What's the worst thing fantasy authors do?

Discussion in 'Fantasy' started by wakarimasen, Jan 26, 2017.


What's the worst thing fantasy authors do?

  1. Infodump

    9 vote(s)
  2. Overly graphical sex or gore

    3 vote(s)
  3. Take too much time writing next in a series

    15 vote(s)
  4. Kill off favoured characters

    0 vote(s)
  5. Make up words

    5 vote(s)
  6. Fail to engage with their readers

    0 vote(s)
  7. Be too familiar /presumptive with their readers

    1 vote(s)
  8. Rehash old ideas

    3 vote(s)
  9. Get defensive about their work

    2 vote(s)
  10. Add lots of rambling description

    15 vote(s)
  11. Become obsessed with relationships in their work

    2 vote(s)
  12. Exploit feminity in some way

    2 vote(s)
  13. Deus ex machina

    9 vote(s)
  14. Consider themselves morally enlightened and wise

    10 vote(s)
  15. "Of course, as you know..." Protags explaining plot

    7 vote(s)
  16. "Nebulous, poorly explained magic systems"

    4 vote(s)
Multiple votes are allowed.
  1. wakarimasen

    wakarimasen Journeyed there and back again

    So, this wide open little question came from Angus Watson, of the Iron Age trilogy fame. I interviewed him recently and this is what he would want to ask the boards if he could.
    Which he can.
    Because I just did.

    Anyway, meta descriptions aside, I figured I'd notch up a little poll of some of the most common complaints and let's see what people think. Clearly though, if there is something that really pinches your potatoes and is not here then let's hear it!

    (and because we all harbour untapped wells of vitriol and anger I'm saying you can choose 3 from the list)
  2. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Hired Nicomo Cosca, famed soldier of fortune

    For me the worst is to underestimate the readers’ ability to discern story plots. Some authors have this urge to explain the obvious. No need for that, in particular, when some aspects of the plot are neither challenging nor unpredictable. I love it when the author keeps me guessing.
  3. Davis Ashura

    Davis Ashura Is a wondrous friend of modest Kruppe

    I'm guilty of this. I think it's because in my day job I have to explain things at the level of the person sitting across from me. Most times, it's brought down to a simple level and that unconsciously carries over into my writing. Thankfully, I have beta readers that point out when I'm doing this, and I've become better at not doing it over the years.

    Interesting that people dislike info dumps and rambling descriptions. I voted for the 'morally enlightened and wise.' It was a tossup between that and takes too long to write a series. Taking a long time is fine if the books are great and the plot progresses. But if there are just a whole bunch of books that don't progress the plot, then no. Don't like that.
  4. Alucard

    Alucard In the name of the Pizza Lord. Charge! Staff Member

    I hate infodumps so much! As well as rambling descriptions.
    Also making up swear words, but still using 'fuck' every now and then. Well what's the point of that.

    Interestingly enough a lot of your questions have to do with the writer-reader relationship, which I care nothing for. As long as I can buy a new book, in lets say every 2 years, from my favorite writers, I don't need any blog posts, updates, interviews etc. Basically, I never treat them as celebrities. I see writers as professionals, in much of the same way as I see my doctor. They provide a service/product, and owe me no accountability as a reader further than me expecting a product (in this case a book) for my money.
    I know I am a minority in this matter of thinking, as most people love and expect communication between writers and fans. Maybe I'm bad at being a fan :D

    What did you mean by this:
    Exploit feminity in some way

    Do you mean femininity? And if you do, what do you mean by that?
  5. Silvion Night

    Silvion Night Sir Readalot Staff Member

    Cool topic! I'll briefly go into each of these, as I think that is more valuable to you than just a vote. The below topics with an asterisk in front of them have received my votes.

    1. Infodump: I don't mind this if it is done well. For example, the books by Neal Stephenson always have big info-dumps. When they're not integral to the story, they are included in appendices or in marked-off sections. This works very well in my opinion (admittedly, it puts a lot of people off, but as I'm quite a nerd I love it). The infodumping in LOTR was also done well if you ask me. Infodumping can be a real pain though, especially when it is done unnaturally. Example: the first chapters of each WoT book after the first one. They are practically just there to summarize the information from the previous books into the new one for new readers. Also a big no-no: having characters unnaturally infodump. Example: "As you know, your brother, the assassin, has once climbed the walls of Um-R'la with only his bare hands. You will probably remember his schooling in the House of Mists, where he learned the trade of blablabla..."

