I personally really enjoy an ensemble cast in a story, and they get bonus points in my book if they’re pushed together by circumstances rather than by choice. One of my favorite things about the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie is seeing how the Guardians come together and how utterly dysfunctional they are in the beginning.
The question is: how do we write such dynamic groupings in
our own work? How do we engage our readers with mismatched casts without just
annoying them or coming up short?
Last week I wrote about how to write a tyrant. This week I will write about what makes a good monarch or leader.
The ideal monarch is calm and focussed. He or she does not allow emotions to easily sway them.
Good War Strategist
This in of itself does not make a good leader or monarch. Robert Baratheon was a great soldier in his day, but he made a terrible king. He drank and whored himself to an early-ish grave. (Let’s face it he wasn’t young, but he could have easily reigned for another decade if he had been a bit more clever.) Another great war strategist was Robb Stark, also from Game of Thrones. He won every battle he faced but it was his personal choices that undid him. If you don’t already know about the Red Wedding then I have to ask, have you been hiding under a rock these past 6 years?
Ned Stark from Game of Thrones was a paragon of honour, but it led to his death. A good monarch should know when to be honest and when to lie, but they ought to always keep their vows. Without honour how can you subjects or other kings and queens trust you?
A Sense of Justice
A pessimist (or a realist, depending how you look at it) may say there is no justice in the world. So it’s up to the monarch to ensure that the laws are just and that the weak are protected. This is not always easy as justice can look different to different people. It is up to the monarch to ensure that the evil are punished and victims are compensated.
Does What is Necessary
A good monarch cares about their subjects and does what they can to protect them, even when such choices are difficult.
Of course a monarch can still do this and be a villain if they do not care for others outside of their own country. Irial from Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely series is a good example of this. In Marr’s series faeries exist and each court is often at odds with each other. As King of the Dark Court, Irial is at odds with the Summer Court in Ink Exchange — the second book of the series. The Dark Court are known for their dark appetites and their cruelty. In order to keep his court strong Irial created the curse that bound the Summer King’s powers. On one hand this clearly makes Irial an antagonist to the Summer King, but as the novel is in 3rd person POV with 3 characters, including Irial, he is actually a protagonist and we’re given insight into the fact that he only cursed the Summer King for the sake of his own subjects, who needed the Summer Court weak in order to thrive.
A good monarch is kind, not only to their own subjects, but to people form other kingdoms. A good example of this is King Harrow from The Dragon Prince. In Season 2 of the animated TV show, the two queens of Duren, Annika and Neha, make a supplication to King Harrow of Katolis, asking for food due to their own country’s lack of resources. Rather than turn them away, King Harrow proposes to share his food, and in their suffering as Katolis does not have enough food to feed both kingdoms. One might consider this a bad thing, as Harrow has sentenced thousands of his own kingdom to die slowly from hunger, but the act of humanity he shows in sharing makes him a good monarch in my opinion. For those who have seen The Dragon Prince you know that is not the end of the story, and they do indeed find a way of getting more food, though at great cost.
Who is your favourite monarch from fiction, or history, and why? Let me know in the comments below.
Fantasy is filled with kings and queens, both kind and cruel alike. Today we will focus on the cruel ones and dissect what characteristics make a truly tyrannical leader and how to write a tyrant.
Narcissism & Selfishness
A narcissist is a person who has an excessive interest in or admiration of themselves. It is a personality disorder, but nowadays it is used interchangeably to mean a self-centered individual. This can lead to confusion, but in this article I will use it to refer to the disorder.
Characteristics of of Narcissistic Personality Disorder include but is not limited to:
Frequent lies and exaggerations
Rarely admits flaws
Aggressive when criticised
They are emotionally abusive
Believe they are special and only relate to other special people
Only 1% of the world is diagnosed with NPD. The rest are just selfish individuals. Some psychiatrists, however, believe the disorder exists on a spectrum, verging from mildly narcistic to pathological. In order to write a tyrant I advise you showcase at least 3 of the above symptoms.
Not every hedonist is a tyrant, but most tyrants do give into their sexual urges. We can see this through multiple wives or concubines, and frequent orgies, such as is the case with Roman Emperor, Caligula. While such sexual pleasures can be healthy and consensual, we know that tyrants do not often accept the word ‘no’. Historically, practices like prima nocta existed which allowed rulers to sleep with subordinate women, often on the night of their wedding, before they slept with their husbands. While it is possible to sleep around and be an effective ruler, in order to write a tyrant, your tyrant should focus solely on their own wants and desires pursing sexual partners and leave matters of state to others.
Lack of Empathy
You forgot to ask one question! You forgot to ask me if I’m a liar! I’m afraid, I am. Everything I told you is a lie. This isn’t happening to you for a reason. Well, one reason; I enjoy it!
-Ramsay Bolton from Game of Thrones
Lack of empathy is a hallmark trait of those with ASPD, or Anti-social Personality Disorder. Those afflicted with it do not know how to put themselves in the place of others and feel what they might be feeling.
Characters like Joffrey Baratheon and Ramsay Bolton are infamous for their cruelty. This is because they simply don’t know how to empathise. Of course, a character can have little to no empathy and not actively torture people. In this case the characterisation would have to be a bit more subtle. Perhaps your king or queen doesn’t spend much time with their children because they know they can never love them. Or maybe they don’t know how to say the right words to their partner when they are going through a hard time. My point is, not every person with ASPD is cold-hearted murderer. Sometimes they’re the CEO of a successful company, or someone who enforces the law, or yes, a king or queen.
Tyrants never allow for criticism of their governing. Emperor Tiberius infamously began a series of trials known as the Treason Trials, which meant that citizens were arrested and sentenced to die for simply saying something against the emperor.
Tyrants will disregard centuries of tradition in order to put into place laws and traditions of their own that will better serve themselves. A good example of this was Henry VIII. He undid centuries of Catholicism to become a protestant in order to marry Anne Boleyn, and so he could become the head of the church and amass more wealth.
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