What makes a bad litRPG?

Discussion in 'All Things LitRPG' started by Yuli Ban, Jan 5, 2019.

  1. Yuli Ban

    Yuli Ban Level 18 (Magician) LitRPG Author Citizen Aspiring Writer

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    We oft talk about what the best stories have in common, but what are some of the weaker links in the genre?
     
  2. David M Zahn

    David M Zahn Level 8 (Thug) LitRPG Author Citizen Aspiring Writer

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    This might just be a personal preference thing, but unless the story has a good reason to include pop culture references (like Ready Player One) it drives me nuts when I start feeling like they are just being jammed in there for no reason. I currently listening to a litrpg right now (will try to be fair and not mention the title) and it's just chock-full of pop culture references that do nothing for the plot and even worse derail what little plot momentum it has going. The other thing is that alot of these LITRPGs take place in the future and yet they are still making popculture references from the time period 1970-2019, doesn't make sense to me.

    I kind of find them a cheap way of being like hey readers we all love this shiny thing over here don't pay attention to the bullshit going on in my actual story. I mean a couple subtle ones are fine, I have a couple of subtle ones in my story I think, but I definitely didn't force them in.

    Anyways Rant Over. haha.
     
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  3. Yuli Ban

    Yuli Ban Level 18 (Magician) LitRPG Author Citizen Aspiring Writer

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    To be perfectly fair, it is 2019 and we still make pop culture references about things from earlier decades. Just the other day, I watched Redditors make a chain of references to popular 90s sitcoms. Imagine if this were part of some '90s cyberpunk book: a bunch of internet nerds in the year 2019 casually making references to Full House, Family Matters, and Dinosaurs. I understand where you're coming from, though.

    On that note, you'd think litRPG would be where memetic pop culture references would flourish considering these stories tend to follow online games when they aren't isekai.
     
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2019
  4. David M Zahn

    David M Zahn Level 8 (Thug) LitRPG Author Citizen Aspiring Writer

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    Yeah as I said, probably just a personal preference thing.
     
  5. Joshua Bender

    Joshua Bender Level 5 (Veteran) LitRPG Author Citizen

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    Pop culture references aren’t terrible, only poor use of them are. This isn’t just a problem with LitRPG but in many other genres of fiction as well, and long before there was science fiction, fantasy, etc classical literature was doing the same thing. Its one reason why some books age worse then others, but still are interesting because they provide snapshots into their time periods.

    I’m guilty of using them too, though I tend to try and choose carefully when I select my references and not overuse them. The authors that tend to really annoy me are the ones that use the same references over and over again, and even more so when they don’t really understand the references in the first place. This is especially evident when I see “common” memes misquoted or overused.

    What makes a terrible book? That is something that I can easily respond to. A terrible book is one that I simply get tired of reading, and is usually after compilation of things that annoy me about what I’m reading to the point I just give up on an author. It’s not something that always is evident in the first book either, I’ve seen more than one author have a first book, or even a first couple books and then completely lose me on a later book. This is my personal list of ten things that I think make me pitch the book into the goodwill box.

    Things that I consider bad writing: (Yes, I’m sometimes guilty of them too)

    1. Plot recycling: Using pretty much the same format each book, etc. If a plot becomes far too predictable, it has a hard time keeping my interest.

    2. Character assassination: While it’s useful at times, and sometimes even necessary, if an author spends all his or her time building interesting characters, then wasting that investment the reader makes in them over and over again just to keep a story moving, I lose interest in the story too and tend to toss the book. (Yes I’m looking at you GOT)

    3. Proselytizing: Fine for biblical scholars, but makes for bad writing. I don’t mind getting interested in an author’s beliefs, but that author better make dang sure that it’s part of the story, and not the premise of the story. There are a few ways to go about this well, and for those few exceptions they get a pass, but most of the time it’s horrible writing.

    4. Lazy writing: it takes many forms, and I’m often guilty of it too. Dosen’t stop me from being annoyed by it when I find other authors doing it. This can take many forms, but basically, if a writer could have taken a tiny bit of time to actually write instead of just going all immortal action hero riding a flaming mount that farts fire, to make things interesting, something went wrong somewhere. Incomplete world building, unnecessary flashbacks, etc are all forms of it too.