    2. Overly graphical sex or gore: I don't mind this at all.
    3. *
      Take too much time writing next in a series: one of my biggest peeves. GRRM, Rothfuss. Blergh! Sometimes you hear people defending these authors. "They don't owe you anything". Guess what: they do. I invested time and money in their series, given to understand that the story would have a proper start, middle, and ending. If the ending then isn't forthcoming I feel cheated as a reader.

    4. Kill off favoured characters: I don't mind this, as it keeps you on your toes while reading. GRRM understands this concept masterfully. It makes you care more about the characters and it keeps the story suspenseful.

    5. Make up words: This is fine, but don't overdo it. If there is a perfectly fine word for the same thing already in existence, please use that. Sanderson does this well in my opinion. The names of monsters, magic and weapons are often variations on already existing words. Makes it sound cool, without becoming irksome. Beware of the Erikson syndrome ( apostrophes and other weird unnecessary marks in given names and place names).

    6. Fail to engage with their readers: It's a nice plus, but not a necessity by any means. See Alucard's remark on this topic.

    7. Be too familiar /presumptive with their readers: this can be okay. Take for example The Martian by Andy Weir. It is handled really well in this book. The writer/lead character is very familiar with his readers, and it fits the atmosphere of the book really well.

    8. Rehash old ideas: Don't mind this at all.

    9. Get defensive about their work: couldn't care less. Let them be defensive.

    10. Add lots of rambling description: Depends on how rambling. If it's too much and it gets in the way of the story I tend to dislike it.

    11. Become obsessed with relationships in their work: This is fine if it is done well. Some examples to illustrate this. In Tigana GGK does this extremely well in my opinion. In KKC Rothfuss makes a mess of it when he focuses on the relationship betwene Kvothe and Denna.

    12. Exploit feminity in some way: don't know what is meant by this one.

    13. *
      Deus ex machina: I hate when this happens. It can ruin an entire story for me. Always try to avoid this. A variance on this theme is making your protagonist super strong, super fast and thereby nigh invincible. Sanderson has a penchant for doing this. It makes the story less interesting. This is the reason why I dislike Superman stories.

    14. *
      Consider themselves morally enlightened and wise: this can go both ways. Goodkind's proselytizing is an example where pompousness shines through in books. It made me dislike his books immensely. Rothfuss also has a tendency to come of as pompous. Then there's a group of authors who don't come across as pompous. I really don't think they think themselves to be wise, but truth be told: they are. Examples of this are Pratchett and Erikson.
  6. Bierschneeman

    Bierschneeman Journeyed there and back again

    Deus ex machina...I'm looking your way GRRMartin
  7. Alucard

    Alucard In the name of the Pizza Lord. Charge! Staff Member

    I hated it there as well as can be seen in LotR thread. 'A well done infodumping' is an oxymoron in my opinion.

    Mieville ruined PSS for some readers with this. For me the positives of PPS outshined this faux pas on his part.
  8. Tanniel

    Tanniel Hired Nicomo Cosca, famed soldier of fortune

    Mine aren't on the list, probably because it is few others that are bothered by this, but that's not going to stop me from wasting your time. Also, the first of them can be seen in connection to @Elvira's issue of author's over-explaining the plot, I guess.

    1. Over-explaining the characters. By this, I mean when the POV is just too overwhelming. We get every thought and sensation experienced by the character explained (even worse when there are multiple POV's, so this effect is repeated). We get long descriptions of the character's inner monologue. It's just a constant word avalanche of their inner life. Some might argue that inner monologue necessary for a strong characterisation. I don't necessarily think so, and regardless, I definitely feel that most fantasy books I've read over-do the POV.

    To bring some critical theory into it, Wolfgang Iser had a theory of "Leerstellen", meaning "empty spaces". A story should contain empty spaces, i.e. gaps in the information provided to the reader; this forces the reader to fill out those gaps, thus creating a more engaging reading experience. When a fantasy book explains everything about a character's thoughts, motivations, sensations, inner conflict etc. there is nothing for me as a reader to speculate, analyse, deduce, conclude etc. There is little stimulation of my intellectual faculties. It can also be a crutch for the writer, I think; rather than write complex situations that allows the nuances of the character to shine, they just tell us whatever they think we should know. Maybe this is related to or perhaps the opposite of "being too familiar/presumptive with the reader"; the author spoon-feeds me, treating me in an infantile way and refusing to relinquish any control of the story to me as a reader.

