1. Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us.

How much do you delve into the darkest aspects of the Fantasy Worlds you build?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by SinghSong, Feb 8, 2021.

  1. SinghSong

    SinghSong Minstrel

    54
    34
    18
    Thinking about it- since human nature (and the rule of nature in general, red in tooth and claw) is a thing, and seeing as how anything/one which can be exploited always will fall prey to exploitation, in any world- how much thought do you put into the darkest, most sordid, taboo and morally reprehensible repercussions of the altered power dynamics in the fantasy world/s you build? And do you ever tackle or address these potential abuses of power in your fantasy world/s, or use them as the focal points of your stories, or keep these darkest recesses of your world/s firmly buried deep in the background, barely (if ever) even alluded to in your narratives? And which is the better approach to take, in your opinion?
     
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  2. S.T. Ockenner

    S.T. Ockenner Auror

    1,998
    394
    83
    My stories tend not to go too dark. The majority of my stories are made for younger people (although there are some that would not be appropriate for them). I think that either approach can work, and people should write any world that suits their needs. If they want it to be dark, then good for them!
     
    SinghSong likes this.
  3. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

    4,538
    1,690
    163
    Actually I disagree on you basic premise. I don't think that Human nature is as you describe. Certainly some of the time for some people, but it is far from universal.
    As for my writing and reading. I like a light tone with hints of darkness. The hint of something is far more persuasive an illusion than a detailed exploration. The shadow cast can be far more scary in the imagination than the revealed monster.
     
    S.T. Ockenner and SinghSong like this.
  4. SinghSong

    SinghSong Minstrel

    54
    34
    18
    Not saying that it is universal. Just saying that it'll always be there, because realistically, there are always going to be at least a few people who'll be like that in any world, no matter how light your intended tone is. For instance, you've got hordes of people who've pointed out the dark undertones of things which are never shown as such, or even addressed at all, in the Harry Potter series- e.g, the fact that muggles' memories are erased, modified and re-written for fun by wizards and witches with seemingly no oversight by the authorities, nor legal repercussions or even voiced objections from anybody. Thinking about it, given the power dynamic in the HP-verse, where any witch or wizard can freely modify the memories of any muggle however and whenever they want, why shouldn't wizard/witch-muggle sexual relationships be condemned as morally reprehensible? Even the brightest, most 'white-washed' fantasy world-building aspects can have seriously dark repercussions, if you stop to consider it...
     
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  5. S.T. Ockenner

    S.T. Ockenner Auror

    1,998
    394
    83
    That refers to making White people in roles that should be filled in by people of color, such as having an all White cast in the middle of ancient Nigeria.
     
  6. SinghSong

    SinghSong Minstrel

    54
    34
    18
    It's also a term for selectively editing out details which you deem to be too controversial or defamatory for people to know about, since it interferes with the official narrative (e.g, 'white-washing' the history of Colonialist and Imperialist regimes, because you're writing a historical novel with the primary purpose of glorifying these things): Whitewashing (censorship) - Wikipedia
     
    LAG and S.T. Ockenner like this.
  7. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Inkling

    449
    445
    63
    I think it depends on your intended readers. I do put the dark side of things into my writing, partly because it has to do with why I started writing. But, I also use these aspects to drive some plot aspects. Quite often in fantasy writing we see the heros off on some quest. But there's no real reason why they couldn't just get dragged into righting some injustice caused by corruption or some other dark aspect of the world they live in. Is there?
     
    S.T. Ockenner and SinghSong like this.
  8. SinghSong

    SinghSong Minstrel

    54
    34
    18
    Course not. But then there's the question of whether your hero would even be capable of righting said injustice, or whether the hero'd just be attempting to perpetrate cultural genocide by doing so.

    Take one of the worlds I've been working on, for instance; in it, 0.4-1% of the general population have the magical ability to both acquire infusions of the Qi/essence of other animals through physical contact, enabling them to magically splice themselves with those animals (effectively enabling them to become were-creatures at will)- and as the main focal point, this also extends to blending the Qi/essence of any two living things together to create magical chimeras. However, any 'blender' can use this to forge a permanent bond, to the death, with any living creature they acquire the Qi from, effectively acquiring it as their pet familiar (or vice-versa, depending on which has the more dominant or submissive personality). This is a default side-effect of novice-level ‘blending’, though with sufficient levels of precision and fine control (which can either be acquired through training, or through innate talent), this can be avoided altogether; and this 'soul-bond' is also negated by simply killing the living creature/s they acquired the Qi from, as well as through dying (/being killed) themselves.