    5. Improper use of description: Sometimes you sit back and wonder why an author decided to waste five paragraphs describing a street sweeper, breaking the flow of the book and we never see that character or scene again, and you find yourself scratching your head as to why that was even there. Some really good authors are guilty of it, and it’s not always a deal breaker, but if it happens over and over again, I find another author.

    6. Rambling: Ever hear the term “lore bomb”? Yea, if this happens over and over again it tends to really drive me insane. I’ve had to prune this tendency from my own books, and remind myself that I decided to start writing them because I didn’t want to get the MC’s stats and levels every dang chapter and have something that was more natural and integrated into a flowing story.

    7. Losing sight of your book’s plot in favor of shiny objects: This is something that I see constantly, and is one of the reasons why I so much dislike harem books in LitRPG, at least the ones that seem to have the harem take over the dang plot. There are many shiny objects the author can fixate around just like that, and it causes them to loose their readers. I’m often one of the first ones to jump ship when I see something like that happen.

    8. A pointless plot: While the greatest offenders are probably in film more than literature, it happens. About the only genre that I think can get away with it easily other than romance novels, is horror. LitRPG readers like me tend to appreciate continuity, and a good story over a plot that is mostly nonsense. It’s not to say that a good author can’t make it work, but most aren’t that great at it.

    9. Lost in translation: While there are some really good translations out there, it is important to make sure a book works with your target audience. Its not just language that is important, but culture as well, and your readers. I’ve read more than a few really bad LitRPG books where the author obviously didn’t understand gamers or even the typical fantasy/Science Fiction reader for that matter.

    10. Cookie cut Book: The last thing I really hate are the books that are designed along a common theme, but depend more on the tropes in a genre then anything new or original on their own. This can take many forms, and isn’t just confined to LitRPG. I don’t mind using common tropes, and reading books that use many of my favorite ones, but there are a few really bad authors that do nothing but use tropes to the point you can pretty much map their plot with them and there is nothing new, or unique to their story.
     
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2019
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  6. David M Zahn

    David M Zahn Level 8 (Thug) LitRPG Author Citizen Aspiring Writer

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    Honestly with fiction (in any format) for me it comes down to one basic question. Is it entertaining? If the answer is yes then then I can forgive almost anything whereas if it isn’t then I can be pretty harsh on a story.

    I’ll use N.K Jemisin’s The Fifth Season as an example since it’s not a LITRPG and I’m unlikely to hurt her sales. The book won the Hugo and is very well written, better than I could write a book, but it was incredibly boring. The world and magic system are both really interesting but the characters and the plot just put me (and several others according to other reviews) asleep. I would rather read a book with a ton of flaws than one written well but that doesn’t keep me interested or entertained.
     
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  7. Joshua Bender

    Joshua Bender Level 5 (Veteran) LitRPG Author Citizen

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    True, I've run into this myself. Sometimes author's improve upon their work, as time goes on, sometimes they just can't quite pull that off. Looking at my own list, I think each of it's points impact how entertaining, or engaging a book is. That said, there are a few books I can think of where the writer has an interesting hook, plot etc in the early portions but fails to keep my interest later in the book, or the following books fall flat.

    So what are the biggest mood killers? I'm sitting here thinking, and I think it depends on how an author uses his or her world. As you mentioned, if they have a very interesting world but do not move their characters through it. And if you spend too much time just building the world and not testing it's limits, it's also an issue. Also, the tone of the book, and the way the author presents the material is important.

    What is most important to you, the tone/voice the author uses, the world, or the action? All three I think play a large role. It's not easy trying to balance the normal literature bedrock between tension, description, etc. Which is the ones you guys think are the most important?
     
