Terrible Writing Advice – Chapter 35: NOBLE HOUSES

A vendetta between noble houses is like a fine wine, overpriced and leaves you with a headache if you have too much of it. Avoid both with my video on how to write noble houses!

My Honest Thoughts on Noble Houses

Noble houses provide a deep well of conflict to draw from, but only if the writer is willing to pay the upfront costs of time spent worldbuilding. Too much time spent worldbuilding a group of noble houses and the less time that is spent on writing the story itself. Too little time spent worldbuilding noble houses and the more shallow they will seem and provide less opportunities for new and engaging conflicts. A well built set of royal families can provide a great return on investment if a reasonable amount of time and focus is spent on their design.

A big advantage of noble houses is that it can justify why the noble protagonist is already a sword master at a young age. Of course he already has a set of valuable skills and equipment. His family can afford the best. The lost royal heir hiding in a peasant village is already years behind in terms of skill and has to be taught from scratch. No time to learn cool magic or swordsmanship when working on a farm. This can be really useful for the writer who isn’t really interested in training their protagonist from the ground up.

Another useful function of a noble house is it gives various characters pre-established relationships. A noble protagonist already has allies, enemies, rivals, and probably even a marriage lined up before the story even starts. While showing all of this can be tricky, if a writer can pull it off then the story is off to a running start.

Stories featuring noble houses are also good candidates for strong themes revolving around families. Since, like, a good chunk of the population has lived in a family most will at least find some resonance with theme. Plus a writer can really dig into how screwed up families can be.

There is also a bit of wish fulfillment when it comes to protagonists part of a noble family. Being the lost royal heir to the throne can be neat, but the lost heir doesn’t really get to reap the benefits of being a wealthy royal until the end of the story. A protagonist in a noble house starts the story with a taste of the good life. Of course, the lost heir doesn’t deal with the downsides of the noble life as well, mainly the politics.

Allow me to heap praise once again upon the usual suspects, Dune and Game of Thrones. Dune has a House Badguys in the form of the Harkonnens. Yet even House Harkonnen manages to invest in industry. Actually they invest in industry a bit too much. They also have gladiatorial games so they have a bread and circuses thing going on that explains why anyone would want to work under them. House Atreides was not always House Goodguys either. The Duke’s father was a harsh man. The intrigue in the book is pretty solid. I can’t say the same for the movie adaptation where the Baron was as dumb as he was ugly and he was VERY ugly.

Game of Thrones does a pretty good job with its houses as well. House Lannisters actually takes care of its people pretty well even if Tywin is a huge jerk. It’s also why they keep winning the war against the Starks even though the Starks keep winning all the battles. More money, more manpower. Also, the world of A Song of Ice and Fire has a lot of detail in its houses. Sometimes a bit too much detail. It avoids the House Backgroundextras problem, though it does replace it with House Whyamireadingaboutthesejerks?

I made an offhand joke in the video about how royal courts are a lot like high school. I think it’s a pretty good comparison. Both are self contained worlds whose members would quickly find themselves in trouble if they had to survive in the outside world. Both are places where social capital is everything. Both take their slights both petty and vindictively. Self contained worlds almost always seem to devolve into a popularity contest. Just look at the politics of Versailles. Actually, Versailles is a good example of something for a lot of writers to consider. The French nobles did an excellent job of locking themselves away and getting lost in their own petty intrigues until the French Revolution came crashing down upon them. Nations and empires are always subject to outside forces no matter how isolationist they want to be. Royal courts get into trouble when their own country becomes an outside force.

One last thought. I really hope future authors also consider using a few more constitutional monarchies. There is just as much opportunity for conflict. Maybe I just like building governments. I mean, they barely function, but that just makes them more realistic!