I like to joke that I write steampunk because I love the Victorian era but don’t have the attention to detail to write Victorian historicals.
Even though you get to create amazing worlds while writing steampunk, you still have to do your research.
I like to research what things were like so I know how and what to change in my story, in other words, you need to know what the rules are before you break them. Wherever and whenever you story takes place, researching the place and time it’s based on can help you form the backbone for your world and give you a springboard for your worldbuilding. It can also help you create that 19th century aesthetic that gives steampunk it’s ambiance as well as find neat gadgets, scientific theories, and other things to incorporate into your story.
I did my research for INNOCENT DARKNESS as I wrote. I did a lot of google searches that probably got me on government watch lists. Googling victorian torture methods, as well as researching insane asylums and treatments for the various “illnesses” women were diagnosed with during that time was just plain scary. However, I was able to base a lot of things in the reform school Noli is sent to on real things — real diagnosis, real treatments, and real punishments all served as a base for what I created (though I made stuff up, too, which is part of why I like steampunk). A lot of what I created for the school ended up on the cutting room floor so we could get to the realm of faerie faster, but I think doing that research, and being able to ground my creations in reality really helped give it depth and reality. One of the hardest scenes I wrote in ID is a punishment scene at the boarding school, based on an actual torture method and it makes me shiver to read it.
There’s more and more great resources available online, from maps of Victorian London to old photos of turn of the century Los Angeles.
Here’s a few of my favorites:
Being a Victorian Teen
What are some of your favorite research sites?