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2019
  8. Windfall

    Windfall Level 18 (Magician) LitRPG Author Citizen

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    I'd have to go with... inconsistency. Style is one thing, and that's subjective. Inconsistency is, well... a noob mistake.
    Also, systems that make no sense.
    But my ultimate personal dislike is self-inserts / un-self-aware power fantasies. They just make me feel icky, like being in the presence of someone who is loud and only talks about themselves. That kind of attitude comes through in the writing.

    Sorry... on a huge jet lag and can't type.
     
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  9. Windfall

    Windfall Level 18 (Magician) LitRPG Author Citizen

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    Here's my jet-lagged answer, which might or might not make sense tomorrow.

    For me, it's the whole crafting process of a story. It's everything -- how a writer puts all their ingredients there and how they bake and serve it. So, I'd throw another word in there: structure. Structure is huge for me, because it reflects planning, and if you do have a good structure, a lot of your other stuff is going to be good, too, because structure is difficult to do. But, then, too much structure and it's formulaic, and it dies a constricted death, so then you need all that flair to breathe, to bring it to life, things that break the structure a little bit, stretch the narrative a little bit. For me, it's how the author pushes and pulls between the structure and the spillage of passion and balance them. But then the whole thing also has to be a journey, so you build things up and then deliver the pay off. Then, hidden in there somewhere guiding the story, if you can also include a coherent theme, then you're gold. A story isn't just a series of happenings. It's everything. I'm willing to forgive a lot if I see an author making an attempt at all of this.
     
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  10. Kidlike101

    Kidlike101 Level 17 (Theurgist) Citizen

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    Personal reasons for me


    Imbalance in word to content ratio.

    I notice this A LOT in litrpg, more so then other niche publications. Authors seem to think that more pages = better so you end up with full on chapters that are just... words. The clearest example in my mind is The land series, The very first chapter is about 20 pages to tell the "Sell your soul to satan is hidden in the user agreement" joke... it's one line how do you even manage that!!! The later Shaman books also did this, full chapters go by before you get a drop of actual story or content. It's just wasting the reader's time.


    Plot goes nowhere

    A story needs something, It can be plot bases where events are the major driving force, can be character driven where a character's arch is what keeps you invested Or, and this one is the biggest gamble, an Alice in wonder land where the world itself has different rules and you are here to explore them.

    Bad litrpg thinks it's the Alice one But is actually giving you a generic world. Tries to be character driven but because the characters are minus one dimension adds in frills and maybe a plot to keep things going.


    Grown men regressing to 14 because YA.

    I realize that the YA crowd is profitable but seriously? It's worse when the MC is clearly a self insert, I rarely finish these because the MC just strikes me as pathetic. If you want to write about teenagers doing teenage things that's fine but not a 36 year old having highschool drama then pulling the age has it's privileges whenever he's backed to a corner. Earn it damn it!!!!


    Chosen one who is not special put totally is you guys!

    Goes back to the YA novel thing, The author waxes poetics about how normal the MC is, how he's like everyone else and not special at all... but has super speed, super strength, can charm a snake with his smile and women drop their panties at his feet. He also has a magic sword, magic helmet and will always be given a cheat coupon at every turn because only he could do that thing... the thing that nobody has done before even though he is normal and therefor anyone else would do. Magic Helmet!


     
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  11. TravisBach

    TravisBach Level 13 (Assassin) LitRPG Author Citizen

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    Being boring due to a lack of any real stakes/consequences.


    I will happily put up with a lot of flaws in a given book so long as it entertains me. Being boring, however, is an unforgivable sin.

    What usually makes me clock out of an otherwise fun book is the moment I realize that the author has no interest in the protagonist suffering or being challenged in any meaningful way. Litrpg tends to be a genre rife with this issue in particular. It can range from brokenly OP characters to characters who never suffer for their mistakes, or it can be a book about people playing a game where there's no consequence to death and so nothing they do in VR really matters. Its just three books worth of some uninteresting people dicking around in a game.

    Which I would still read
    but the authors who do this usually aren't writing slice-of-gamer-life or a social gamer drama (two of my favorite things. Hi, Wotakoi!), which is how one would make such a set up interesting. (ie with social stakes instead of life-and-death ones)

    Edit: This is why I'm over in the blurb critique thread constantly harping on people to spell out the stakes in their blurb. Litrpg usually = video games, which we assume has no permadeath, so it has a burden other fiction does not when it comes to informing potential readers as to why we care about the MC's struggles.
     
