Three Tips For Writing Victorian-Style Narration

Although I’m not sure if I’ve written about this topic before, I thought that I’d talk about how to write Victorian-style narration today. Although this is one of those skills that will probably feel like second nature when you’ve learnt it (and it’s been a while since I last read a proper Victorian novel), I can easily imagine that it might seem a bit more challenging if you’ve never tried it before. So, here are a few basic tips for making your story’s narration sound like it comes from Victorian Britain.

1) Read it (It’s easier than you think): The best way to learn how to write Victorian-style narration is simply to read it until you get a general sense of how people used to write back then. This won’t cost you much either since most Victorian novels are no longer in copyright in many parts of the world. So, you can often either legally find free copies online or find cheap “classics” editions of them in bookshops.

However, if you haven’t read any Victorian fiction before, then this might seem like a fairly intimidating and/or time-consuming task. After all, the Victorians have a reputation for writing giant three-volume novels and – thanks to some Victorian authors – their writing style isn’t exactly seen as “easily readable” either.

So, the best way to ease yourself into reading Victorian fiction is to start with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1892 short story collection “The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes”. For starters, each story is a short plot-focused thing that also contains an intriguing mystery that will make you actually want to read more.

Not only that, these stories also use a slightly more readable and “matter of fact” late Victorian writing style that sounds Victorian enough to teach you how to write in this style, whilst being just about modern and fast-paced enough for them to be relatively easy to read. Likewise, they are also written from a first-person perspective, which helps to cut down on things like unnecessary descriptions or long-winded asides.

Another good “starter” story for researching Victorian fiction is probably Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland” due to the short length, timelessly quirky humour and easily-readable writing style. And, after getting used to the style, then perhaps try reading more complex/descriptive shorter Victorian novels and/or novellas like Anthony Hope’s “The Prisoner Of Zenda” or Robert Lewis Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”.

Once you’ve read some Victorian fiction, you’ll probably start to get a general sense of the style used by Victorian writers. And, when writing for modern audiences, you’ll probably want to use a Victorian style that is similar to the more compressed, focused and readable one found in late Victorian short stories and/or novellas, rather than the more meandering (and less readable) style used in longer novels.

2) Formality and context: Victorian-style narration is usually a bit more formal and descriptive than modern-style narration. The sentences are often longer and more complex too, with more of a focus on “telling”-style narration than on “showing”-style narration. And, when you understand some of the context and reasons for this, then writing in this style will become a lot easier.

For starters, film and television didn’t really exist back then in the way they do now. This had an effect on the writing style used back then. After all, if a writer had never seen a film, then their main frame of reference for how to write would be telling a story in the traditional sense. So, Victorian-style narration will often just flat-out tell the reader things about the characters, backstory etc.. and will often use slower-paced, longer and more complex/formal sentences too. After all, Victorians didn’t expect their novels to be like slickly-edited modern Hollywood films – because they didn’t exist back then.

Secondly, books were actually popular entertainment back then. Many Victorian novels would actually be released in episode-like segments in magazines (full-size books were more expensive back then, and TV didn’t really exist) – so things like cliffhanger chapter endings still mattered back then, since they made people want to buy the next issue of the magazine. This is also why Victorian novels can sometimes be a bit on the long-winded side of things, since more chapters meant more issues of the magazine that could be sold.

Thirdly, the internet didn’t exist back then. Not only did this mean that Victorian novels would sometimes explain or describe things a bit more (since their readers couldn’t just Google, for example, a particular ancient pyramid or castle), but it also meant that they often had more of a focus on small-scale mundane everyday life and/or drama than modern novels do. Not only was this easier to write, but it was more likely to be recognisable and understandable to the average reader of the time.

This also probably had an effect on things like metaphors and references too. However, since it’s been a while since I last read a Victorian novel, what I’m about to say is a combination of vague memories, generalisations and/or speculation more than anything else, but it is still worth thinking about.