    And thinking about the repercussions, in historical context- there's absolutely no way that, in this world, this wouldn't wind up being incorporated into things like wedding ceremonies, and used to soul-bond humans together as well, 'til death do us part'- it'd probably be the simplest, most commonplace, in-demand and financially lucrative practice for an 'Alchimerist'/'Blender' to gain employment doing. And even if it seems morally reprehensible, and akin to spousal slavery from a modern Western perspective (particularly if one partner's significantly more dominant than the other)- if the soul-bonds are real, and greatly increase the levels of empathy and emotional attachment between the two partners, with negligible divorce rates and the overwhelming majority of people satisfied with the status quo, wouldn't the hero be a bigoted cultural supremacist for proclaiming it an 'injustice' and crusading against it in said manner?

    Would someone be considered a 'hero', or a bigoted cultural supremacist, for proclaiming arranged marriages an "injustice caused by corruption or some other dark aspect of the world we live in", and taking up arms to crusade against it and tear down arranged marriage cultures? Bearing in mind that arranged marriages are actually the dominant form of marriage in our world right now- accounting for c.60% of all marriages in the world today, having overtaken the number of non-arranged marriages in the past decade, and becoming increasingly more dominant, as the institution of marriage itself increasingly becomes abandoned in more liberal Western nations with far lower birthrates? And with equally developed non-Western nations like Japan turning to state-subsidized online marital matchmaking, and a publicly funded arranged marriage program, in a desperate effort to tackle its even lower birthrate? How deep can you delve into these sorts of issues without completely politicizing your presentation of the world you've built (via the readers' inherent natural tendencies to draw contrasts and analogies between the fantasy world and our own)?
     
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  9. Chasejxyz

    Chasejxyz Inkling

    486
    427
    63
    I'm sure there's a wizard version of Jefferey Dahmer in the Harry Potter world, but I don't think that's ever going to be brought up in the books because of the target audience. Just like how most people don't think about how Jefferey Dahmer was a real person as they go about their day, or that their neighbor or community leader could be someone like that. So not thinking/talking about stuff like that is fine. A lot of "historical" settings act like things like sexual assault were commonplace and expected because it just was, man, but that's not the case. It was still Bad (yes, things like marriage == automatic consent was more of a thing then, but most of the stuff you'd see on Law and Order: SVU would still be considered crimes then).

    There's a sort of mentor-mentee relationship in my WIP that I explicitly state is Bad because murder is bad, lying is bad. I never say that is grooming, or have anyone state that, either (the closest thing is "you were a child, it's not your fault"), but that's mostly because [mentee] doesn't tell anyone how far this went, because they are so hurt/upset. When you've experienced trauma, especially on-going trauma with someone who you trusted for so long, every little thing might not seem nefarious, but you have to take a step back and look at it at a whole and then put a name on it to really grasp just how effed up it is. I'm now realizing that I've given 3/4 of my POV characters Big Past Trauma and them processing it is a big theme. Well you know what they say, write what you know :')
     
  10. SinghSong

    SinghSong Minstrel

    54
    34
    18
    Are you so sure that it wasn't brought up in the books? Remember, we hear tons of hints about how the Death Eaters predated upon Muggles during Lord Voldemort's rise to power, with references to them doing "terrible things to Muggles, worse than death". And JKR herself explicitly stated early on that 'Muggleborns' technically aren't a thing in her world, with the ability to use magic, and be a witch or wizard, exclusively coming from Wizarding heritage. It was only the target audience, the fanbase, which interpreted that as "they must be distantly descended from Squibs then", and stuck with that explanation, because that was the most palatable option they were willing to consider; JKR never confirmed it herself. If you include the Death Eaters, we know that there could well have been dozens of them in the HP world...
     
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  11. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Archmage

    859
    698
    93
    I think when worldbuilding that you should go where the story demands.

    You could rewrite Harry Potter to be a very dark work. You've got slavery everyone is okay with, racism (or more acurately specism), the abuse of muggles mentioned earlier, some weird, all controling ministry and so on. However, the story was for children about a kid who fought bad-guys. The story didn't demand the investigation of the moral implications of the suppresion of house elves. Game of Thrones on the other hand does go into it. That story fully investigates what happens when you give people certain amounts of power.

    In general I think that the more you investigate these aspects, the darker your story becomes.
     
    SinghSong and S.T. Ockenner like this.
  12. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Inkling

    449
    445
    63
    What does genocide have to do with this?

