Writing steampunk: the foundation
Hi guys! I'm starting a series of blogs about writing steampunk fiction. In between some of my other topics, I'm going to post blogs about steampunk settings, influences, aesthetics, technology, stock characters, fashion, and much more. When you're planning to write any genre, it's important to have a few basics. Virtually all literary genres revolve around a storyline, characters, and setting. Today, I'm going to explain what makes these three elements unique to steampunk and it should help prospective authors get some ideas.
Every book needs a plot. That might sound self-explanatory, but I've read a lot of books and watched countless movies that had problematic storylines. Steampunk fiction usually has a serious conflict between opposing groups of people. This conflict typically includes some type of rebellion. Sometimes, steampunk books revolve around a corrupt government and an underground uprising. Other times, it has a supernatural twist between humans and a species of monster. Authors can pick any conflict they want, but the concept should include a statement that will make the reader think about right versus wrong. Morality is tested in steampunk, so think carefully about how it can be adapted into your plot. Even though steampunk is a genre of fiction, research about historical, political, and cultural events can be helpful. Many steampunk books take place during the Victorian era, so I would recommend some basic research about the time period. You'll find a surprising number of serious conflicts that took place in Victorian England and it could give some structure to a steampunk plot. A backstory is also helpful in steampunk fiction. Sometimes, a particular event sets the entire storyline in motion. Always maintain a strong sense of direction in a steampunk tale. The genre has a lot of spectacle and it's easy to get lost in the science fiction elements. So, never forget your storyline and make sure it pushes forward through the entire book. I use a post-apocalyptic and dystopian setting. A Nelson and Hyde Revolution focuses on human beings who have a warped sense of morality and believe in survival of the fittest. On the other side of the conflict, I have another group of people who have evolved through the chaos and want mankind to maintain hope in their darkest hours. Both sides are pitted against each other and you'll see different outcomes in each story.
It's equally important to have a central cast of characters. Naturally, this is extremely important in any literary genre. You need a protagonist who leads the rebellion or gets caught in the middle. Steampunk protagonists are a symbol of change and the author needs to decide if the rebellion will be successful. An effective protagonist should be smart, brave, and willing to make sacrifices. I don't think a good protagonist should be perfect. Give him or her character flaws, like a sour temper, self-doubt, problems with commitment, mental health issues, or whatever sounds appealing to you. Keep in mind that steampunk protagonists are inspirational enough to gather a hoard of followers. It's also important to have a central antagonist. I have to admit that most steampunk villains are well known archetypes. They're usually corrupt, hungry for power, immoral, narcissistic, and violent. It's not mandatory to include all of those elements, but they're commonplace. Like your hero, a steampunk antagonist is convincing enough to have a following. Their personality might be deceptive. The antagonist might appear to be a proper Victorian gentlemen through part of the book and then the reader will find out later that he's a power hungry sociopath and murderer. You'll also need a cast of supporting characters to help your primary hero and villain. Choose different types of personalities and skills that will suit each other's causes. For example, your protagonist might need one ally who's a technological genius and someone else who's a combat strategist. Perhaps, one of your characters is very serious and his best friend is a class clown. Find some combinations that you'll appreciate. One of my lead female characters is a rebellious and courageous heroine who has a carpe diem approach to conflicts. Whereas her love interest is a serious, refined, and masculine individual who prefers to think carefully about decisions. It's also worth noting that steampunk characters don't have to be only human beings. Feel free to include other species, like vampires, werewolves, angels, demons, androids, elves, or anything else you want. If you want to include supernatural creatures, don't forget to give them plenty of human qualities and emotions. It will make them more relatable to the reader.
The setting is a remarkably identifiable part of steampunk. I'm sure many people believe steampunk must take place during an alternate version of the Victorian era and that's not really true. This is the most common setting for steampunk stories, but some authors use other timer periods and locations. A steampunk book can take place during the past, present, or future. It can also take place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland or the Wild West. The possibilities are endless. Just remember to include a lot of futuristic technology, steam power, and Victorian influences. This is where you can be really creative. Steampunk settings often include artificial intelligence, clockwork mechanics, various types of steam powered technology, genetic engineering, time travel, fantastic weaponry, etc. Steampunk settings are often labeled as retro futuristic; meaning the story either takes place in an earlier time period that appears futuristic or a distant future that is antiquated. Here's the tricky part. All of these elements need a context. A reader will feel very confused and have trouble enjoying the book if a spectacular steampunk setting appeared out of thin air. It needs to appear believable, even though the setting is unrealistic and rooted in fantasy. I use a futuristic setting that is more technologically advanced than our current time period. A post-apocalyptic event prompted human beings to alter their culture and scenery, which is why everything looks so different. The reasons for your setting don't have to be complicated, but they need to make sense. Also, steampunk settings are highly visual. I recommend watching steampunk films because the scenery and technology might give you ideas. Such research can also help you understand the general style of steampunk settings.
That should help you guys understand the basic foundations of steampunk fiction. I promise to post other blogs that will be helpful. In the meantime, leave some comments and maybe we can have a discussion. I would love to see your thoughts. Peace out!
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