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A Letter

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I wrote this letter for the introduction to a platformer I am currently in the process of writing the design documents, story, and script for, and I would like some guidance from the people at this forum. Firstly, how do I make it sound more Victorian? Secondly, how do I make the letter sound realistic without revealing the player's gender or name?
My dear Mr. Collins, In your previous letter you told me in some depth of the prowess of your adoptive child in all curriculums and subjects offered at your school. Such an exceptional child is a rare occurrence, and a blessing from Matthias, as I am certain you will agree. Thus, as the child draws ever nearer to the school-leaving age, I am full of concern for its future. For a child so bright, so talented, it would be a sin to waste its talents in a menial job such as those offered to the lower class of your small village. Thus, I put the question to one of my good friends, a Professor Montague. His exact line of unknown to me, and I think too to all else but himself, but a better man I have never met. After my contact with him, and after much protest on his side, I managed to persuade him to take the child as an understudy to him, and if they and yourself agree, so he says, they may begin the very week after leaving your care. In this venture, I wish for both your agreements, for I desire no more than the child’s happiness. Your humble friend, William Descartes (Prof. Of English Literature, Bridgeford University)

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You could start with the names. Victorian = British. But Montague is an Italian namd and Descartes is French. Collins works.

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Scroll down for short, short, short format.

How do you make it sound more Victorian?

Here's the thing, you don’t want it to sound more Victorian. Americans cannot understand the Victorian era, because we live in a culture that tells you not to waste your time with things you don’t need to know. The average sentence length in the Victorian era was, guess.... Wrong, it was around 85 words. Yours is about 24, and the average today is around 15. (My engrish teacher gave me the stats).

So with longer sentences come more complexity, and it takes more time to understand them. Here's the first sentence of a real life Victorian book called Belinda by Marie Edgeworth. It sucks in the beginning, but it really picks up around page 250:

MRS Stanhope, a well-bred woman, accomplished in that branch of knowledge, which is called the art of rising in the world, had, with but a small fortune, contrived to live in the highest company.

Now among other things, the word contrived meant something a little different about 150 years ago, but if I had written it, it would have said:

Mrs. Stanhope was good at living better than she could afford to.

That sentence isn't Victorian, because it’s too short, and it ends in a preposition (to). Check the next sentence:

She prided herself upon having established half a dozen nieces most happily; that is to say, upon having married them to men of fortunes far superior to her own.

This one’s easier to understand, and it goes on like this for 478 pages and ends with:

'Our tale contains a moral,and, no doubt,
You all have wit enough to find it out.'


And I just saved you from something that hurts, believe you me.

So the point of saying that is: You don't want it to actually be Victorian. (I'm going to assume that you haven’t studied the Victorian era in depth (good choice I say) or else you wouldn’t have to ask.) Therefore, I think you should just try to make it seem Victorian, because you aren’t writing for the Victorians, and they’re all dead so who cares what they think?

If you want it to be Victorian, then you have to read Victorian books, and they’re all 500 pages long, except a few that are 600-700. If you want it to do the job, then it just needs to seem Victorian to the audience. It is important to do your best on making things match up, but a story is not a history book. People who get flustered about it are making a big deal about nothing. It's like books that become movies. They're not the same thing. Someone will always know more than you about how the people used to visit Bath and what kind of Carriage Wheels they used and who really used to make the Best Starch at the time, but you aren't a historian. If you are, you're not a writer. You can do some of both, but you can only do one all the way.

If I were going to give you "tips" on how to make it "better" I would say, check out the book Vathek by William Bekford or The Castle of Ontranto by Horace Walpole. These are gothic horror stories from that time period, and they're only about 100-120 pages long. If you're going to go to that trouble, get the Oxford World’s Classics versions (Vathek: 0-19-283656-0; Castle-O-Ontranto: 0-19-283440-1)

That’s the "hard" way of doing it. You don’t have to read those books by any means, but you better read something if you want to ground it in reality. That's one of the things about total fiction; in fiction, you're never wrong because if you say it happened then it did.

So, in short, short, short format:

Read Victorian Books
Understand Victorian History
Write Victorian style
Dumb it Down for the Audience

I bet that was painful, sorry. My eyes hurt too.


I don't know why you would want the gender/name to be concealed, but I guess it probably means you don’t want to give something away. And I'll go out on a limb and say that it's something important, so I assume, assume, that you're not telling people, because it's important to the mystery of the plot.

Now that I've worked out what everybody already knows, I'll say that I don't think you should do it.

If you have the mystery because:

The plot would change if the mystery was revealed (think Clue on this one)

Then I would say just make it so the audience doesn’t know some other way, because having something that mysterious won’t surprise them. Here's an example:

Thorak, barrel chested warrior of the Undying Sun must slay the Evil Lich, King, or else the world becomes like every town was New York (Sorry New York, but I've been there and I did see someone peeing on a building.) Incidentally, Thorak has not been spotted yet and Mr. King is going to town on the village population. As a result some upstanding citizens come by twenty years later, once the world it totally yankified (I'm joking I swear), and the put down the Lich, King, once and for all, in the process revealing that the PC is Thorak, and it's a good thing it was a secret too, or else he would have been eaten as a child.