    You never need to get that far before some fairly nasty ethical dilemmas turn up. Take, for example, a character who is being pursued by a bunch of guys working for some lord wityh an agenda of his own (and that agenda may be strictly legal but unethical and/or unjust). For whatever reason these pursuers get ambushed by someone else and all but one are killed. Our character finds this one alive but dying of his injuries - and he can't be saved. There may be other pursuers nearby, who could ask this dying man for information about our character. If the character puts this dying guy out of his misery, is that a mercy kiling (and I as an ex-soldier would argue that it would be) or is it murder with the intent of covering our characters trail? Or is it both? Should our character just leave him to die and get the hell out of there? Is that an ethically better choice? Are there any good choices in a situation like that? And afterwards, how does our character feel about what they've chosen to do?

    There are very rarely any totally clean ethical choices in life, most decisions we make are some shade of grey. My personal view is that a fantasy world should reflect all aspects of life, and that includes things like corruption and injustice as well as things like fairness and compassion. Its these contrasts which give our characters and their world its life, its dynamics, its conflicts and its development. They give it depth, and they also give us as writers all sorts of ways of driving a plot forwards.
     
    SinghSong and S.T. Ockenner like this.
  13. Patrick-Leigh

    Patrick-Leigh Inkling

    414
    272
    63
    I'm trying to set up my flintlock fantasy story setting so that it is suitable for all kinds of stories - adventure, mystery, horror, intrigue, romance, you name it. Thus, I'm doing my best to maintain a balance of light and dark elements so that it's easy to shift focus on them as a given story demands. When it comes to societies, my goal is to present them as nuanced as I can, showing the good and bad elements without dwelling too much on one at the expense of the other. After all, no society is without its faults nor is it without its positive traits. You just have to keep the negatives from distracting you from those positives.

    One dark element that I do not intend to have be a major factor in most places, however, is racism, or at least our modern definition of it. Of course, "race" in my setting is far more complicated than it is in the real world. Not only do I have many of the classic fantasy races, I also have some original races of my own that I'll be including. That obviously raises the question of how I can minimize racism in my story setting, but history actually provides the solution. It was not until the 19th Century that a lot of our current notions about race began to take shape. Before that, a person's physical appearance alone was not what separated you but your culture. That is, what we today would call ethnicity was what people judged less than your actual race. That isn't to say that race was entirely overlooked, but it was simply one part of the equation, not the entirety of it. So, using history as a basis, I have a legitimate reason for a Human not to be prejudiced against an Elf strictly because he's an Elf. If the Elf has adopted many of the practices of the Human's culture, he will probably be less prejudiced against him than a "fellow Human" from a different culture.

    Additionally, in my story setting, societies face many threats from Monsters, Abominations, the Undead, Demons and Fiends, and a myriad of other things, not to mention natural and magical disasters. Against such threats, most people simply do not have the option of being picky about matters of race. When your country is facing the threat of an Undead horde, excluding Elves, Dwarves, Centaurs, Harpies, or whatever from your ranks is a losing strategy. Likewise, any nation that does not use all viable soldiers, no matter their race, in its army is unlikely to win any wars against nations that do. The Human nation with Centaur cavalry, Harpy scouts, Dwarven and Gnomish engineers, and so forth, will have a serious edge over the Human nation that doesn't.

    Ultimately, I've decided that, from a purely logistical standpoint, there is far more incentive not to be racist (by the modern definition of the term) than there is to be prejudiced against other races. Divisions will exist, certainly, and there will be a bit of racial prejudice here and there (it'd be unrealistic for there never to be,) but the majority of divisions will be along national and cultural lines, not racial lines. For example, the Isvaeran Empire, a primarily Human civilization, as at least 1/3rd Non-Human, but those Non-Humans who have adopted the cultural and sub-cultural practices of the Isvaeran Empire are viewed as Isvaerans. If you asked a Human of the Empire what that Dwarf, Centaur, or whatever over there was, and that Non-Human wore the clothes and had the mannerisms of the Empire, the Human would responded, "That's an Isvaeran," and probably follow that up with a remark on what part of the Empire the Non-Human was likely from based on more subtle details, like, "Clearly from Tesh, judging by the accent and that gesture he's making with his thumbs."

    That's the approach I'm taking. While I'm not ignoring the dark, negative stuff, I'm not going to dwell on it any more than is necessary. There will be dark stories, but they'll be of the horror, mystery, or intrigue variety, which will not be the only kinds that take place in my setting. There will be plenty of positive, adventurous stories, too. The goal with this project is to give people plenty of variety and to examine my ideas from as many angles as possible, not just the light or dark ones.
     
