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I'm having a bit of trouble, since I'm writing in a semi-new genre. I ordinarily write fantasy with a modern-day setting, but my latest experiment is steampunk set in not-exactly-Earth, so it has a Victorian feel. Needless to say, there's a bit of a style difference, mainly in how formal it should be.

I don't want to sound stuffy or end up writing a bunch of sesquipedalian loquaciousness, but I also don't want my characters running around saying stuff like, "That's a cool T-shirt!" all the time. So I'm caught in an attempt to strike a balance. I'd like to be more on the relaxed side, since I write YA.

Since this is kind of difficult to describe and answer, I've provided a few paragraphs of example text in about the style I'm trying to go with. I just want to know if it sounds all right, or if it's too far one way or the other.

It's not from my novel, just off the top of my head. But let's say for the sake of argument that this is a 20-year-old, working-class guy, who is kind of a constant traveler/merchant type. Also, he's kinda scared out of his wits because he's pretty sure some guys are gonna try to kill him for what he's about to do next.

He sat down at his table with one intention.

I’m going to write up all of our complaints. Someone has to do something, and I’m in the best position.

Then, he thought, he’d work up the nerve to send them to the Baron. Technically, Samuel wasn’t one of the Baron’s subjects, but this wasn’t that reassuring. He’d be in danger anyway. Possibly more so, since he wasn’t very well protected and the Baron had no reason to be attached to him—not that he had any reservations about dispatching his own people.

“Crap,” he muttered to himself. “So this is how he keeps his hold. I hadn’t imagined that this would be so difficult…”

Steeling himself, he tried to think of the meetings. But the only things which surfaced were no help: Clara’s stony face as she thought of her dead son, Jonathan’s trembling hands as he tried to write notes. They only served to shut his mind down, and put him into a lethargic, downtrodden sort of mood. The gentle clunking as his homemade watch tapped the seconds away seemed louder than ever. How effective could he be, writing in this state?

If you don't know what steampunk is, this fellow explains it quite well in a nice little music video. You will be entertained.


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I've edited your title to bring this question more in line with our critique guidelines, but please revert my edit if I've missed the mark. – Neil Fein Apr 19 '13 at 4:11
Sounds better. I was kind of struggling with figuring out how to phrase it. – Rebekah Apr 19 '13 at 4:14
You've managed to avoid saying, "... infernal contraption!" so that's a plus. :) – David Aldridge Apr 19 '13 at 8:10
+1. This comment. Win. – Rebekah Apr 19 '13 at 20:10
up vote 4 down vote accepted

If you had not specified that the setting was meant to be steam-punk, then I would not have inferred that from your sample.

I was going to comment on the fact that your use of contractions strikes me as incongruous for the supposed time period. Then I came upon "Crap," he muttered and all other concerns paled into insignificance.

The short answer to your question is NO.

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Yes, I think a little more formality would be appropriate. "They only served to ..." might be "They served only to ...", for example. And "crap" is completely inappropriate, I'd say. – David Aldridge Apr 19 '13 at 8:12
Just looking to see how far I could go. It's not something I'd put in my novel. Thanks! – Rebekah Apr 19 '13 at 20:09

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