In that case, it's okay for people to know the name and gender of anybody, just as long as they don't know who Thorak is. This is the "Baby Jesus" scenario.

If the audience knows this one guy is totally shrouded in mystery, then it's not really a "surprise" it’s just kind of an unanswered question.


If the mystery is ruined by the player knowing said name/gender

Then I would say it would be a lot easier to just do something else. Mystery, in the paraphrased words of Orson Scott Card, is not about knowing very little, it's about knowing everything, except "...".

Short, Short, Short #2

Do Something Else

You can’t get caught up in authorial self gratification. As a writer, you need to be concerned with making a good story. That said, there are no rules in writing, and there is no reason at all to say it's impossible to make those work and work well, but there are mountains of evidence to say, most people don't really make those ideas turn out so well. If I was trying to do that, I would have to make it a comedy and I would let everyone know the name so I could make jokes about how nobody could tell whether "Pat" was male or female.

So you need to do things your own way, otherwise you’re writing someone else's story and not yours, but you should also make sure you’re doing the best job you can. Aside from that, what is there to worry about?

Short, Short, Short #3

Just Do Your Best and Don’t be an Ass

Have you forgotten the question yet? I don’t think I have, but I'm going to stop writing before I do.

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Zandor, I thank you for the reply, it was most informative and revealing, and I have therefore rewritten the letter. I trust it will meet your approval better, as it does mine.

My dearest Mr. Collins,

By the power of the benevolent gods, and most especially the one that persons, sir, of our caliber and education name Matthias the Scholar, I entreaty you to listen to my suggestion regarding your son, whom, similarly to my father, was not of the man he called “Father”'s blood, nor of his mind, in the beginning, and was instead found alone in a cruel world and taken in. Regarding this child of yours, I understand that, though taken in and proven and oft suggested to be cancerous of the mind, in both his gullibility, if you will forgive me for my obstinence, and his impossibility to stay on one singular task for any significant period, but instead being forced to often change topics, the child, to my information, has excelled in all subjects offered before him. Thus I find it most appropriate that I, through my latest conversation with my good friend Professor Jones, a thoroughly single-minded and focused man on many a topic, and, to avoid my digression, he has offered the child a place as his understudy. But be warned, for he seems to be keeping some secret from me, simply saying that he will need to enjoy the luxury of your signature giving him command of the boy for as long as you see fit, for the work he engages in is often dangerous, especially to one so young and intellectual, but so unexposed to horrors. I myself fail to see his logic in this, for though I have oft heard tell of lunatics such as the ones he is certain to command to be dangerous, surely the child would not be exposed to such advanced cases as these when just beginning his studies?
However, I am also certain that Mr. Jones would be gravest disappointed to hear of your disapproval, or else the child's, for he has been saying for some time to me, long before the boy was ever mentioned, that he has had difficulty in finding an assistant. If you wish to talk to me further on this matter, or else come to tell me that the child or yourself have refused, then I ask you to meet me to-night at a small village named Riverford, in a tavern named the Duke's Head, and there I shall bring the appropriate documents to, which, I say again, you may sign if willing.

Your humble friend,
Edmond Shire (Prof. Of British Literature, Guildfall)

Ah, and I have read and studied Dracula.

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Once again, the Short, Short, Short, is at the bottom.

Well I'm flattered, but one of the last things you should be worried about is my approval. This reminds me of something by a V. Woolf that I once read:

...the analogy between literature and the process, to choose an example, of making motor cars scarcely holds good beyond the first glance. It is doubtful whether in the course of centuries, though we have learnt much about making machines, we have learnt anything about making literature. We do not come to write better; all that we can be said to do is to keep moving, now a little in this direction, now in that, but with a circular tendency should the whole course of the track be viewed from a sufficiently lofty pinnacle.

...no 'method', no experiment, even the wildest - is forbidden, but only falsity and pretence. 'The proper stuff of fiction' does not exist; everything is the proper stuff of fiction, every feeling, every thought; every quality of brain and spirit is drawn upon; no perception comes amiss. (The Common Reader Vol. 1, Modern Fiction)

(Italics were added for emphasis)

Quite frankly I'm surprised I remembered that, because I aint won no 'wards fur bein' smrat.

Point is, it's important to do it your way, That's just the way it is. Writing comes from the mind. It can come from two minds, but if it does it's not the work of two people. You have to keep the same source. One mind, your mind.

Now I don't really know enough about what's going on to give you much insight on to how good or how not good this is. It does look pretty Victorian to me, and let me say, I really like how some of it sounds. "Was not of the man he called 'Father'" is spot on if you ask me. And "suggested to be cancerous of the mind"? That was funny.