    SinghSong and S.T. Ockenner like this.
  14. ladyander

    ladyander Dreamer

    22
    15
    3
    I delve into as much as I need too. It's not a focus, it's just something to add flavor to the world and maybe a character or two. And honestly, this really depends on the tone of the story you are writing.
     
  15. Eosphorus

    Eosphorus Dreamer

    11
    10
    3
    I suppose it really depends on what kind of story you are trying to tell. In the fantasy worlds, I like to write, the darkest aspects are front and centre, but that's just a personal preference. There is no better route to take: dark or light. There's only the one you must take, for the story you're writing to reach its zenith.
     
    SinghSong and S.T. Ockenner like this.
  16. A Pineapple

    A Pineapple Scribe

    42
    51
    18
    I think it is important to confine the possibilities, but not necessarily address them. Sometimes outlining the possibilities of magic, such as not being capable of overiding free will (like a genie cannot make someone fall in love), will help to stamp out the worst What If's.

    You may also be able to curb unwanted side effects by carefully gauging your cost of magic. Does it take life force, mere energy, a lifetime of study, rare ingredients, etc.? On one of the shows that my daughter watches magic users are able to transmute any substance with just a wave of a wand, and the anyone can be trained in magic.

    The harry potter universe uses law and order as it's main magical limitation, and as mentioned there are quite a few holes that can be poked in it over time (death eater domestic terrorism). But it is a wildly popular book, so you dont always need to have every answer.

    As for actually addressing the What If's in your story, it all depends on tone. If you want your story to a lighter read, then maybe gloss over the darker parts. If you want to get into the psychological horror aspect, and can spare the pages, go for it. I personally take a lighter approach in my descriptions while privately trying to minimize unintended consequences.
     
    Patrick-Leigh and S.T. Ockenner like this.
  17. StrawhatOverlord

    StrawhatOverlord Minstrel

    71
    36
    18
    It depends on the aspects. I write combat as pretty gory, even with "nice" characters involved because when you swing sharp metal at fleshy targets blood and carnage happens, especially when magic and inhuman strength get into the mix. A combat wizard doesn't just shoot shiny zapping arcs that make people fall down, he's electrocuting them to death, it's brutal and scary.

    Really powerful mages are essentially WMDs, and systems have been developed to announce their presence on a battlefield and to quickly declare that you give up, because in the past armies have refuse to surrender to powerful wizards and changed their mind when they saw the scale of the spell circle when they were preparing, but failed to communicate their change of heart before the magic was cast. That and the wizards themselves usually feel pretty terrible about having snuffed out 1000s of lives.

    The roaming monsters, when they aren't just really big animals (which is still scary as hell tbf) or tribals, greenskins or otherwise, who demonstrate the same kind of cunning savagery humans have the potential for, are supernaturally horrifying creatures literally straight out of nightmares.

    A lot of the morally bad people are incredibly cruel, but most of all largely dispassionate about their actions, since that's worse imo. A Warlock of Lzeng might torture you horrifically not because they like to cause suffering, or out of personal hatred, but because they need a Spirit of Pain for a spell, and making one manifest by hurting a few people a lot is more convenient than going out looking for one. There's one daughter of a Maldem Archon (same place as the Warlocks, different titles) who is actually straight up evil and revels in it, but she's recognized as insane even by the Magocracy's standards.

    Racism exists but discrimination is more by culture, imperials dislike Aldes, but "imperials" is a bunch of species. The real "Other" is the creatures outside. I'm not certain how true to human nature that is but I figure if actual literal monsters exist, it's easier to think "those desert people are really just us with brown skin, they're ok". Also not cultural religions where your people are the chosen people of your god/gods and everyone else is the enemy. There's one set of gods, they show themselves during seasonal festivals, they actually speak to their priests, and they don't care about races, they're cool with anyone sentient who worships. And the racism that does exist is more understandable distrust, like yeah maybe that tiger-man is a nice guy, but sometimes people are violent dicks, and if he is, well, he's a tiger on legs who can use swords and tactics and deception like us. More exotic races get it worse, because, well, you've never seen someone like that, who knows if it's a kind of people or a monster ? There's tribal monsters who look kinda like people and they're still evil as far as the average citizen is concerned.

    When it comes to sexual assault and such, I'm not interested in writing about it, but it would realistically be a thing, so it does happen canonically in-universe. It's just implied or alluded to or generally more mentioned and not described. Same goes for other depravities that are pretty universally disliked, if I think it's relevant to a subplot or to the tone of particular place or group, then I might mention it. Or if I think it's funny, like an off-hand comment that one of a pirate captain's port-flings is a centaur.
     
Loading...

Share This Page