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  12. Kidlike101

    Kidlike101 Level 17 (Theurgist) Citizen

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    This is something I notice in a few genres with an adventuring theme. The stakes are usually = save the (gaming) world or we are all doomed!

    Or

    Your princess is in another castle.


    I don't think people realize that the bigger the stakes, the lower they actually are.

    The world won't end, you are giving the MC get out of jail free cards at every turn so they won't die. I already know where this is headed.


    One trick that always works on me is low stakes.

    Will MC get his trading permit or will he be foiled by a specist system that just buries him in red tape and be forced to close shop.


    Will his girlfriend attend comic con or will her cosplay fall to pieces?


    Sounds silly but admit it, the stakes are so low that the MC might actually fail and this I find interesting because even if they do they will move on BUT you the reader are invested in this struggle so you want them to succeed... or fail, totally depends.
     
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  13. Windfall

    Windfall Level 18 (Magician) LitRPG Author Citizen

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    Well said.

    Bring on the suffering! Oh, wait. I mean... meaningful challenges.

    You've got me thinking that maybe it's because some people don't deal with negative emotions well and go to great lengths to avoid them, resulting in them never wanting their darling MCs to suffer. Or maybe they don't feel comfortable touching on negative emotions at all. The more emotionally mature you are, the better characters you write, I think. I guess that's why writers peak when they're old.
     
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  14. Windfall

    Windfall Level 18 (Magician) LitRPG Author Citizen

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    I hate that, too. Can the world not be ending for once? I mean... it's always ending in every superhero/fantasy movie/novel/comics that it's starting to become a joke.
     
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  15. TravisBach

    TravisBach Level 13 (Assassin) LitRPG Author Citizen

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    Something I love most about sports animes, cooking animes, or Hajime No Ippo are that they get me hugely invested in stakes that arent life/death/world. Which means that the protagonist can lose. It gives the tension real teeth.
     
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  16. TravisBach

    TravisBach Level 13 (Assassin) LitRPG Author Citizen

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    I think one of the reasons why Game of Thrones and grim dark work so well are because they establish that no one is safe and just because a character is a hero doesnt mean that all their hopes and dreams might not come crashing down in the very next chapter.

    I dont like to read Grim Dark for this very reason, but as a convention it serves its genre very well.
     
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  17. Brian Foster

    Brian Foster Level 9 (Burgler) LitRPG Author Citizen

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    When I'm reading outside LitRPG, I agree with you completely. When I'm reading LitRPG, though, the leveling up, character progressing mechanic interests me so much that I don't necessarily need protagonist suffering/being challenged to make me keep reading. In fact, sometimes I actually find myself feeling refreshed that a lot of LitRPG stories don't include the stuff that drives the plots in other genres.
     
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  18. TravisBach

    TravisBach Level 13 (Assassin) LitRPG Author Citizen

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    I really can't argue ^__^. If it's entertaining, it's entertaining. Hell, I just finished reading a reborn town-builder that was this.
     
  19. Brian Foster

    Brian Foster Level 9 (Burgler) LitRPG Author Citizen

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    Honestly, most of what is considered bad or good in books comes down to very subjective preferences.

    Millions of people seem to absolutely love Game of Thrones. I pretty much hate the series with a fiery passion (though I still somehow made it through five books before quitting in disgust). Does that mean it's a good series or a bad one?

    It all really depends on your perspective.
     
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  20. Kidlike101

    Kidlike101 Level 17 (Theurgist) Citizen

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    Bad.

    The answer is bad.

    How did you even manage? I couldn't even make it through book one. It was clear that the author had no love for any of his characters, he was after shock value. Oh you like this guy? Dead. What about this one? He bangs his sister, family tradition. The other kid (good one) vegetative state for no reason.

    Every single event is unpleasant, everyone is as disposable as a tissue. Pure shock value and clear contempt for his fellow man.
     




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