#3 of 2022: Writing Nobility Tips

(This post originally went live on March 4th, 2022.)

King Bugs Bunny

As a fantasy author, I have to consider the layers of society.  Nobles are the clearest division because they are composed of the kings, queens, princes, princesses, and other titled folks.  A reader will have an immediate reaction to these characters even if they don’t realize it.  So, what is the best way to use them if they’re more than window dressing for the story?

  1. Not every noble has to be a pompous ass.  This is a strange trap that authors tend to run into, but readers don’t typically complain.  Maybe it’s a societal effect that those in the lower classes of society prefer to see those above us as evil.  Yet, it creates a problem for the fantasy world.  How could the civilization survive if everyone running it is selfish, evil, and corrupt?  You’d have to create a dystopian setting for that to make complete sense.
  2. The beloved ruler of a kingdom doesn’t have to be killed.  Doing so tends to be a trigger of a darker tone or a symbol of the death of innocent/purity/whatever.  We enjoy having our heroes fall and the good-hearted ruler tends to be sacrificed for the sake of drama.  It’s not always necessary or sensible.  Most times, it’s done primarily for shock value since they’re never the main hero.  It transforms the character into a plot device with dialogue.
  3. Nobles are not a hivemind system.  You can have variety in how they see their servants and other citizens.  I’m not talking the young noble who stands against the wall of oppressive elders/peers.  While that is a viable story, it turns all of the others into nothing more than a symbolic mass.  It prevents the group from having any variation in thoughts, words, and actions.  Have your named nobles act as if they are individuals to bring a clearer sense of their societal tier, which gives you access to more plot points than the simple ‘nobles are mean’.
  4. Not every noble stems from the same source.  Some earned their station through business, others through conquest, and more through inheritance.  Consider how a noble entered high society to help flush out their mentality.  They may have no idea what it’s like to live below their station or they may remember with a sense of bitterness.  Others may be curious about such a life since they know nothing more than decadence.  Again, make a variety of nobles.
  5. Consider what other characters think of nobles because it isn’t always love/hate.  If you look at our society, you can see the variety.  There will be those who despise them out of jealousy or distrust.  Others have clearer reasons due to being personally hurt by a noble.  You have those who aspire to be in high society and idolize the nobles without question.  These types can cause friction if they’re with anyone who dares to criticize their idols.  Finally, you have characters who simply don’t care.  They know nobles exist, but have better things to do with their lives.
  6. Masquerade balls aren’t necessary!
  7. If a noble joins a band of adventurers, you don’t have to make them a useless idiot who only brings trouble.  This goes back to how they’re commonly used.  Authors typically add a noble into a group for fiction.  Complaining about the walking, food, sleeping outdoors, and showing absolutely no sense of comradery.  They bring more problems than they solve when used this way, but this only makes readers hate them.  Even if you want them to be annoying and pampered, it’s best to give them some kind of positive quality.  Otherwise, people will wonder why they went on the adventure or are kept around.  Keep in mind that nobles tend to love stories as entertainment, so many won’t be as surprised at the trials as one would think.  Besides, this type of noble has been done so often that it doesn’t have much impact, so you need some kind of twist on it these days.

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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10 Responses to #3 of 2022: Writing Nobility Tips

  1. L. Marie says:

    Number 6 made me laugh out loud. No idea why the masquerade ball became such a staple. Maybe because of The Scarlet Pimpernel? Great tips! Totally agree about the need to keep it fresh and avoid stereotypes. Number 4 is so true! I can’t help thinking of all of the honorary knights and dames established during the late Queen Elizabeth’s reign. Most of them were not bluebloods. And I know the rank is an honorarium. But it goes with what you said. A monarch could bestow favor on someone and raise him or her to a rank.

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  2. Who governs the society is one of those basic things writers have to decide on, but after that it’s a matter of what’s important to the story. If the story is about a struggle against class barriers, then certainly you’d have nobles behaving badly. If it’s about coming of age and gaining the approval of society, then you’d have kindly, mentoring nobles.

    It’s interesting to follow trends in this. Tolkein came from a monarchist society and showed them as natural leaders (even with spiritual powers in some instances). For a long time, that was the pattern most fantasy followed. Countering that is Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire saga, where nobles who try to rule justly get slapped down fast. I think it depends a lot on the era, and if the author comes from a monarchist society.

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    • Tolkien certainly set the standard. I think that also prompted others to go in the opposite direction. Even in adventure stories, it’s common to have an evil king or noble. I’ve run into a lot of authors who have done that because they feel a corrupted leader is more believable than an honest one. Doesn’t say much for our society.

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      • Another thing about that is, having the government (in whatever form) be an antagonist definitely ups the stakes in a story. Governments can use the law against you, have layers of bureaucracy, many minions at their call. However, if every story written has this cynical view, it can add up to something quite corrosive.

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      • A problem I’ve had with the evil government trope is that it’s been done to death. Not originally either. Lately, I’ve seen it be done with the government being cartoonishly evil. Makes one wonder how they were put in charge when they’re so obvious.

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  3. I still got a laugh out of number six. Number seven brings to mind how nobles in the middle ages would lead the adventures. (King Arther, etc) To do a stereotypical complaining fop would really seem out of place in that kind of story. Good one, Charles.

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  4. V.M.Sang says:

    An interesting and valuable post, Charles.
    I have nobles in my Wolves of Vimar series and also in my Elemental World’s duo.
    In Wolves, one of the main characters is the heir to a powerful duchy. She is spoiled and thinks everyone not in the nobility is there to serve her. That’s at the beginning. She changes when she falls in love with one of her companions. Other nobles in this series vary, I think. There is the third son of another duke. He fills his time by occasionally disappearing to lead a bandit troop. He sees no real role for himself in the society.
    A young girl from a poor background is revealed as the illegitimate daughter of a duke, is recognised and adopted by him and has trouble adapting to her new life. (Especially her language!)

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