    2. Vague, psychic-like magical powers. I've come across this in a couple of fantasy series now, where magic exists as basically psychic powers - allowing for telepathy, Jedi mind tricks, psychic attacks etc. I don't think this works very well. First of all, because it is not physical at all, it's really hard to describe in writing. It's just people standing still with either blank or maybe strained expressions on their faces. Reading about how the characters "raise the walls/guard around their minds" or "push into the opponent's mind" gets boring very quickly. Thematically, this kind of psychic magic doesn't fit so well in medieval fantasy, I think - it's too far removed from wizards throwing fireballs or druids summoning lightning, pseudo-scientific alchemy etc. The completely abstract, non-physical nature of this magic not only makes it boring, in my opinion, but also makes it too convenient. When characters need to know something, their telepathy tells them. When the plot wants to induce some tension, the telepathy doesn't work. Because the abstract nature makes it impossible to deduce if there's any system behind this magic, I can't be sure if this has internal logic consistency, or if the writer is just using it according to their whims.
  9. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Hired Nicomo Cosca, famed soldier of fortune

    Leerstellen: Bang! Right there! Of course, I wasn't familiar with Wolfgang's theory, so thanks for that, but it is plain common sense. However, as they say: "Common sense is the least common of the senses"
  10. Bierschneeman

    Bierschneeman Journeyed there and back again

    Where's the option for Infallible superman characters with villains with the same skill and marksmanship as stormtroopers?
  11. Peat

    Peat Journeyed there and back again

    They attract enemy radar... they attract sharks... they nudge people while they're shooting...

    This is a really difficult one from the author's perspective. I've had betas and critiquers go"Is this meant to be X" about what I've believed to be the most obvious thing ever. And then someone goes "You're telling us too much about X".

    Obviously the craft of the author is to use one's skill with words to ensure as many readers as possible take away the same impression but its always going to be imperfect. I know there's been times when I've seen people going "Oh yeah, that's X" and I'm like "Oh... I never ever saw that". And vice versa.

    So be kind to authors here, for sometimes what you see through keeps a lot of people guessing. *pauses* Well, sometimes. Some people are just being inept.

    Right, I'm stealing Silvion's point by point template.
    1. Infodump: I don't think I've read a fantasy book without one and I don't think I ever will. I try hard to limit them myself and present them in a natural way but sometimes its the quickest and best way to get the info across. I'd rather read an info dump, even a bad one, than be flailing around in the dark, or reading one turned into five pages of unnatural conversation. Sure, there's some bad ones out there, but that's on execution not concept. And now I'm thinking about the many people I know info dump in real life.

    2. Overly graphical sex or gore: I don't mind overly graphical sex at all. Gratuitous gore bores me as much as anything.
    3. *
      Take too much time writing next in a series: Nobody likes this but I think about where Douglas Hulick is at and am very reluctant to point the finger. You have that story in you, not being able to get it out is not a happy place and often a sign of something wrong. Sure, if someone's being a douchecanoe and just isn't doing it because meeeehhhh, that sucks, but I'd be very slow to point that finger these days.

    4. Kill off favoured characters: In direct reply to Silvion in a way - sometimes it keeps you on your toes. Sometimes it becomes a habit that leads to the really obvious stories referred to by Elvira, as it did for me with with GRRM. That's why I put the series down. I'd also add that while I'm not against character death, characters are usually the thing that keeps me in a story. An author who kills off the characters that I'm interested in and who replaces them with the boring loses me. Some of my favourite moments in books are to do with my favourite characters dying though. Again... if there's a problem here, its with execution not concept.

    5. Make up words: *shrugs*

    6. Fail to engage with their readers: The fantasy community seems to be one of the most engaged I know, not that it particularly matters to me.

    7. Be too familiar /presumptive with their readers: Not sure what this one is - in the story, or in interactions outside the story?

    8. Rehash old ideas: Rehashing old ideas is the soul of storytelling and art in general. Note that I consider rehash to be different from straight up copy.

    9. Get defensive about their work: Well it generally annoys the person they're being defensive to... which so far hasn't been me. Its fine as long as they don't get aggressively defensive, in which case it depends on how aggressive they're being.

    10. Add lots of rambling description: Depends on how rambling. If it's too much and it gets in the way of the story I tend to dislike it. I can even just keep Silvion's text on this one. Again, I don't think its particularly a flaw of the genre these days.

    11. Become obsessed with relationships in their work: Personally I think a lot of fantasy authors pay too little attention to relationships. Do it well and I'm all ears. However - if it starts off as a story about X, and it becomes a story about Y's love life, that is not cool. Bait and switch rarely is.

    12. Exploit feminity in some way: I was going to take a guess then decided I'd rather wait for clarification.

    13. Deus ex machina: Don't like it when I see it, but I seem to see it a lot less often than others. On Silvion's superman point - the joy of superman stories to me lies in an exploration of the constraints, responsibilities and what not of power. I think Sanderson takes an alright stab at this in Mistborn. That or superman vs superman, that can be fun. Or, finally... Conan. Who is still the most OP dude compared to their setting around.

