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

Worst Fantasy World Cliches

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Black Dragon, Feb 6, 2019.

  1. Black Dragon

    Black Dragon Staff Administrator

    2,909
    1,399
    163
    As we know, fantasy worlds are often remarkably similar. There are certain cliches that come up over and over again. Which of these cliches is the worst, and what makes it so bad?
     
  2. Gray-Hand

    Gray-Hand Scribe

    43
    25
    18
    Character who are evil for the sake of being evil.

    It never rings true. No one is all evil all the time. Even the worst people in history never committed evil acts just to be evil, they did so for a reason, even if that reason was completely misguided.
     
  3. "Planet of the hats"--where a whole race or nation or planet is based on one thing to an extreme.

    Just lifting already existing cultures and throwing them into a fantasy/sci-fi setting without altering them in any way.

    Making humans a "special" race and/or the centre of the universe.

    Making elves and dwarves especially into one dimensional cutouts.

    Insisting that a world is one way when it is clearly not.

    Saving the world becoming so common place that it's not even commented on.

    Never addressing why the evil empire/organization/whatever wants to take over the world, or what they're planning on doing with the world after that.

    Masquerade stories that don't hold up or make any sense.

    I'll probably think of many, many more.

    Speaking of worldbuilding, I found these Mythcreants articles very helpful:
    The Seven Storytelling Sins of Worldbuilders
    The Seven Worldbuilding Sins of Storytellers
    Five Common Worldbuilding Mistakes in New Manuscripts
    Five Worldbuilding Mistakes Even Enthusiasts Make
    Six Consequences of High Magic
    Implications of Replicator Technology
    Five Questions to Ask About Your Villain’s Master Plan
     
    DFWriterX and Gray-Hand like this.
  4. Gray-Hand

    Gray-Hand Scribe

    43
    25
    18
    Cities, kingdoms and worlds that don’t appear to have an economy.

    If there is a big city with a big wall and a big palace, then it didn’t get built without either paying a lot of skilled workers or slaves. And they needed food to eat, which means nearby agriculture and a lot of fresh water. And a lot of that food would have to be pretty close by since refrigeration probably isn’t a thing in most fantasy worlds.

    If a kingdom has a big professional army, then it also needs a lot of farmers growing a lot of extra food to keep that army going. And craftsmen to keep its equipment functioning.
     
  5. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    5,702
    3,657
    313
    Bad writing.

    That's the sum of it. Every cliche has been done well, even planets of hats (Flatland, e.g., whose story is literally two-dimensional). No idea is a bad idea of itself, though it certainly can be presented that way. And anyway, an idea isn't a story. When we talk about cliches we're talking about ideas, not stories.
     
  6. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

    1,128
    411
    83
    Stagnation. A lot of fantasy settings don't really seem to change or grow much over the course of thousands of years.

    Plus, a lot of fantasy writers seem to think that if they attach a big number to something, that makes it more interesting. Like, something that's 10,000 years old is automatically more important and interesting than something that's 10 years old even if nothing of serious note happened in those 10,000 years. They get too wrapped-up in scope that they forget depth.

    Also, an over-reliance on war to flesh-out or add conflict to the story.
    And often the wars would have no real depth to them. Like, the evil empire just felt like invading some smaller countries because that's what they do or these two countries decided to fight each other for an incredibly arbitrary reason. No economics, no build-up, no long-term goals for the countries, no attempts at negotiation or conflict resolution before the war gets going, no infighting within the countries, no geopolitical repercussions or cultural shifts before, during or even after the war.
    Wars just kind of spring-up out of nowhere, last for years (or even decades or centuries) and then they just end with a clear winner and loser.

    So, I guess to summarize: the "breadth > depth" mentality is the worst.
     
  7. Orc Knight

    Orc Knight Archmage

    922
    431
    63
    In my view, quite a bit. But really, so, yonder hero saved the world (got his prize and maybe a new arm). What's next? What happens a decade down the line, or five? Just cause the big guy in the pitch black armor with the Evil runes in it is gone doesn't mean the smaller ones aren't. Unless they are because it's that kind of story. The Happily Ever After, while I am fine with it, how often does it go on? That sort of thing. True, not many people seem keen on figuring out what's next. Stories over, move on.