Anyway, whilst novels aimed at upper-class readers will reference the Latin, Shakespeare and classical mythology that their readers would have learnt at private schools, novels aimed at a wider audience would often either reference texts that the average Victorian person was likely to have encountered (eg: the Bible, popular myths, popular Victorian novels, maybe a few well-known parts of Shakespeare etc..) or more “everyday” things that people of the time would easily have known about. Again, people back then didn’t have the internet.

3) Have fun: Victorian-style narration sounds very melodramatic, and a little bit silly, pompous and/or over-written, when read today. It is often unintentionally hilarious. So, don’t take yourself entirely seriously when you write it and you’ll find the experience a lot easier. Just enjoy the theatricality and overwrought melodrama of it and you’ll find that writing it is a lot more enjoyable.

Seriously, if a piece of Victorian-style narration makes you laugh when you’re writing it, then you’re probably doing something right. This style is incredibly fun to use because of its silliness and hyper-dramatic “so bad that it’s good” nature.

And don’t worry about getting it “100% perfect” either – as long as it doesn’t contain anything glaringly modern, then readers will probably be a bit more forgiving for the simple reason that they will probably already know it is a modern text written in a Victorian style. After all, you probably aren’t trying to pass your story off as an actual, genuine piece of Victorian literature. Not only that, some level of humour and/or modern streamlining will also make your Victorian-style narration more readable to modern audiences too.

————–

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Short Story: “Specimen” By C. A. Brown

Order! Order!‘ Dr. Farlingsworth tapped his fist loudly upon on the stout dissection table. Squinting against the dim lantern-light, he perceived that the rabble of medical students in the surrounding seats were still jostling, joshing and scuffling merrily.

What, oh what, would noble Asclepius think of this horde of roisterers I see before me?‘ He bellowed. This only served to draw a few hearty laughs from the depths of the rabble.

In an instant, the good doctor felt like an actor on a Shakespearean stage, surrounded by an audience of churls, drunkards and orange-sellers. An impression hammered further home by his memory of catching young Wilkinson sneaking in before the dissection to proclaim “Friends! Romans! Countrymen!” to his amused cohorts. At least, Farlingsworth noted with some relief, the impetuous fellow had refrained from using the cloth covering the specimen as an improvised toga.

Of course, the specimen! With a showman’s grace, Dr. Farlingsworth doddered over to the other side of the table and unveiled the specimen with a flourish. The noise continued. Alas, he surmised, these students were fresh enough to make merry in the halls of learning but seasoned enough not to fall silent at the sight of a body.

Above the clamourous rabble, a voice called out: ‘One of Mr. Burke’s, sir?‘ Another voice called out ‘I didn’t see that poor fellow at Tyburn today.‘ More laughter followed.

Taking a deep breath, the good doctor bellowed: ‘Gentlemen! What you see before you on this table is no ordinary man!

Another voice laughed: ‘Of course not, he’s croaked it!

Flashing a steely glare at the source of the voice, Dr. Farlingsworth continued: ‘Stevenson! Pipe down, will you! Where was I? Oh, yes! What you see before you today is no ordinary man. In fact, I would even hazard to guess that he is some hitherto unknown advancement of the human species.

For once, the only reply was blissful silence. Against the dim flickering of the lanterns, Farlingsworth noted with some satisfaction that thirty pairs of eyes stared forwards at him in rapt fascination.

Farlingsworth continued his lecture: ‘This unfortunate fellow was discovered in the nets of a fishing trawler three days ago and yet he appears to be perfectly preserved. Although the more superstitious amongst you may be keen to attribute this to a miracle, I posit that there is a rational scientific explanation for this phenomenon. An explanation, gentlemen, that I plan to uncover today.

The theatre remained as silent as a tomb. Allowing himself to stand an inch taller, Farlingsworth gently opened the specimen’s mouth and said: ‘Preliminary examinations carried out by my colleague Throckmorton noted that the body displayed notably enlarged incisors, perhaps comparable to those of the hyena skull we recently added to our collection.