    14. Consider themselves morally enlightened and wise: Nobody likes preachy authors if this is what we're getting at.
    So... maybe 13 or 14. Shall ponder more.

    Tanniel - Ah, really can't agree with you on the magic. For me, there's far too many fireballs, which I'd argue are a worse thematic fit for medieval magic. I'd agree that mostly mind based magic can be difficult to write, but I love it when people make the effort and there's not enough of it for me.

    Also, would you say there's differences on how much empty space there is based on PoV?

    Anyway, I'm struggling to think of things that really qualify in my book.

    Authors who portray characters who think of themselves as bad to the bone in the same way someone's murderhobo D&D character would.

    Authors who use real life cultures as shorthand world building then stick in things that don't belong there.

    Authors who give us detailed magic systems that make for their own chess game. Don't care, although I know that one is very subjective.
  12. Matticus Primal

    Matticus Primal Journeyed there and back again

    Oh God, can we add this to the list? Nothing bugs me more than: 1) Unnatural verbal exposition where one character explains a concept to a character who should already be aware of it 2) One character explaining a core concept to a novice character when the author has taken great pains to explain why the novice is ignorant.

    The latter can be acceptable for some proxy protags being brought into a new world (Harry Potter for instance), but I am sort of getting tired of the farmboy being tossed out into the wild world that then has to be instructed in the magic system because they were so far away from actual society to begin with. I mean, yeah it worked for Luke in Star Wars, but all his training/ explanation of the force probably took up four paragraphs worth of dialogue. You got some vague magic system about the jedis being one with the force that's all around you.

    Compare that to the Clone Wars prequels (and show for that matter) where they took the magic right out of the force by explaining everything.

    Sorry, went on a tangent there. But the unnaturally ignorant protag being used as the audience proxy bugs the crap out of me.
  13. Alucard

    Alucard In the name of the Pizza Lord. Charge! Staff Member

    I rather be flailing around in dark.
    Take Erikson's Malazan for example. Every reader gets thrown into vivid, full blown world with ongoing conflicts with Gardens of the Moon. Part of the charm is figuring it out, what is happening and who is who. In a fantasy as Malazan, infodump would be impossible to do, because it would take 1000 pages (or more) to explain the setup behind 9000 pages that are left. 4 books in I am still more comfortable saying I know very little about Malazan, than saying I know what is going on.
    However, this disregard for readers immediate understanding of the book has an impact like no other on fantasy readers. I have not seen so many dropouts on any series as I have seen with Gardens of the Moon. And yet Malazan is one of the best epic fantasy series, and maybe the best military fantasy there is.

    I definitely appreciate when authors leave it to the reader to enact their inner Holmes while reading. It's so much more rewarding when you figure something out, instead of having it all laid out in front of you.
  14. Peat

    Peat Journeyed there and back again

    Its been a while since I last opened up Gardens of the Moon but I recall there being things I'd consider info dumps there.

    *opens it up*

    Such as most of the prologue.

    Info dump is a subjective term but by my loose definition, its impossible to write a made-up world without using at least some. And most of the things I see authors do to try and avoid info dumps are just basically longer worse info dumps.
  15. wakarimasen

    wakarimasen Journeyed there and back again

    okay - so it won't let me edit my fudge brained spelling of femininity (which I can't seem to read as anything other than feminininininty)...
    So let's be clear, it's a catch all for three types of gender issue:

    Violence against women, especially sexual violence.
    Underwear as armour.
    WAFF (Weak And Feeble Female) syndrome. "Oh, alas is me I am so delicate and incapable of rescuing myself I must rely upon a man to do that" etc.

    It's not just doing these things, its the fact that they are used to explain a plot progression or justify a bit of mental voyeurism.
    That any better?
  16. wakarimasen

    wakarimasen Journeyed there and back again

    @Matticus Primal have added
    "Of course, as you know..." Protags explaining plot

    just for you ;)
  17. Peat

    Peat Journeyed there and back again

    That's a huuuuuuge topic. While I think about it, I would point out that if they're not going to be weak and feeble and incapable of doing anything for themselves, violence is probably going to happen against them.
  18. wakarimasen

    wakarimasen Journeyed there and back again

    ...and "Nebulous, poorly explained magic systems" for @Tanniel
  19. wakarimasen

    wakarimasen Journeyed there and back again

    ...taking that and making it mine...
    possibly in a sentence like "Well. You paddled your douchecanoe right up that one, didn't you?"
  20. Silvion Night

    Silvion Night Sir Readalot Staff Member

    I grouped it with info-dump, but I am glad it is now a seperate category. I've changed my vote accordingly.

Share This Page