But I have a really hard time reading text on a screen. I've done the text only games before, but I thought I was going to go blind. So if the writing is going to be small (in Neverwinter Nights on my computer, for instance, the writing is very small) then is need to be short as well, because the humble readers like myself will get lost. Now that is kind of the opposite of the Victorian point of view, so it would be a tough balance to strike.

Also, the sentences were complicated. I understand this is also pretty much, exactly what the Victorians did, but I'm not smart like the Victorians, and I had to read it slowly. Reading slowly isn't normally a problem, but the videogames I've played all my life have generally taught me in the ways of near-instant gratification, which makes it hard for me to do things like: watch Lawrence of Arabia (That's three hours before the intermission. The phrase OMG belongs with this movie.)

So it's difficult for me to follow, and I think that would disrupt the flow of the game for me.

(This'll probably be a long illustration, so I'm sorry in advance.)

Think of the best Halo player ever. Think about him being in a 1 vs. 15 match were nobody can do anything but melee, and he still comes out on top. Think about the masterful, nay, breathtaking displays of electronic agility and military prowess that he drops before breakfast.

Now take away the TV, and the controller. Imagine him, in a chair, but just doing what he always does. Look at him, he looks like an idiot. He's just twitching his fingers and eyes, and occasionally talking smack.

That's the physical part of playing a video game. It's not fun. No one would ever sit around and try to learn to tap their fingers within a hundredth of a second of a certain moment to score points. If you put a guitar in their hands then everything changes.

But that everything is entirely in the mind. When people play games, they're not doing anything fun at all. They're just getting tired and not blinking enough. So your job is extra hard, because you have to entertain the mind so much it forgets what a sucky time the body is having.

And to do that, you can't give it a chance to think about anything but you and your game. Well, just your game. So my logic is, if the player has to think too hard about what is going on, then you'll turn on parts of the brain that'll pull them away from the immersive experience. These aren't bad parts, everybody still needs them, but you want them to sleep for a little bit.

So I would say clarity is the key.

Short, Short, Short:


Again, yes, good stuff, but a game is a communal experience, you just have to do your whole part in advance.

And if you've studied Dracula then you've got to be sharper than me so just take everything I say with a grain of salt.

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Zandor has gone into quite a lengthy discussion about why Victorian style might be bad, but I'd like to disagree and say, if it fits your need, go for it. Most modern writing comes in the "no style" school of thought, making it easy to read but not particularly interesting. Just look at what atrocities end up on top of bestseller lists - these are mostly read-and-forget page turners. The text itself as well as the plot, story, action, etc are standardized to some extent, and quite often leave no impression whatsoever.

"Victorian" text reminds me a bit of modern German, so that may be why I have no particular issues with it, but more importantly, it provides you with the needed flavor.

However, like Zandor has stated, I'd try not to go overboard with it. If you have this kind of letter in a game, it should probably be a one-off deal, accompanied by good voice acting and perhaps even a short movie (candlelight, a writing quill, ink, old parchment, yellowish tones, etc). If I wanted to read Victorian literature, I'd read Victorian literature :-)

Montague and Descartes are both bad ideas for names since they are very, very famous and will immediately call up associations that you might not have intended, but it seems to me that you have already figured that out on your own ^_^;

As for writing text in that "archaic" style, the only advice is of course to read and emulate text from that period (meaning pretty much every British author from the 19th century, to some extent). Authors you might want to look into: Mary Shelley, the Brontë sisters, Joseph Conrad, Charles Dickens.

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Original post by lightbringer
...if it fits your need, go for it.

That was actually one of the points I was trying to make, thanks for making better than I did.

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Well, in that case, we agree anyway. It must have gotten lost on me somewhere in there. Granted, you were quite verbose. [smile]

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I do have trouble shutting up. If I'm just talking to someone, they usually let me know I've go on too long by leaving the room or by slapping me across the face. I can't get my computer to do either of those yet though. Maybe someday... [lol]

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I don't want to be mean, but I think you may have overshot your target in terms of flourish. For starters, you're a bit comma happy there. You might want to consider toning those down. There's also a large number of awkward sentences that are difficult to follow. I understand that you want to remain true to your Victorian inspiration but you have to keep your audience in mind. I'm not suggesting you throw the style away, I think Zandor and lightbringer have already made excellent cases in that regard, but simply that you consider refining the delivery of it. The hallmark of Victorian writing wasn't turgid style but the elegance with which the author's ideas flowed.

The biggest issue I have though is that, if this is in fact to be used as the intro to a game, it's simply too long. I'm reminded of the title crawls from the Star Wars movies: they're short and succinct. They take little time to read but still convey everything you need to know to enjoy the next two hours of story. Again, keep your audience in mind. They've sat down to play your game, not wade through a "realistic" letter they can barely make sense of.

From a more practical perspective, consider the handful of key points you want to convey to the player and focus on those.

-The child was taken in by Collins
-The child is exceptionally gifted
-Shire has a friend who is in need of an apprentice
-Jones and the child are a perfect match

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