My objective is Victorian-style tea-drinking "upper class" lady characters. (It's more of a writing challenge.)

Does anyone have any useful resources or tips for creating such a character? Personality-wise everything is pretty intuitive, however the language is a little out of my reach. Namely the structure of the sentences and phrases, and ticks related to showing manners with language. The vocabulary is also its own separate headache—things like replacing certain bad words with more elegant equally-bad words, to name just the easy to grasp problems.

I've tried to find a style guide, or just a intuitive way of emulating the patterns in the language; however searching for things such as manners and etiquette yielded little to nothing.

So how does one go about creating such a character?

  • Read a lot of fiction from that era (Dickens, Bronte, Austin, etc etc) to get a feel for how people of that era tended to talk. Many of the works of that era should be available via Project Gutenberg.
    – GordonM
    Jun 20, 2017 at 9:48

3 Answers 3


Personalities might be easy for someone along those lines, but motivations will actually be a bit harder. It sounds like what you want to write falls into the category of a novel of manners. Not only do you need to understand how they act and talk, you need to understand why.

You might want to read up on examples telling you what is and what isn't proper. For more modern ideas, The Preppy Handbook, The Official Filthy Rich Handbook, Class: A Guide Through the American Status System, or True Prep might give you some great details.

  • The plot/story is actually pretty light hearted and the characters a little crazy—more importantly the timeline is present/future, not past/victorian (I'm actually trying to avoid using "expired" words if possible). I understand what you're saying but what I need is just a character that acts/talks the part for a certain angle I'm trying to pull with the story, not a dramatic character, or a character with social problems (that would have been more straight forward to research). But thank you for the answer nonetheless; I don't think I can make too much out of the letters however. :)
    – srcspider
    Feb 28, 2011 at 15:11
  • The "Class: A Guide Through the American Status System" was pretty interesting and gave me a good leap in the right direction. Thank you. You may wish to add that to your answer; I'll give it more time but that was pretty helpful so I'll gladly accept it if a better answer is not provided.
    – srcspider
    Feb 28, 2011 at 22:09
  • (continued) In combination with some more research I've been able to deduce sentences follow a very simple [greeting] + [low key message] + [high key message] pattern in dialog; and a sort of monolog/story-telling pattern when expressing broad ideas. Sentences also would seem very short and usually complete—no one part of the message tacking too many syllables or containing too many complementary words (which seem reserved for "bang sentences"). A thesaurus seems like a very good tool to get that upper class crust; albeit cheap, searching for a less used relative does seem to do the trick.
    – srcspider
    Feb 28, 2011 at 22:10
  • @srcspider - edited
    – justkt
    Mar 3, 2011 at 19:19
  • "Not only do you need to understand how they act and talk, you need to understand why." - Exactly. What was their upbringing like? What did their parents think would happen if their child didn't learn these manners? What does your character think will happen if their manners fail? Are they conscious of their manners, or is it completely automatic? If the latter, what happens if they're suddenly forced to be conscious of them? Does it completely throw them? If not, or if so, why? Once these questions are answered, getting the detail is just like researching anything else. Excellent answer. Jun 19, 2017 at 10:07

Read P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster stories, particularly Aunt Agatha.

  • "My Aunt Agatha, the one who chews broken bottles and kills rats with her teeth." …is not really what I'm looking for. When I say manners I'm not referring to discipline (nor bad disposition), just language ticks. But ty for the link, I'll take note of it. :)
    – srcspider
    Feb 28, 2011 at 15:00
  • Hm. How about Bertie's much more amenable Aunt Dahlia, the hunter, who hallooos as though she were bellowing to the other aunts across the primeval swamp? Feb 28, 2011 at 15:25
  • I think the Jeeves series came a few years after the end of the Victorian era, didn't it? You might end up doing the equivalent of having a 90s character calling their friends "bae" if you rely too heavily on it (though the general class-related stuff could still be useful)
    – GordonM
    Jun 20, 2017 at 9:51
  • @GordonM There's no real date for the Jeeves series, and Wodehouse coined quite a bit of language. But it's one resource, and a place to start. Jun 20, 2017 at 13:49

Get specific. There are many, many regional differences in speech. Are they British? If so where from specifically? Even though you are talking future times, I would say that researching this in a slightly more narrow fashion will be helpful.

I love this link on TV Tropes: Verbal Tics.

The real life section is a gold mine.

The sort of vague "Victorian-style" direction that you've given, without time and specific place is going to trip you up tremendously. The more specific you get with that, the more likely you are to have something to hold on to and the ability to research it.

I feel as though Dickens is a great place to start, because his characters are simply littered with verbal tics. I'd also read The Importance of Being Earnest from Oscar Wilde. I would also look at Gilbert and Sullivan a bit. And Charley's Aunt a play, which at the time, was a huge hit, though it is not well known today. Here's a link to whole play as well as the wiki summary.

The Dowager Countess on the Downton Abbey is of the Victorian Era--so as acidic as she can get, she's still very much a woman of that time. And she's British.

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