Around him, the students jostled and leaned forwards, eager to catch a glimpse of this unusual feature. The stout oak bannisters surrounding the theatre creaked quietly. As the warm glow of the lantern played across the faces of his audience, Farlingsworth could not help but think of Joseph Wright’s scientific paintings or perhaps that clumsy copy of a Caravaggio that Throckmorton hung in his dining room.

In an instant, Farlingsworth’s reverie was interrupted by the sight of his students recoiling in horror. For a second, he stood there bewildered until he felt something grasp his neck. Then, two sharp pains like the bodkin needles used in Jenner’s famed vaccinations. He glanced down to find that the specimen had not only returned to life, but was at his throat like a hungry wolf. Yet, he felt no terror. Instead, a comfortably warm sensation, not unlike quaffing a bottle of good cognac, seemed to wash through his body.

When one of the panicked students finally saw fit to inform the local constable, an examination of the theatre turned up neither the doctor nor his specimen. After further investigations proved fruitless, the authorities procured the services of a well-respected amateur. Yet, even this famed consultant could deduce no cause or trace of what was said to have occurred on that frightful night.

Within no less than two weeks, the ghastly event had passed into university folklore. Despite the efforts of the faculty to suppress such macabre rumours, it was not uncommon to find copies of Varney The Vampire and other such penny dreadfuls surreptitiously placed amongst the hallowed tomes of the university library.

Yet, within several more weeks, the incident had been mostly forgotten. Ghoulish whispers had quickly been overtaken by the excitement of such things as the inter-varsity cricket championships and that well-renowned boat race. Yet, dear reader, even to this day the medical students never so much as grin or chortle when taking anatomy classes. If poor Farlingsworth was still amongst the land of the living, he would no doubt have permitted himself a smile at his newfound legacy.

Today’s Art (31st August 2017)

Well, it’s been quite a while since I last made any artwork set in Victorian times (I haven’t really made much since this webcomic mini series). But, this digitally-edited gothic Victorian painting was probably mostly inspired by a TV series based on “Dracula” that I was watching on DVD when I painted it.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Upon Such A Night" By C. A. Brown

“Upon Such A Night” By C. A. Brown

The Complete “Damania Repressed” – All 12 Episodes Of The New Webcomic Mini Series By C. A. Brown

2017 Artwork The Complete Damania Repressed

Well, in case you missed any of it, here are all 12 “episodes” of my “Damania Repressed” webcomic mini series in one easy-to-read post.

Although this mini series is fairly self-contained, it is also the third part of a trilogy of time travel-themed mini series (the first is “Damania Retrofuturistic” and the second is “Damania Renaissance). Links to other mini series can also be found on this page.

Wow! This mini series was a lot of fun to make! After I finished “Damania Retrofuturistic”, I worried that no mini series that I’d make afterwards would be as fun or as good as that one was. Well, I was wrong!

Although a little bit exhausting near the end, this mini series was an absolute joy to make 🙂 Seriously, I don’t know whether I prefer this mini series or “Damania Retrofuturistic” more 🙂

As usual, all twelve comics in this post are released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence. Plus, if they’re too small to read, then you can click on each update to see a larger version.

"Damania Repressed - Revelation" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Repressed – Revelation” By C. A. Brown

"Damania Repressed - Goth" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Repressed – Goth” By C. A. Brown

"Damania Repressed - Fortune" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Repressed – Fortune” By C. A. Brown

"Damania Repressed - Monolgue" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Repressed – Monolgue” By C. A. Brown

"Damania Repressed - Highwayman" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Repressed – Highwayman” By C. A. Brown

"Damania Repressed - Analytical Engine" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Repressed – Analytical Engine” By C. A. Brown

"Damania Repressed - Old Man" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Repressed – Old Man” By C. A. Brown

"Damania Repressed - Jack" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Repressed – Jack” By C. A. Brown

"Damania Repressed - Ripper" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Repressed – Ripper” By C. A. Brown

"Damania Repressed - Telegram" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Repressed – Telegram” By C. A. Brown

"Damania Repressed - Three Words" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Repressed – Three Words” By C. A. Brown

"Damania Repressed - All Good Things" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Repressed – All Good Things” By C. A. Brown

Today’s Art (9th March 2017)

Mansions! Dracula! This is the eleventh (and penultimate) comic in “Damania Repressed” and, although I’m hoping that this mini series will be fairly self-contained – it follows on from the events of this mini series (which, in turn, follows on from this one). Links to more mini series can also be found on this page.

