From Research to Procrastination

by Diana Sousa
“Emile Verhaeren” by Theo Van Rysselberghe

The manuscript I’m working on now is set in the first decade of the 20th century in England. Although I had a reasonable knowledge of the Regency and Victorian eras, from books, movies and TV adaptations, I knew that that would not be enough. And besides, there were subtle but important differences between the Victorian and the Edwardian era that I had to consider.

First, for those who may not know, the Edwardian Era is the period between 1901 and 1914, correspondent to the reign of King Edward VII, Queen Victoria’s son. Subtle changes begin to appear: cars, electricity, phonographs, liberal political parties, women fighting for their rights (gasp!)… Even so, it was still a time of great social discrepancies. While the elite was represented by a King who loved luxury, elegance, travelling, and just simply spending money, the people were poorer and poorer. But change was afoot.

See, I totally did my homework.

But I had to be sure I wouldn’t be talking about a car that would only be sold 10 years later from my story’s timeline. And, since my character would have to step into the aristocracy’s world somewhere in the book, I had to know the rules. The difference between an Earl and a Viscount, and how to address them. The order of how they sat at a dinner party. These may not seem like important things for us, but for the ruling class it was a must know for everyone that wanted to be a respectable person.

So I spent enormous amounts of time just… researching. Reading books, websites, speaking with people who had studied the era, taking notes and learning about things that I knew perfectly well that I would not need to write about. I admit that at some point it may have become a form of procrastination… just delaying the start of the book “because I had to know if it was legal for my character to show an ankle or if she would be hanged for it.” (She wouldn’t, by the way, but it would be scandalous enough).By the time I actually started writing, I was sure that if by any chance I time traveled to the Edwardian Era I would fit as a glove. If I survived inside a corset and a dress, that is.

What about your experience? I loved it, but I always liked to study History. As I normally write fantasy or science fiction, I don’t need to research as deeply as I did this time. I have to write more period dramas to have the excuse to research more.