Worst World Building Tropes

Discussion in 'World Building' started by J Q Kaiser, May 24, 2018.

  1. J Q Kaiser

    J Q Kaiser Apprentice

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    My fiction tends toward an irreverent and humorous take on sword and sorcery and epic fantasy. I like to think of it as Robert Howard meets Terry Pratchett and then they run head first into Douglas Adams. So when I write I like to look for old fantasy tropes and try to turn them on their heads; do something fun and interesting with them.

    So I am curious, what do you think are the worst (or most tired) tropes of world building? For example, mystical isles shrouded in mist? Lost civilizations that seemingly pop out of nowhere at just the right moment for the plot?
     
  2. Orc Knight

    Orc Knight Grandmaster

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    I use pretty much all of them, if only to play with them, though my most loathed is the Damsel in Distress and the Always (Chaotic) Evil races sorts. Sure the name gives the latter away pretty easily. At the end of the day, especially for me, they are still tools to be used. Particularly for my world of Eld which is at times kind of in line with the Pratchett style of dismantling said tropes. Though the mystical islands shrouded in mists is actually a favorite of mine. Because I just know there's got to be either dinosaurs, giant apes or lizard folk waiting on it to cause no end of trouble. As for the civs showing up, usually it seems they were looking for something vaguely like it in the first place.

    To take the DiD trope, for about a century, there was a golden knight going around tearing down towers with a DiD in them and saving said damsel before trying to train them with weapons before sending her home. Said knight was both an elf and a woman, twisting it further. Fairly bad tempered princess and eventual queen at that to twist it a little more. As for the evil races, there are some that do seem to play it up, but it's usually comes out of simple survival and revenge turning into horrible things.

    An edit for the misty islands: They also have a tendency to have Amazons on them too. Sometimes with the dinosaurs. On Eld, it's the Ever Ember island chain that has the Amazons.
     
    Last edited: May 24, 2018
  3. J Q Kaiser

    J Q Kaiser Apprentice

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    DiD is obnoxious, but thankfully it seems like most fantasy authors have caught on now. My least favorite are enchanted swords (which always feels a bit too D&D) and, in general, most sorts of racial stereotypes (khajiit has wares; why can't he pursue a career in the arts instead?).

    That said, I've used these. I have a character who stumbles upon (and accidentally cuts himself on) a sword while trying to hide, unfortunately it is a were-sword which turns him into an enchanted (worse yet, talking) sword.

    I also tend to write characters who are struggling against racial expectations and stereotypes. I would type more but I'm stuck on my phone and the tiny keys drive me crazy.
     
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  4. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Shadow Lord

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    A temperate climate. I'm sick of all the forests and mountains in fantasy.

    There's still swamps, deserts, tundras and grasslands to an extent but characters will always end-up wandering through a forest (usually on horseback).
    Apparently, deciduous trees are more vital to the genre than magic or mythology.
     
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  5. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Lore Master

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    The worst examples of world building I have encountered have included:

    1. Those where the government is an absolute monarchy or a totalitarian dictatorship and the protagonist is connected with them in some way.
    2. The obsession with (supposedly) medieval worlds that owe more to reading too much fantasy stories inspired by Tolkien and Dungeons & Dragons rather than basic research.
    3. Geographical landscapes that lack any real diversity or, worse, are diverse in a way that makes no sense.
    4. Travel times that are ridiculous. I'm sorry but it's not going to take at least a month to walk along the coastline the length of the Pacific coast of the United States no matter how good you are.
    5. Architecture that would be nearly impossible to build with the most modern technology, let alone the medieval technology of the world, that is always explained away by claiming it was an advanced race that suddenly disappeared (yes, Skyrim, I'm looking at you) or that it was built with the help of magic.
    6. Doing away with the Abrahamic religions but still retaining the institutions of family, marriage, inheritance, clergy and religious rituals as if these institutions still existed.
    7. Using sex as a weapon, a form of manipulation or (in the case where rape is used) as a validation for the (usually brutal) actions of the protagonist. Does anyone actually enjoy sex in fantasy stories?
    8. The portrayal of the poor or lower classes as untrustworthy, criminals, uneducated, stupid or lazy scum who are totally disposable human garbage unless they are members of a secret society, useful to the needs of the protagonist or the secret heir to the throne.
    9. World-building that involve the creation of huge empires and one world governments.
    10. Info-dumping in the story itself when having a segment between chapters to info-dump (as an example) would serve the function better. The use of a front page of a newspaper was used by Brandon Sanderson in his Mistborn: Shadows of Self novel and provided snippets of information like how the protagonist's actions were perceived in the bigger scheme of things and advertising that illustrated not only the level of technology in this world but the currency used and the cost of things like children's toys. Daniel Killerman's K is for Killing (which is an alternative history novel) uses the inane language of bureaucratic documents and excerpts from a school textbook to paint a chilling vision of an alternate America.
     