    Granted I go out of my way to find stories and series that subvert, invert or just play with as much of the fantasy cliches as possible. Though possibly my biggest annoyance is the all evil races like orcs and goblins. True, some of them can be quite amusing, but not if they're just fodder for the hero. That is something I've often stated and is kind of the entire idea of my name since I joined.
     
  8. Ban

    Ban Sir Laserface Article Team

    2,020
    955
    113
    Nonsensical geography. Mountains shouldn't emerge from thin air, lakes need a source of water, rivers don't split nearly as often as they do in fantasy, and does anyone even bother to check how wind and ocean currents work?

    Not quite a cliché, but it might as well be given how prevalent it is.
     
    DFWriterX likes this.
  9. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    5,702
    3,657
    313
    I wonder, is there such a thing as a good fantasy cliche? Or a good cliche of any sort?
     
  10. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

    1,128
    411
    83
    Yeah, when it’s used well.
    See Star Wars: nothing but cliches but man, does it work.
     
  11. Malik

    Malik Archmage

    933
    1,028
    143
    I'm probably going to start a fire with this, but my most hated fantasy cliché--the one that really makes me want to punch another writer in the crotch--is the pervasive misogyny in the genre, and the idiotic concept that patriarchy is somehow humanity's resting state. Bonus punches for writing rape scenes as some kind of half-assed titillation.

    [​IMG]
    You had it coming, pal.

    I was just reading the first book of a series by an author who I love and have loved for decades, and no joke, every single female character in the book ends up getting raped.

    Just, stop, already.

    Ditto with the cliché of a woman warrior / knight / leader "finding her strength" by overcoming some kind of abusive past and then fighting her way through a patriarchal system. I understand its analogue to modern society but holy shit, enough already. It's lazy writing. It's tired, it's tone-deaf, it's dismissive, and worst of all, it's absolutely moronic from a worldbuilding perspective. In a world made of monsters, you can't afford to marginalize half your population and expect your civilization to survive. Think of how much further ahead we'd be right now if we had actually listened to women all this time and given them equity.

    On top of that, once I wrote a gender-equal society into my books and created women who were badasses--soldiers, mercenaries, knights, military commanders--for no other reason than they decided they wanted to grow up to be badasses and it never crossed anyone's mind to stop them, it created some fascinating character dynamics. It's also really fun writing scenes where you make the reader fear for a woman's safety and it's not because someone's going to rape her--yawn--again. Granted, it's a lot more work, but it results in much deeper character development.

    This trope needs to die. The cliché needs to find its rightful place in the dustbin of history.
     
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2019
  12. Ban

    Ban Sir Laserface Article Team

    2,020
    955
    113
    As long as the dustbin of history still gives historical fiction the room to describe the past accurately (ish), I'd agree to a maiming of the trope. Although I personally see no reason to fully ban anything besides my own name ;)
     
  13. TheKillerBs

    TheKillerBs Inkling

    523
    200
    43
    I'd like to say "preach, brother" but I don't agree with this little bit. The idea that a misogynist society couldn't arise in places of extreme danger doesn't hold up with me. There's no evidence for it and in fact, some of the most inhospitable places in the real world are also home to some of the most misogynist cultures. I do not wish to stir up the nest further by giving concrete examples.

    I will say, however, that the misogyny is stupid and incongruent in the way it is presented. It seems mostly tacked on for the sake of edge or "because that's the way things were historically", which seems short-sighted and also, they are completely ****ing wrong about how it worked historically. I can totally see how a dangerous world would organically give rise to a misogynist society. I have never seen one that made me believe that's what happened.
     
    yli likes this.
  14. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

    1,128
    411
    83
    I hate to be "that guy" but I'm going to be "that guy"...
    Patriarchal societies are so insanely common through history, through every culture (especially compared to matriarchies which are historically borderline nonexistent or egalitarian societies which are insanely rare) that it's almost safe to say that it is the default state of human society.
    I mean, yeah, "fantasy", you can make-up reasons why it wouldn't be the case but then you have to factor in the biological/psychological basis behind male-dominated societies and that's a whole other mess.

