I'm trying to write a story based in medieval times.

Some of my characters are kings and nobles so I'm trying to make their conversations more... "regal"... or "elegant". But I'm unable to create authentic dialogue, as it's so far from how I usually speak.

What I mean by regal: instead of saying "That's rubbish!" they'd say "Such tripe!" or use words like banal or trite. They'd use sentences like "bred to fight and conquer" or similar, and convey a finer, upper class breeding.

Are there any reference resources to do this better? Or perhaps any pointers from anyone who has been through the same process?

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    Basically you are attempting to write in a language you are not familiar with. So you have to learn it. I would suggest finding videos or transcripts of British Parliament proceedings, writings by noble authors, and similar sources. One recommendation: don't overdo it. Readers might find such language tiring. – user5645 Nov 26 '14 at 7:32
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    This question might get more useful answers on the Worldbuilding site. – Goodbye Stack Exchange Nov 26 '14 at 18:05
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    @NeilFein I think it's actually a better fit here, as the OP is asking about conveying speech patterns more than developing a whole dialect. This seems to me to fall more on the "writing" side of the line. That said, user96551, you might also look at Worldbuilding for guidance. – Monica Cellio Nov 26 '14 at 21:09
  • Have them use the word "breeding" (in this context, and non-ironically). That should do it... – DM_with_secrets May 22 at 11:20

In my experience, language that conveys higher social-economic status generally has a wider vocabulary, uses more complex or rare words (and more foreign words), is (at least superficially) more polite, and is more indirect and euphemistic. It tends to be abstract and emotionally removed, and can be poetic in a clever or intellectual way. It's basically an intersection of highly educated with highly "refined" (meaning highly trained in things such as manners and manipulation).

Language for lower-socioeconomic status is more direct and blunt, more sensual, less polite, more emotional, more likely to use curse words, and to rely on a smaller and simpler vocabulary. It can be poetic in a vivid and earthy way.

Both groups will also have their own characteristic slang and in-jokes. There are also always exceptions to these rules (and people who emulate the speech patterns of the opposite group for effect). Rather than just using stock phrases, you'll want to understand the different ways the groups use language --for the upper class, it's part of a complex and political web of constantly shifting social status.

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If you want to write a noble character, you have to first understand what nobility is about. Your comment – "To convey a more finer upper class breeding." – conveys to me that you don't actually think that nobels are any different from us common folk, but arrogantly believe so themselves.

The fact is that individuals from noble families know their lineage a couple hundred or even a thousand years back, and usually have a host of close relatives that hold important positions in politics, the military, science, the arts, and so on. Psychology has found that socioeconomic status is a strong predictor for intelligence and success in all areas of life. So basically, when you are noble born, you grow up knowing that you are privileged, you are trained to fill that role, and you have resources (psychological, emotional, social, financial, etc.) that others can only dream about. If you are nobel born and not demented, you cannot fail at life.

It is this background that is expressed in the behavior – including linguistic behavior – of nobles. They act and speak from the self-assurance that comes with being related to kings. They are older than democracy, and will outlast us.

Writing a noble character is not mere choice of words, but grasping their difference from us. Others might use words like "trite", but only a noble can used it without appearing a wannabe. He is the real thing.

Since nobles have spoken in public and written books, it shoud be fairly easy to find sources that documents their language. I'd start maybe with videos of members from the British House of Lords, find interviews with nobles in documentaries on YouTube, etc.

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    Yes, this. Nobility is an attitude born of privileged status; language is a consequence. – Monica Cellio Nov 26 '14 at 15:40
  • Lovely... That first para does capture part of the essence correctly... I will definitely look into the house of Lord's videos and thank you for providing an insight into the psyche of a noble... I understand now... Nobility is an attitude... Not just lineage... Thanks to Monica too – user96551 Dec 1 '14 at 3:11
  • @user96551 if you found one of the answers here to be particularly helpful, remember that you can mark it as accepted by clicking on the checkbox under the voting buttons. There is no requirement that you do so, but if your question has been answered, doing that signals that you're happy. It also gives the author of that answer some reputation. – Monica Cellio Dec 3 '14 at 3:16
  • This answer still makes me a little queasy --probably the American in me --but I'll rescind my earlier comment. – Chris Sunami supports Monica May 4 '16 at 16:14
  • @ChrisSunami Maybe you want to elaborate on your queasiness? So I can either address it or admit that you are right to feel queasy. – user5645 May 4 '16 at 17:58

