I wanted help writing a character for my setting.

Basically, in this story I’m writing, I have a character named Christina. Basically, she lived in an underground bunker, in a post-apocalyptic world, so she’s really sheltered. But for reasons, she has to leave, and along with a group of more experienced Wastelanders, has to adapt to the surface.

For background, in this world the bunker dwellers basically live in strict totalitarian-esque place, where the population are made to follow strict rules, upkeeping their shelter and society. The surface by contrast, is the opposite for the most part. Nomadic scavengers and raiders, with scattered farming settlements and more primitive tribal societies.

My question is, how do I realistically write a culture shock like this realistically?


According to this article and other sources, there are four defined stages of culture shock that you could have your character experience. You could write them in any order, but this is typically the order in which they occur in the real world.

1: The Honeymoon Stage

The character falls in love with the culture. She becomes infatuated with the language, people and food in her new surroundings, possibly even to the point of unhealthy obsession - think "otakus" and people who become overly obsessed with Japanese and anime culture in the real world.

Maybe Christina discovers that the surface folk have a unique cuisine or a particular traditional language, and she becomes obsessed with learning how to mimic that part of their culture to blend in with the surface dwellers. Or perhaps she discovers that they have a special system of rules or laws that differ from how the Wastelanders think, and she tries to figure out how that system works and convinces herself it's better than the one at home.

This stage may even cause her to clash with her fellow Wastelanders, who maybe see flaws and issues with the surface dwellers (are they secrertly cannibals? etc.) that she doesn't yet see because she's become enamored with their culture and way of life.

2: The Frustration Stage

This is the most difficult stage of culture shock. The character becomes fatigued by her inexperience with the culture - she doesn't understand their gestures, signs and language quirks, and it's exhausting and makes her angry and frustrated. She wishes she could understand these people better, but no matter how hard she tries she just can't get it right, and the culture seems even more foreign and alien than before.

Maybe in this stage, Christina has some internal conflict about how she fits into the surface dwellers and whether or not they will accept her, a Wastelander and a newcomer to their way of life. Perhaps her flaws in understanding their culture become more apparent in this stage, and make her insecure.

3: The Adjustment Stage

This typically occurs after the Frustration Stage. The character comes to terms with the culture a little more, and becomes more familiar with it. She becomes comfortable interacting with the surface dwellers and learning their strange customs, no matter how alien they seemed to her in the previous two stages. Navigation and social skills become easier, and friends and communities are established in the new culture.

Maybe in this stage Christina makes friends with a surface dweller for the first time, and they teach her more about their way of life.

4: The Acceptance Stage

This is usually the last stage, and represents the end of culture shock. The character is fully adapted to the culture, and has possibly even assimilated with it. She is comfortable and happy living among surface dwellers, and sees their way of life as similar or equal to her own Wastelander culture. It doesn't mean she fully understands them - it just means that she realizes complete understanding isn't necessary to function, and that she is familiar enough to have gotten over being frustrated or completely obsessed with them.

  • Very interesting, thank you! What do you think the main difficulties would be, during the Frustration/Adjustment-Stage?
    – DT Cooper
    Aug 11 '20 at 21:39
  • @DTCooper The main difficulties in those two stages would be insecurity at how well she is fitting in, self-awareness of being a newcomer and possibly being discriminated against or called out for it, struggling to grapple with the ways in which she comes up short in understanding their culture, and trying to mentally adjust to new things that seem particularly alien to her. For example, maybe her old Wastelander society practiced religion, and these new surface dwellers are atheists. What kind of mental adjustments would she have to undergo to accept that new way of life?
    – Sciborg
    Aug 11 '20 at 21:52
  • I feel like this is missing stage 0, the surprise at how people can live so differently. The MC is likely to feel disoriented and overwhelmed until she encounters people who help her fit in.
    – Llewellyn
    Aug 12 '20 at 18:43

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