  6. D.G. Laderoute

    D.G. Laderoute Apprentice

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    For me, it's an undue emphasis on a setting that is some variation on medieval/feudal (north)western Europe. This includes including races that are variations on that region's particular mythologies e.g. elves, dwarves, giants, etc. We can thank Tolkien for this (although, to be fair, he was effectively starting a new genre so HIS world-building was pretty much a blank canvas). We can also thank Dungeons and Dragons, which was essentially a game-ified version of the Lord of the Rings. Now, I realize it's actually more complicated than this, but the effect is the same--legions of books and stories whose settings are much the same. That doesn't mean there can't be some really good stories in this type of setting...it's just that this type of setting is overdone, to the point of becoming a trope.

    There are SO many other sources of folklore and mythology available in our world, and many more that could arise from the imaginations of writers. N.K. Jemisin's series that starts with "The Fifth Season" is a good example of this--a uniquely-crafted world that draws a few elements from the "European experience", but is truly original and her own. And, yes, I realize that her stuff is technically categorized as SF, but it "feels" way more like fantasy to me...and if you haven't read it, I highly recommend it. There's a reason her stuff is winning Nebula Awards!
     
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  7. Yora

    Yora Mystagogue

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    In the past there was one (and only one!) huge powerful empire that was super advanced and could do all kinds of amazing things that can't be done anymore. And now it's gone. Groan.
     
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  8. Ireth

    Ireth Mythic Scribe

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    Love triangles, especially where the heroine chooses the love interest who's clearly bad for her. Also, abusive behavior portrayed as normal and romantic.
     
  9. Ban

    Ban Staff Article Team

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    Armour, fortifications and weaponry that is shaped and made in such a way that it actively hinders it from serving its function. It is fine to have silly-looking, oversized swords if they are ceremonial, but you take me out of the fantasy when it is used in combat by a humanoid.
     
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  10. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Shadow Lord

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    I want to build-off of these.
    First thing: I dislike how magic use never seems to extend to other fields (like architecture). It's strange that wizards seem to practice magic just for the sake of practicing magic and not because they want to make advancement in other fields like engineering or solve social problems or anything.

    The Dwemer in Elder Scrolls were only able to accomplish their technological feats with the aid of their unique brand of psuedo-magic. This psuedo-magic and the technology derived from it basically colored all other elements of Dwemer civilizations (from their architecture to their religion). And since their magic was the reason for their advancement, it makes sense that their technology would disappear along with them (and their magic being the cause of their disappearance).
    Of course, that's not getting into the actually story of the Dwemer or their role in the Elder Scrolls mythos which both justifies the use of the "vanished advanced race" cliche while also giving greater depth to the overall narrative of the Elder Scrolls.
    Dismissing them as a setting cliche meant to explain why there are dungeons in the game seems to be a case of missing the forest for the trees.

    Second thing: portrayal of the lower classes as being entirely made out of good people who gallantly suffer the indignity of poverty which is forced upon them by the selfish and exploitative upper class.
    Attaching morality to class is a trope I see everywhere in fiction.
     
    Last edited: May 25, 2018
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  11. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    ^ This, 100%. It's not really fantasy, but it's the most unrealistic and condescending thing I see in books, movies, and people on facebook. There's kindness, foolishness, meanness, and some level of smarts in groups of almost all kinds, but especially ones as broad as social class. That goes for good or bad across the board.
     
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  12. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

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    Thanks for mentioning this, Ireth. It annoys me SO bad! Like, it just puts this image out there that women choose poorly because lust. So stupid. And dumb. And enraging. ---rant over
     
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  13. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Lore Master

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    In criticising the portrayal of the poor, peasants and commoners I was not suggesting they should be portrayed as paragons of virtue and decency. Being poor myself and having lived in low income neighbourhoods on and off over the years I can testify first hand that you'll find sinners, saints and everything in-between among the poor. In my dealings with other classes over the years I can say the same about all classes. I just wished that fantasy writers would remember this when writing about various classes.

