Create Boundaries

Although everything doesn’t have to be set in stone before you start writing, your task will be much easier if you know a few things at the outset. It’s all about creating the boundaries of your historical world before you start to build it, develop the characters that inhabit it, and move them around on a stage of your own making.

First boundary: Story Time

By this I mean the time that elapses from the moment the action begins until your HEA. This is otherwise known as “story present.” Having a defined, limited period of time in which to focus your research and your storytelling helps ensure that you actually get that manuscript finished.

That doesn’t mean you won’t have backstory and flashbacks, but those do not form part of your story present. It’s also possible to discover as you write that you need more or less story time. But that’s something to tackle in revision.

How does knowing the exact year/months/weeks your story will cover help?

  • HISTORICAL RESEARCH: Even if your story doesn’t revolve around a major historical event, dinner-table conversations, news items, other impacts can help give your story texture, and having a concrete time frame to work with for that kind of research helps prevent an endless dive down the research rabbit hole. [TK timeline?]
  • COSTUME: While men’s fashions were not so volatile, ladies’ fashions changed decade by decade at least. Availability of materials, technology for construction (sewing machine), closings (hello, zipper!), class distinctions (in earlier periods sumptuary laws dictated who could wear certain fabrics and colors), underwear, etc. The height of a lady’s waistband changed from the first decade of the 19th century to the second, for instance, and sleeves—well, do the research and see for yourself. [TK fashion plate images]
  • CUSTOMS: Chaperones? Greetings? Types of entertainment? While a ball was always a possibility after a certain time, afternoon tea as a social event didn’t evolve until later in the 19th century. And waltzing—when did it go from scandalously fast to de rigeur?

Second boundary: Location, location, location

What kind of environment will your story occupy? What are the cities/villages where your protagonists enact their drama? Real places, or imagined? How do they reflect something essential about them?

Consider the buildings—the architecture, the scale. It’s all too easy to be guilty of “white room syndrome,” where characters move about in an amorphous space the reader hasn’t been led to imagine.

Location also affects the available and fashionable transportation choices. Railways? Carriages? Condition of the roads? Time it takes for your characters to travel from place to place? All these factor into the story you’re telling.

Third boundary: Class

While the convention for Regency (and most Victorian) romance is for your story to involve members of the haute ton, the ten thousand who made up the top tier of society, a romance by no means has to be set in that upper echelon to be engaging and satisfying. Indeed, an element of the underdog, the have-not, can add conflict and depth to your story.

But it’s as well to know exactly where your protagonists sit on the social ladder, because this, too, will offer a useful boundary for your research. Everything from available transportation to clothing to social conventions changes depending on the class involved.