    I'd like to add "lazy real-world parallels" as a "worst fantasy world cliches".
    That ties into what KillerBs and Ban said.

    I don't know about that. Most animal species, especially animals that need to concern themselves with resources like predators whose food supply is dependent on the existence of another species, tend to be as protective of their females as their children while the males do all the hunting and territory-gaining and all that good stuff.
    The animal species that most common show egalitarian social behavior tends to be animals that reproduce quickly and have abundant resources. Humans don't really fit that bill. In fact, the closer humans get to fitting that bill, the more egalitarian they seem to get.
     
    C. L. Larson and Demesnedenoir like this.
  15. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    2,055
    1,166
    163
    I don't think there is a worst cliche... A good story well written... Use all the cliches you want.

    Now personally, I'm not into sex scenes, consensual, rape, or otherwise. But I'm not really sure sex can be called cliche.
     
    Steerpike and C. L. Larson like this.
  16. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    2,055
    1,166
    163
    That's a fun one, because it's one that bugs me, and it's one I always worry about when someone looks at my world map. I actually have all the plate tectonics figured out, BUT I also have what I call Planular tectonics. This additional force has created mountains in ways unnatural to basic tectonic. So, if someone asks, I always say... If something doesn't look like it could be, that's a clue. But, I'm not going to tell folks about the truth, because it's all part of the world's story.

     
    DFWriterX likes this.
  17. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    5,702
    3,657
    313
    I appreciate the thread, but I'm not sure I believe cliches exist, save as a convenient bit of literary analysis. There's good writing and bad writing. All writing uses cliches--tropes, archetypes, the vocabulary shifts from time to time. Those who do it well are called brilliant, complete with solemn invocations of Campbell etc., while those who do it badly are called hacks. Those who write entire novels without a single trope are called unreadable (Danielewski comes to mind). Well, that's what I call 'em anyway.

    I wouldn't say Star Wars does it well (it's a movie anyway, not a novel; different critter). To me, Lucas' writing was pretty ham-handed. I'd cite Tolkien as a better use of cliches and stereotypes. Archetypes. Tropes. Seriously, I'm not seeing how that word helps much, except for when we want to be dismissive.

    For fantasy writing, it'd be interesting to hear about specific examples of good uses of cliches. And then to ask why A is a good job while B is a lousy job. I suspect--without evidence, which is the fun sort of suspicion to have--that much of the assessment will come down to whether one liked a particular novel or not. One person's meat is another's kale, as the sage says.
     
  18. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    5,702
    3,657
    313
    I agree with Malik wholeheartedly. A particular beef is the use of rape as an inciting incident or even for main motivation. It's cheap, it's easy, and it's callous. Murder of the family, or slaughter of the village, is an also-ran. Again, mainly because it's so often done as a quick-and-easy motivator. Although, I do issue an Honorable Exception for Conan. We all have our weaknesses. :)
     
    TheCrystallineEntity and Malik like this.
  19. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    2,055
    1,166
    163
    I don't think rape or the family killing can be called cliche. They are a sad reality, so if reality is cliche... oh well. As you mentioned, it comes down to well written and what a particular reader likes.

    To use movies again because it's easier... The Brave One with Jodie Foster... Rape and family (loved one) killed and one helluva revenge movie. The Outlaw Joes Wales... Family Killed! Shot the man's dog, for God's sake! It doesn't get more cliche, awesome movie.

    It's all execution and personal taste. That said, a rape filled book, is not one I'm going to read. I will write attempted rape, and off-camera rape, but not an actual scene. I'm just not going there.
     
    C. L. Larson likes this.
  20. Don't go to Wyrd, then. The intentionally nonsensical geography would drive you nuts.
     
Loading...

Share This Page