Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Tutorial: Writing good TES books



Object:
 Tips to write a book that fits in the world of Skyrim

Difficulty: Medium

Time Needed: Quite some, depending on your skills

Things you will need:

  • Some skills in writing, preferably
  • A little time

What is a TES book?

1. A TES book is a piece of text designed to fit in a game and this is something you must remember. What this means is that writing a TES book is not about writing a real book that can be printed, carried all around, bookmarked, anotated, etc. It is about writing a book that will be:

  • Read on screen
  • Has no numbered pages
  • Can't be bookmarked
  • In which you can't skip pages 10 by 10 but only 1 by 1


2. This means your book can't be too long or reading it won't be the smoothest experience. Among the longest books of the original TES games are those of the Real Barenziah series. Back to Morrowind I would go to Jobasha's Rare Books and read the whole series, totally hooked by the story. Back then it was a great chance pages had numbers in case I had to quit the game for a while and then try to find out where I was in the book, scrolling longly until I hit the right page. Now in Skyrim there are no more numbers on the pages... figure out the mess if you need to find back the page where you stopped in the middle of a long story without spoiling yourself. So what should you do?

  • Limit your word count around 4000 words. 6000~8000 should really be a max for a stand-alone story.
  • If your story is longer than this, split it into several tomes and make it a series.



Write in Tamrielic

1. A TES book should fit in the ES games not only from its design but mostly from its content of course. You don't want to hang around Solitude's Bard's College, open a book there and read a story about an Italian mushroom-eater plumber named Mario trying to find a princess in various castles. If you were to write such a story, please, make it fit in the lore or change your mind!
In exemple you can write the story of Mario, the Breton, and his misadventures in Sadrith Mora, getting totally skooma-high and starting to eat the mushroom homes of the Telvanni. As a Daedra worshiper, Mario seeks for Azura in his delirium and tries to conjure her. Unfortunately only Sheogorath answers and here comes a dark seducer... A great tale among Khajiiti slaves needing to cheer up.

2. Use Tamrielic names. Be it for your characters or for yourself as an author. Mario is a correct name for a Breton or eventually for an Imperial (though Marius would surely be more fitting) but surely not for an Orc or a Khajiit. The ten different races of Tamriel each have their own features regarding naming, try to stick to them as much as possible. Look the names of existing characters of a same race to understand how to compose new ones.
You can look the UESP's name lists or you can also generate lists easily with Tamriel Rebuilt's name generator but beware: it uses names of existing NPCs.

