culture and all characters, something quite a bit too common for a cabbagehead to ask, or too broad to answer, write a prologue about that.

An example of this: Fallout:Equestria prologue "Of PipBucks and Cutie Marks," containing the sacramental sentence:

So yes, PipBucks really are a testament to unicorn pony arcane science. And yes, having a PipBuck is a big advantage. So with how wonderful and miraculous all that just sounded, it’s hard to impress upon ponies who never lived in a Stable just how ordinary, how pedestrian a PipBuck was in the eyes of the ponies living in Stable Two.

It would be absolutely stupid to seek a cabbagehead who needed this explained. That was far too common, too pedestrian to explain differently than through a chapter where the protagonist turns directly to the readers with explanation, ending the prologue with "Pleased to meet you. Here is my story..."

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I wish I could give this 10 upvotes for the Equestria link alone. Even aside from that, solid answer. –  Lauren Ipsum Jun 14 '13 at 10:45
    
@LaurenIpsum: Are you a MLP fan too? –  SF. Jun 14 '13 at 11:27
    
No, but I am a massive geek in other fandoms, and I appreciate high-quality geekery when I see it. :) –  Lauren Ipsum Jun 14 '13 at 14:10
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If you want to appeal to an universal audience, you should talk about universal problems. You can use footnotes and very detailed descriptions but if the readers don't relate to them (because they don't identify with your culture) then it's probable that they won't find any appeal in your story.

Regarding your case, I think the concept of dreams as premonitions is an universal thought. You can find the concept spread across various cultures. So I don't see any problem in it. All cultures have their own traditions but if you analyze them keenly you will find similarities among them. Exploit the similarities.

A personal example: I'm writing a novel about the soul. If I had chosen to focus it on the Christian view, it would had been more or less culture-specific. But I chose to just talk about the soul in an universal way (e.g. Does the soul really exist or it's just an human invention?). So, I hope, it will appeal (or annoy) the majority of cultures.

You can also add the various perspectives to the story. Or the opposition to your statement (e.g. if dreams are more real than we think, why is that Atheists don't usually dream about God whereas Christians do most of the time? As Philip K. Dick said, "reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.")

Of course, many people like to delve in other cultures, but that takes an special interest. And you can't predict that.

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