Dialogue: I need your opinion!



I have a question (will probably have more later :grin:) and would love to hear your input. Any feedback would be mighty helpful.

One of the games I’m writing is set in the Victorian Era in London. I have been (and am) doing a lot of research about the time period and am having trouble deciding on how dialogue should be implemented. They didn’t really use different words, minus the slang used in lower classes, but they didn’t really speak with contractions and used, for a lack of a better word, ‘fancier’/elevated diction. I’ve been reading a lot of Charles Dickens and other short stories to get a feel for their speech but am left with this question:

Would you prefer regular (modern) dialogue implemented or prefer historical correctness?

I’ve searched for the answer to this question already and the consensus has been pretty divided. The ideas come down to, “Since it’s not actually written in the time period, I’d prefer modern language (barring modern slang) because I think it’s easier to identify with and easier to write. Things written, for example, based in a setting where a different language would have been used still utilizes modern English because that’s what the readers understand/like.” The other side boils down, typically, to “Since it is set in a setting where English (though not old English) was used and understandable, I prefer that to be implemented. It adds to the overall setting and helps me identify with the story more by adding immersion.”

Side note: Either way, the setting will be correct (as far as technology and such goes). I was just divided on this because there’s support for both ways. I would just do what I want to write, but the trouble is I’m fine with either. I’ve tried writing with the ‘style’ of the era and enjoyed it, and I’ve re-written the same passages with modern ‘style’ and have enjoyed it. Now I’m just unsure of how to proceed. Please help.

Andddd, I think I’ve added enough words for one question! Sorry for the massive text, any help is much appreciated. <3


I would prefer old English, as I know quite a bit of it and it …improves the story for me, for lack of a better word. However, not everyone will really understand old English, so that’s a factor to keep in mind as well.


Trick with that kind of thing is ‘implying’ it, you needn’t go full bore and confusing but you can do enough to ‘imply’ an accent. Throwing in a few old english terms here and there, its easier and less off-putting to the average reader.

BUT there can be a ton-o-fun writing in full immersion.


Totally agree with this. Not everyone will be familiar with Old English terms and such, might make some readers confused unnecessarily, and you wouldn’t want to alienate anyone. This is the best option to keep larger number of people, in my opinion.


Well, as you stated initially, there isn’t much ‘old’ English in the 19th Century. I would recommend that you go fully native and have the characters speak as they would have done so in reality. As you know they spoke Modern English (Old English was more like German and hadn’t been spoken for nearly a thousand years by this point) so all the words are there.

It would add a distinctiveness and tone to your piece that other pieces lack. Some other games have taken on the time period but essentially their characters remain in the 21st Century in terms of their diction and cultural mores. I don’t necessarily disagree with this, but there isn’t any game that really sticks the landing and goes whole-hog with the language and characterization.

I think that a lot of the prose from that period can be very entrancing, because the Author has this great library of words and draws from a deep well of history and culture and great poetic tradition to weave these solid-looking walls of meaning-dense text. It’s very Victorian at the end of the day, and I’d like to see someone really tackle that.


As long as the content is understandable, I prefer the use of authentic speech. In your case this would be ‘fancier’ Victoria language.


Thank you for your answers, everyone!

Just to add quick clarity; When I say ‘modern’ English I just mean the way in which we converse now versus in the 19th century. They still used words that are used today but they spoke in a much less ‘hurried’ fashion. (E.g. Contractions, going back to that example, still existed but weren’t often used. If you have ever written a paper and looked up synonyms of a common word to sound more eloquent, those synonyms would be their standard.)

It seems like the biggest fear and reserve on the 19th century style is that the dialogue would be too convoluted? But other than that it seems interesting? I think, according to your opinions, I’ll go with the Victorian style and then I can post a demo and gather your feedback on that. If it is hard to understand then I can work on dialing it back. :wink:

@Moreau I entirely agree with Victorian writing being captivating. Hopefully I will be able to pull off such a feat!

And thanks once again, you all have been of the utmost help! Feel free to carry on this discussion if you want. I’d still love to hear your comments and ideas.


I think you should add more formal old English so the player can slip into the time period, but also keep it modern enough so no one gets confused.


This would probably be a different issue if your setting were based on an earlier time period. A medieval English setting would probably require you to use modern English, with a few anachronistic old-timey sounding phrases for flavor. Chaucer is probably the most famous English writer from before Shakespeare’s time, and to understand him you need to either take a class on Chaucer (which I did once), or buy a translation (which I did after I dropped the class).

No native English speaker needs a translation to read Charles Dickens. (Though in some instances they might need a dictionary.) People who like the setting will be pretty familiar with the language—enough to follow what is going on, anyway.

If you want to get slangy, and have people saying things like, “Don’t you b’leeve him, sir. Any bird may a’roost in my bonnet,” then you might want to make sure that the player can get along without fully understanding the dialogue in question.


Thank you for your answers! <3

@babbleyaggle - Ooh, I don’t think I would ever have the convictions to join such a class. :o Did you enjoy it while you were taking it? And that was definitely a point of contention in the replies; since Victorian English is pretty much just modern English, and not to the severity of Shakespearean levels, people were saying there wasn’t a need for contemporary employments. And thank you SO MUCH for that link, ahh!