Here goes a little list of facts:
  • Breton - Names often have a Latin origin, mostly (old) French and Italian (Fran├žois Motierre, Vicente Valtieri). Sometimes it can also sound more English (Cassyr Whitley) or Latin (Socucius Ergala). Breton names feature a first and last name.
  • Imperial - Names have a Latin origin, often ending by "us" or "o" for men (Hieronymus, Crassius, Toutius, Gergio, Falco) and by "a" for women (Camilla, Vilena, Simplicia). Family names often end the same way with "us", "a", "o" (Sextius, Curio, Cosma). Latin words are often a base for most names. Imperial names feature a first and last name.
  • Redguard - Redguard names are a little more tricky as they look like a mix of Breton (Alonzo, Neville), Imperial (Demetrius, Varnado), sometimes almost elvish or sounding quite tribal (Phintias, Shenk, Domba, Karlirah). This reflects well the nomade aspect of Redguard as the race counts many sailors and adventurers. I suggest you to refer to name lists to check if your Redguard name would be fitting. Redguard names usually feature only a first name. In rare cases there is also a last name (Gor Felim, Jim 'gentleman' Stacey).
  • Nord - Names have a germanic or scandinavian origine so you can refer to naming lists found on the web to help you out. Names such as Hadvar, Brindolf or Onmir car fit for men, names such as Svenja, Mathilda or Olga can fit for women. Nords often bear a nickname (Olaf One-Eye, Hjalti Early-Beard, Talos Stormcrown), that reflects who they are in some way. These nicknames may also serve as family/clan names (Battle-Born, Grey-Mane).
  • Altmer - Names often end with "ril", "mil", "nil", "rion", "mo", etc. for men (Carelcalmo, Tusamircil, Sinderion) , and end with "inde", "wen", "we", "lin", etc. for women (Elenwen, Palonirya, Estirdalin). Altmeri names and Bosmeri names share similarities due to their common elvish origins but there are still slight differences. Don't hesitate to refer to name lists if you don't feel comfortable with name creation and combine parts of different existing names. Altmeri names usually feature only a first name. In rare cases there is also a birthplace (Lathenil of Sunhold, Ocato of Firsthold), or in very rare cases, a last name (Mankar Camoran) or eventually a nickname (Rynandor the Bold).
  • Bosmer - Names often end with "gor". "dor", "nor", "goth", "roth", "fin", "lem", etc. for men (Fargoth, Meldor, Thrangirfin), and end with "wen", "el", "il", "iel, etc. for women (Aranwen, Aredhel, Menelin).  Altmeri names and Bosmeri names share similarities due to their common elvish origins but there are still slight differences. Don't hesitate to refer to name lists if you don't feel comfortable with name creation and combine parts of different existing names. Altmeri names feature only a first name.
  • Dunmer - Both first and last names often contain no more than 2 or 3 syllables and are very recognizable by their redundance (Eno Hlaalu, Tholer Saryoni, Nelos Ondrano). I won't list them all here and rather advice you to refer to naming lists, pick syllables, mix them up and come up with a name you like. Male and female names sound different (Sevil, Tovas, Reler VS Dovesi, Arvena, Lathasa). Dunmer names feature a frist and last name.
  • Dunmer (Velothi) - These names often stand out by their complexity and great ammount of syllables and consonants (Ninirrasour, Mabarrabael). Some names though are shorter but the syllables are still recognizable (Hanssour, Maley, Sakin) and some are composed (Erur-Dan, Ulath-Pal). Just as modern Dunmer names, Velothi names are composed with a set of given syllables combined together. Family names are often quite long (Sashmassamsi, Assunbahanammu) and sometimes composed (Dun-Ahhe, Timsar-Dadisun) but share a similar pattern and set of given syllables. Velothi names feature a first and last name.
  • Orc - First names often end with "mul", "muk", "bul", "buk", "zol", "ash", "shum", "zur", etc. for men (Durbul, Morbash, Murzol) and end with "ob", "og", "a", etc. for women (Murob, Umog, Mazoga). Family names are composed with gro+name for males, and gra+name for females. "gro" means "son of" and "gra" means "daughter of", thus the name coming after is usually a first name as well. However, to help their integration in the Imperial society, modern day Orcs tend to use the name of a famous ancestor rather than the name or the genitor. Thus Nash gro-Shurakh will name his daughter Mogra gra-Shurakh in spite of Mogra gra-Nash.
  • Argonian - Names usually either count one word (Huzei, Milos) or are hyphenated (Haj-Ei, Jeelus-Tei) or are translated in Cyrodiilic (Nine-Toes, Only-He-Stands-There) when too hard to pronounce for non-Argonians. Argonian names are usually rather short, counting 2 or 3 syllables. I suggest you to refer to naming lists for inspiration. Argonian names feature only a first name or nickname. Note that the name they use is one received during a secret ritual of passage with the Hist, different from their birthname. We don't know how Argonians out of Black Marsh get their adult name.
  • Khajiit - Male names usually count 1 or 2 syllables and often feature a title, usually hyphenated, like (S'Rava, J'skar, Dro-Basha), etc. These titles have meanings that shouldn't be interpreted litteraly ("Dar" means "thief" but rather implies swift agility or a quick mind). Female names rarely feature a title except "S'" and count 2 or 3 syllables (Ahnassi, Ajira, Kisimba). I suggest you to refer to naming lists for inspiration. Khajiiti names feature only a first name.

3. Avoid using vocabulary unfitting to the world of Tamriel. We've never seen Vodka or Tequila in Tamriel but we've seen Shein, Mazte, Sujamma, Colovian Brandy. There is no cocaine or heroine but there's Moon Sugar. You get the idea. If you want to mention such elements, make sure they exist in the lore and find an equivalent at need.


More tips to come as this post will be updated
(don't hesitate to contribute with your own advice!)

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