Recently, in trying to escape from life as a college student, I’ve become addicted to several shows I haven’t seen before, especially BBC’s Merlin.
I love how Merlin’s character is portrayed, and it has inspired me to rethink some of my own characters.
When is a servant character too cliche? How can you avoid some of the common pitfalls with this character type?
I’ve done some research on this topic, so let’s figure this out together.
What is a Servant?
The difference between a slave and a servant are important to know. You don’t want to write your story the wrong way and spread misinformation.
- A slave does not have the power to leave their job, and they are not paid for their work. They might receive very harsh punishments for messing up a task or running away.
- A servant is like an employee who can leave the job if they choose. They’re often paid or rewarded for their work, and usually receive better treatment.
These two terms are not interchangeable.
Please don’t call your character a slave unless they are actually a slave.
Now let’s take a look at some of the servant tropes, and how they might affect your characters.
Tropes you might encounter with these characters include…
A great example of this is Samwise Gamgee from the Lord of the Rings.
Even when he didn’t get any credit, he took care of his friends, carried the ring for Frodo, and essentially saved Middle Earth.
A lot of servant characters are like this. They look a bit dumb on the outside, but on the inside, they’re stronger than every other person in the story.
And trust me, it’s a great trope.
However, what if…
• The servant is actually the weakest character and slows down the quest?
• Or the servant is stronger than everyone else and ends up dying anyway?
Why are there so many servants who are completely selfless and would die to save their masters?
Again, it’s not a bad thing in a story. I love a good self-sacrificing character. But if I just got hired to clean your house, I’m probably not going to take a bullet for you.
What would your character actually do in a life or death situation? Duty and loyalty aside.
What if your character was flawed, just like any other human, and instinctively saved themselves first?
It would make for an interesting story.
This is one of the reasons I love Merlin.
Time after time, sassy characters prove to be a favorite trope. They always have the perfect comeback, and they take great joy in being a smart aleck. The sass is unstoppable.
But not every character should have the perfect bon mot in every single scene. Sometimes, it can feel like the author is forcing the servant character to be funny, in order to have some comic relief.
If you decide to include a sassy servant, what are some ways their comebacks might get them in trouble?
How could their smart remarks serve a purpose in the story?
Also, make sure to know when your character should draw the line. They need to know when a joke is inappropriate, and when they need to be serious.
Last but not least, let’s look at one more crucial point about servant characters…
Who’s the Main Character Here?
In an effort to keep servants from blending into the background, a lot of writers let them hijack the story.
This is a common trope nowadays, and in some cases, it makes sense. If the servant is the main character, they should be in control of the story.
But what if they’re just a side character? How much control should they have over the story?
This gif is a picture of Childermass, the servant character from Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.
Childermass is not a title character, and he isn’t even noticeable for large portions of the book.
And yet, he does so much that the book might as well be called Jonathan Strange and Childermass.
If your main character isn’t active in their own story, and a side character has to take over, that’s a problem.
Of course, if the servant is the main character, this doesn’t apply to your story.
- The main character completely gives up their role, leaving room for the servant to take over
- The servant does everything wrong and the information they gather is useless
- The main character wakes up and starts taking action in their own story.
When it comes to a servant’s role in your story, the possibilities are limitless. Just make sure that your readers know who’s really in charge of the story.
Thanks for reading! I hope this post is helpful to you. If you have any advice to add, feel free to post it in the comments below.
See you next time!