When I was a teenager, my church had an annual camping trip (known simply as Girls' Camp) for all girls ages twelve to eighteen and the leaders who worked with them. And a big part of Girls' Camp was learning camp songs.

I'm not talking about "I Love the Mountains," "Home on the Range," "The Other Day I Met a Bear," or other traditional American camping songs. We had a whole selection of songs and poems that I never heard anywhere other than Girls' Camp (though I later learned that some of them are more widespread than I thought). Here are just a few examples:

  • "The Web"

  • "C-H-I-C-K-E-N"

  • "I'm Singin' in the Rain" (not the song from the movie—each repeat adds an increasingly silly action to the accompanying dance)

  • "Let Me See Your Funky Chicken"

  • "Sippin' Cider"

Ah, good memories.

Interestingly, as my family moved around the country, I discovered regional variations in these songs. Most of the time it was just slight differences in the tune, lyrics, and/or actions, but sometimes there was a different version altogether. For instance, I learned "I'm Singin' in the Rain" in Iowa, but my friends who grew up in North Carolina learned "Jellyfish," which uses the same basic concept (repeated verse + increasingly silly actions) but is a completely different song.

Many authors make the mistake of treating every character from a particular place, race, or culture (real-life or fantasy) as if they have the same traits, personalities, and/or cultural knowledge. While group members often do share some characteristics—just like my North Carolina friends and I all belong to the same church and went to Girls' Camp as teenagers—we don't want to populate our story worlds with a bunch of clones. That's not true to life, and it makes the characters boring.

Furthermore, cultural and life-experience differences provide great opportunities for conflict and character and/or plot development:

  • If Mike comes from a hierarchical culture and Julie comes from an egalitarian culture, he might see her as rude and disrespectful, while she might think he's timid and a pushover.

  • Character A: "That's not how it goes!" Character B: "I sang this all the time growing up. I think I'd know."

  • A very stressed Maui: "You can't sail?!" Moana: (sheepish grin) "I am . . . self-taught?" (Disney's Moana)

  • A terrified Northerner who gets stuck "riding out" a hurricane with some stubborn Southerners

It can be tricky to strike a balance between shared culture and individual traits. If you'd like some help working this out for your characters, click here to book a time for us to figure it out together.

Write on,


(Thanks to Hichem Meghachou for sharing their work on Unsplash.)