    As for the world of Skyrim I love the game and the world-building that has gone into it. I enjoy fighting through the Dwemer ruins and reading about the backstory as to how they came to be but, just because Skyrim has incredibly mind-blowing world-building which helps to make the game an amazing one to play, it doesn't mean that it doesn't rehash some bad examples of fantasy world-building.

    The whole point of fantasy world building is to create a fantastical world where the imagination is allowed to run free, creatures of all sorts can be found and where magic happens. They're places where people like myself who want to escape from our lousy everyday existence can escape to for a few hours. However when you've read your 30th or 40th fantasy book and you're mixing up this story line with that or confusing various worlds because they all seem to be the same quest driven story line set in the same type of pseudo-medieval world the phrase "familiarity breeds contempt" comes to mind.
     
  14. TheKillerBs

    TheKillerBs Grandmaster

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    The temperate climate might be because most of fantasy takes place in Europe analogs. And Europe’s climate is mostly temperate forest.

    Also, most of the planet’s non-polar climate was naturally forest until people started clearing out places for farmland.
     
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  15. Yora

    Yora Mystagogue

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    My setting is almost entirely temperate forests, except where it's ocean or high mountains. But I also think you have to spice it up in some ways. It needs to be more than the default generic fantasy environment.
     
  16. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Shadow Lord

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    I wasn't accusing you of suggesting that. I was adding a related gripe of my own.

    Tamriel isn't a bad example of world-building. It may use familiar conventions but I'd say it uses them well. It has good execution.
    I suspect that Skyrim tried to file away a lot of the uniqueness of the Elder Scrolls setting for the sake of mass appeal. It's all still there, it's the same Tamriel but it's easy for people to spend hours playing Skyrim and only get a glace of the depth and unqiueness of Tamriel.
    I'm thinking you need to play some more Morrowind.

    And there are posts in this thread complaining about how reliant fantasy is on Europe analogs.
     
  17. Yora

    Yora Mystagogue

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    Morrowind is awesome. It's like an alien planet, but in fantasy instead of science-fiction. I don't actually very much like the game (or any of the Bethesda RPGs), but the Morrowind setting is just incredibly original. It was the direct inspiration for my own worldbuilding. Hard to find anything that is similarly original, and with such a degree of consistency and plausibility.
     
  18. psychotick

    psychotick Dark Lord

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    Hi,

    In my view the tropes aren't tired at all. It's the writers who are lazy. (Not all writers obviously - and naturally none of those here!!!) There's nothing wrong with a damsel in distress or a medieval Europe type setting. It's how you design them / write them. Do you simply copy what a thousand other writers have done or do you add / alter to your settings and characters so that what seemed tired elsewhere, is suddenly sparkling and fresh? I mean just imagine if the hero having fought his way through an army of monsters and brigands and one ultimate dragony / wizardy thing finally got to the damsels prison, unlocked the door and was greeted by those heart warming an gratifying words - "And I suppose you think I'm going to marry you now?! You do know I'm gay?!"

    There's nothing wrong with the tropes. They are tropes for a reason. Have fun with them!

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  19. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Lore Master

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    I didn't assume you were accusing me of anything. :) If I had I would've specifically replied to your comment rather than make a separate post. I just felt I needed to clarify what I was stating to make it clear that I didn't favour going to the other extreme.

    I did mention Skyrim rather than Tamriel - and for good reason. While I thoroughly enjoy the greater diversity in terms of the animals, creatures and landscapes that exists in Skyrim the urban areas and the interior of a lot of the buildings and ruins tend to be virtually identical outside of the big cities like Solitude, Markarth and Riften. That's why I am somewhat critical of its world-building. However Cyrodiil was a lot more diverse geographically, especially with the Shivering Isles, and so are the urban areas and the building interiors. Morrowind and Solstheim in the Dragonborn DLC are in a class of their own. Both are very disorientating but in a good way. :)
     
  20. Ban

    Ban Staff Article Team

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    Skyrim has great diversity in its environments as well though. You have temperate forests in Falkreath and Riften, mammoth-filled plains in Whiterun, tundras up north, craggy mountain forests in Markarth and fields of geysers south of Windhelm. Not to mention Blackreach, an enormous underground dwemer complex filled with mushroom life, the ashes of SOlstheim in Dragonborn and the spectacular Boneyard and forgotten vale in Dawnguard.
    Apologies for derailing things, but that is custom policy for this site anyways.
     
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