And haha, when I incorporate heavy ‘slanged’ conversations I am hopefully going to provide, basically, a glossary. Perhaps. I haven’t actually gotten to such a conversation yet so I’ll see how that goes. o.o (For sure don’t want people getting lost!)

Okay! Since it will be a while before I have an actual demo going, here is just a random excerpt that isn’t being used. I have re-written things soooo many times: In different perspectives (still deciding between first and third >,e), in different styles, and whatnot. Anywaysss, this is just a quick example. If you guys find this easy to understand, I think we’re good to go! Or if I need to reel it in/push it further, just tell me. :3

I was immured with the depravity and unbridled madness, to be sure, in which he held that unrelenting stare. There was danger there as with the moth and its intemperate interest piqued makes its way to the backlit fires, and that notion of fear licked away at my wit; but, just as the insect attends to its nature of that treacherous light, I could not draw my gaze from his. Perhaps my undoing can be blamed upon those deep-set eyes, those spheres of wondrous cruelty that had once filled my soul with the rot of humanity, the weight of which had so blatantly been calculated with rigid certainty, relentless conviction. Yes, perhaps when my own soul comes to be judged before the convictions of my crimes, atrocities that do not bear repeating but require it for sake of obsequious answerability, I will look on and blame those wretched eyes and curse the day my life was ever infected by Victor L. Morgan.

*Fear not! I will not be dictating the mc’s feelings/thoughts to the degree of the passage above. I was just messing around with ma writing. Anddd holy run-on batman!

AND I hate wireless keyboards. (Random, but I felt like I would share my deeply ingrained hatred.)


Wireless mouse. Lags like shit and gets me killed whenever I play a game.
As for the paragraph, I understood everything except immured, but I still understood what was meant.


I don’t know if anyone’s said this before but have you looked at what other 21st century writers have done with this topic? Sarah Waters, for instance, does it very well and I think her settings are similar to yours. Her stories really feel, imho, like the era she’s writing. You don’t have to do exactly what they do, but it’s a good reference point. You could just find an excerpt and see what dialogue features they dropped and which they used.


If you’re not sold on full immersion, I’d suggest writing it formal-contemporary. Avoid modernisms and contractions, occasionally throw in a hint of old-world-ism. It’s like salt - a little can go a long way.

We had this argument during a theater production where we were supposed to be Germans speaking German to each other, but the play was in modern English. One actor decided he was doing a German accent…which didn’t make a lot of sense at first. Wouldn’t Germans all sound non-accented to each other? Eventually it was explained away and justified that he was an older person speaking a more formal and specific dialect and that is why we “heard” him sounding very German. Perhaps you could play with convention like that.


I did like the Chaucer class. One thing I remember is that we spent a lot of time reading The Canturbury Tales out loud, phonetically, in class. (“Deh droagt of March hat pair-sed toe deh roat-uh”), We were encouraged to read it that way on our own too. It actually made the poem easier to follow.

Are you thinking about imitating Victorian English in your narration? Because if so, I think you’re taking a risk. It’s a neat idea, but you will probably lose some players. A more conventional way would be to use 21st century style for your narration and Victorian style for your dialogue.

(By “21st century style,” I mean simple, direct sentences with few modifying phrases, plus a preference for describing the action over commenting on the action or dwelling on internal emotional states. That’s what it means in my head, anyway.)


@TheTrueKing - AH, you feel my pain! Mouse stops working, keyboard stops typing, or, better yet, they both quit! :'D <- Tears of pain. And awesome! I was going to use ‘captured’ but I like immured better. It means about the same thing, it just worked better in the context. c:

@pyla8 - I have been, yes! Though I haven’t read any of Sarah Water’s works. Do you have any recommendations?

@Hanon_Ondricek - Thank you for your reply! I’ve been experimenting and I have received a lot of feedback with similar advice. I think the key is trying to balance everything, which is an interesting challenge. And haha, I love theater. x3

@BabbleYaggle - Oh wow. That must have been a fun experience! (Specially if you’re a phonetic learner.) I’d probably butcher the pronunciations terribly.

And goodness, nope. I was just messing around in that passage and was envisioning kind of an internal dialogue for writings sake (which won’t actually be included in the game). The narration is definitely going to be in the modern ‘style’, else I think I’d be stuck writing forever!

And, once again, thank you all for your responses. <3 (Also, on my last post, I meant *second-person, not third. I’m deciding between first and *second person. Though, a Choicescript story written in third person could be interesting! Just not for this story. c;)


I’ve read Fingersmith and Affinity by Sarah Waters. For what it’s worth, Fingersmith appears to be the more popular of the two and I preferred it if only because the ending is a bit happier.


Wow. With shipping and tax, you could get both of those together in hardcover for about $10.


Yes! And they’re great books. Even if I did throw Affinity in frustration at least once. She usually does the 21st century narrative/Victorian dialogue mix you described well.