(This post originally went live on March 4th, 2022.)
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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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’.
- 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.
- 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.
- Masquerade balls aren’t necessary!
- 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.