In case you are wondering about the “London” comment, it’s a reference to this comic from earlier this year.

As usual, this comic update is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] "Damania Repressed - Three Words" By C. A. Brown

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Repressed – Three Words” By C. A. Brown

Today’s Art (8th March 2017)

Telegrams! Gin! This is the tenth comic in “Damania Repressed” and, although I’m hoping that this mini series will be fairly self-contained – it follows on from the events of this mini series (which, in turn, follows on from this one). Links to more mini series can also be found on this page.

This is also the third part of a short three-part Jack The Ripper themed story arc. Parts one and two can also be seen by clicking on the respective links.

Originally, this comic update was going to end very differently. But, my original ending seemed more “genuinely creepy” than “cynically amusing”. So, I made some fairly extensive changes (including replacing the entire fourth panel with an alternative panel and turning the third panel into a daydream scene) between the line art stage and the editing stage.

As usual, this comic update is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] "Damania Repressed - Telegram" By C. A. Brown

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Repressed – Telegram” By C. A. Brown

Today’s Art (7th March 2017)

Business plans! Bedric’s Bones! This is the ninth comic in “Damania Repressed” and, although I’m hoping that this mini series will be fairly self-contained – it follows on from the events of this mini series (which, in turn, follows on from this one). Links to more mini series can also be found on this page.

This is the second comic in a short three-comic story arc that I’ve added to this mini series. The first comic in the story arc can be seen here.

As usual, this comic update is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] "Damania Repressed - Ripper" By C. A. Brown

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Repressed – Ripper” By C. A. Brown

Today’s Art (6th March 2017)

Murder most foul! Horror movies! This is the eighth comic in “Damania Repressed” and, although I’m hoping that this mini series will be fairly self-contained – it follows on from the events of this mini series (which, in turn, follows on from this one). Links to more mini series can also be found on this page.

Well, I couldn’t exactly make a comic set in Victorian London without including Jack The Ripper. This comic is also the first comic in a three-comic sub-plot too.

As usual, this comic update is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] "Damania Repressed - Jack" By C. A. Brown

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Repressed – Jack” By C. A. Brown

Today’s Art (5th March 2017)

Karl Marx! Timelines! This is the seventh comic in “Damania Repressed” and, although I’m hoping that this mini series will be fairly self-contained – it follows on from the events of this mini series (which, in turn, follows on from this one). Links to more mini series can also be found on this page.

Yes, the first panel on this comic required a quick dialogue change before publication. This was mostly because I suddenly realised that the brilliantly witty line of dialogue that was there originally actually came from one of my old History teachers from college. I originally thought about including an attribution, but then I started worrying about copyright for some silly reason. So, I ended up changing the dialogue instead.

If you haven’t been following these time travel based mini series, then this comic, this comic and then this comic will show you why Derek is so rich.

As usual, this comic update is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] "Damania Repressed - Old Man" By C. A. Brown

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Repressed – Old Man” By C. A. Brown

Today’s Art (3rd March 2017)

Stand and deliver! This is the fifth comic in “Damania Repressed” and, although I’m hoping that this mini series will be fairly self-contained – it follows on from the events of this mini series (which, in turn, follows on from this one). Links to more mini series can also be found on this page.

And, yes, I know that there weren’t many highwaymen in Victorian times (the railways rendered them obsolete) but, well, artistic licence.

But, yes, if you go back far enough in British history, then you’ll find that virtually every crime seemed to be punishable by death (a situation which I think only began to be reformed sometime in the 19th century. Mostly because, quite sensibly, juries often refused to convict people of petty crimes because of the disproportionate sentences).

As usual, this comic update is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] "Damania Repressed - Highwayman" By C. A. Brown

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Repressed – Highwayman” By C. A. Brown