If you're after a medieval/renaissance style, there is of course Shakespeare, Marlowe and Bacon to draw from, but bear in mind these guys were writing for stage & so in a heightened style, often employing poetic devices that a person speaking in real life wouldn't use. Project Gutenberg has a collection of the love letters of King Henry VIII, which gives an indication of the kind of language used by a King to women he wishes to woo & make his wife. You can find those here: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/32155/32155-h/32155-h.htm Otherwise, can I suggest British period costume dramas, such as the classic BBC ones of the 70s & 80s, and Downton Abbey? Maggie Smith's character in Downton immediately springs to mind when talking about aristocratic affectations.

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  • Aristocratic affectations.... I like that and am going to use that...:)... Thank you for the links... And i agree that Shakespeare et all would be a bit to much and that's why i did not go for them... Will give a whirl to downtown Abbey – user96551 Dec 1 '14 at 3:05

I have to disagree with @what. While it's true that nobles are born and raised with many advantages ON THE AVERAGE, there is still a large fluctuation about the mean. And a stupid noble will often not be more successful and happier than a stupid ditch digger, for the obvious reason that the stupid noble is out of place, forced to attempt to perform at a level he cannot possibly achieve. His stupidity ruins the lives of all those beneath him, who were counting on him to properly perform his societal duties.

Similar arguments could be made for aristocrats who are evil, lazy, arrogant, sickly, crazy, foolish, profligate, or any one of another dozen human failings I could name. (Or combination thereof!)

This is one of the main reasons that Americans rejected aristocracies. It is also, by the way, the reason why American voters ought to be highly skeptical of politicians following in their parents' or spouses' footsteps. (Personally, I would make that unconstitutional.)

What does this off-topic rant have to do with your question? :-D The upper classes in your book(s) should have all the normal problems of the average Joe, but those problems will get addressed differently than those of the average Joe. Remember the movie, "The King's Speech"? For an average Joe, being a severe stutterer would have been an annoying handicap. For the heir to the throne, it was cataclysmic.

So, upper classes are EXPECTED to use hoity-toity words, whether or not they have the intelligence or wit or vocabulary to pull it off properly. If they DON'T use hoity-toity words, it is covered up, or chalked up to quirkiness, or made fun of by superiors (to their face) and by inferiors (behind their backs). Exception: if they are powerful enough, their manner of speaking becomes the new hoity-toity. (Case in point: one English king had a lisp. Soon all the aristocrats were affecting a lisp, and eventually speaking with a lisp became a sign of aristocracy.)

Your upper classes are EXPECTED to converse "intelligently" about "proper" subjects, but they won't necessarily be told how stupid, trite, and plain wrong their conversation is. Use this; run with it; have fun with it; be cruel with it; make it a source of pathos. Have some of your aristocrats be the genuine article, of course, and have them react in different ways to the pathetic aristocrats who can't keep up. See "The Scarlet Pimpernel", "Zorro", P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves novels, Jane Austen's novels, and most of Dickens's novels.

For ten-dollar words, use a Roget's Thesaurus. (NOT a "New Roget's Thesaurus", which is awful.)

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Your problem is not writing nobility, your problem is writing peasantry.
In modern day we are all well educated and mostly speak the queen's English. In medieval times only the nobility would speak this way. If you want to be authentic your peasants should speak in an uneducated way making grammar mistakes. They may use double negatives, and only know simple words. A few examples that come to mind are: "slave speak", "redneck speak", "ghetto speak". The one you pick may change by region as peasants don't usually travel and have very inbred dialects. Peasants would also compare everything to things they know. Their metaphors would be based on farming, or things in very close proximity. Nobles would make allusions and describe things in a more global scale.
Another part of a peasant is that they are most likely very religious. Everything int heir conversation would most likely tie back to god. The nobility is much more likely to be agnostic. More when talking among themselves. They have a much larger feeling of being in control of their own lives. So the final product may be something like "Me gonna to go down this road god willin" vs "I am going to travel this road the the capital city" On the other hand nobility would speak like us. Use correct grammar, and a large vocabulary. Using British words, or older English gets the point across, but not in an honest way. If everyone is speaking modern English, everyone is speaking modern English. Our politicians don't fall back to old English to sound fancy.

Game of thrones has the popular example of this with peasants saying "milord" and nobility "my lord" because they know it's two words

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