Friday, July 01, 2011

WorldBuilding No-Nos

Ten Things I Hate about Your WorldBuilding

Beasts from your hell are always slimy, odorous, loud, over-size horrors with broken but razor-sharp teeth and bulging but blazing red eyes; they could easily be smelled if not instantly identified from two miles away. Yet somehow they still always get the jump on their victims.

Epidemics happen in your story only because some evil one cast a spell over a geographical region, and are never the natural byproduct of poor hygiene, crowded living conditions, contaminated water or food supplies, and/or lack of medical advancement.

Everyone in the village is an idiot. Everyone.

No one seems to be actively employed in the story. Farmers aren't planting crops, merchants aren't holding sales, and stable boys aren't shoveling manure, etc. Your courtesans, on the other hand, are always working triple shifts.

Queens and princesses are inevitably lovely, sylph-like creatures who radiate goodness and kindness, care deeply about their subjects, and are obsessed with feeding and caring for the poor; none display any of the typical physical or mental signs of being what they really are: the results of centuries of inbreeding.

The natural source of unparalleled magical power that has been sitting around in the open for millenia has never been discovered or exploited by native peoples, explorers, settlers, industrial developers, evil overlords or anyone except the hero, and then only when he is in desperate straits with nowhere else to turn.

While your world seems forever poised on the brink of destruction, an event that often can only be narrowly avoided by the hero and heroine having wild monkey sex, this doesn't seem to ever worry anyone else.

You give me in excruciating detail the pyramids, palaces and every other prominent place within a thirty-mile radius, but there are no bathrooms or toilets anywhere.

Your highly intelligent, extremely lethal mythical creatures, all of which are the size of a dump truck or larger, turn into quivering submissive bunny rabbits whenever a dinky human hero with a mission encounters them. P.S., even if they've been captured, beaten and starved by other humans for months, they never blame the hero or snap him up as a quick snack.

Your invented language bears a striking resemblance to Klingon as spoken by a stutterer.


  1. Okay, I find this post to be hysterical, absolutely hysterical.

    And I just want to say that this past week, I was thinking that I've spent too much time in my fantasy WIP talking about bathrooms and toilets. Thanks for making me think otherwise...

  2. Absolutely funniest post I've read in months! Great way to start my Friday!

  3. Oh lawd! The truth has just been written.

    Loved this post!

  4. And why do heroines, even in stories written by women, never have periods?

  5. ROFL! Oh, how true in toooooooo many novels.

  6. Anonymous3:16 PM

    Most of this is pretty funny, but I don't get the bathrooms/toilets thing. It's a very rare piece of popular fiction that ever mentions, let alone uses as a setting, a bathroom. Same with TV and movies. Anyone else have a different experience?

    Jeff P.

  7. Wow! One of the best takedowns of poor world building ever! Thank you.

  8. I think this list is why urban fantasy has topped traditional fantasy on my preferred reading list in recent years. Too often the world just feels simply ridiculous!

  9. Through the too many miles and the too little smiles, I still remember you.


  10. There's a wonderful article by Poul Anderson called ON THUD AND BLUNDER (which I just found neatly available online: )which talks about all of these things too...but I think your list might win, because nowhere does he mention "wild monkey sex."

    Terrific post. And spot on. On the whole, this stuff keeps me out of reading a lot of epic fantasy.

  11. This is very funny - I have seen so many of these things! Fortunately I seem to do fine when running down the checklist against my current novel. :)

  12. Anonymous11:20 AM

    Basically, there isn't enough human logic in traditional worldbuilding. This is something I struggle with when reading fantasy as well. Everything is a bit too coincidental and only serves the story, not the world.

  13. Karen Anderson1:20 AM

    Poul's piece "On Thud and Blunder" was just a spare-time amusement. (Yes, I was there.) For an in-depth study of the problem, see THE ROUGH GUIDE TO FANTASYLAND by the late Diana Wynne Jones, an author not appreciated nearly enough.

  14. This blog is just too hillarious.

  15. Anonymous12:10 PM

    LOVE YOU! for this. I am ashamed to have enjoyed books and/or movies with all of the above. :)

  16. This is absolutely wonderful. Thanks for writing it. ;)

  17. This list is right on! Thanks for a smile!


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