How to Write Steampunk

Good writing is good writing, without a doubt. With any writing you still need to follow the basics tenets of grammar and story development and foreshadowing and the like, but as I venture into my first foray of writing Steampunk stylized science fiction/fantasy, I find that the lines of what’s appropriate are sometimes blurred in some very fun ways.

“Oh man, not more airships and brass rivets and gears and steam engines… it’s been done!”

Well yeah, but not by me. Look the genre was awesome when it hit the scene because it was different, then it got saturated and people got tired of it, but really Steampunk is not a genre; it’s a subset of many different genres; a cloak to wrap a story in, and an interesting one at that. I am not writing an alternate world that is  dominated by mighty machines, powered by scientifically impossible steam engines that take themselves all too seriously. But a throwback setting of scientific adventure and romance… heck yeah, why not? A Steampunk story seems to me to offer a unique chance to explore and thrill in a way that speaks to the minds and imaginations of many different moods.

Truth to tell, I have not read nearly enough in the genre, or much of what most people consider traditional science fiction either. At least not lately. So maybe I’m getting it all wrong. The couple of Steampunk books I have read were very highly rated and reviewed… and I didn’t like them all that much. I could see their imagination, but I could also see their influences and motivations, and it’s hard to mask your reverence for a highly popular space opera that was one of its kind if that’s your only muse. I mean that’s fine, but when you can create anything you want, get weird with it. Have fun with it, at least get different with it.

Sure, in science fiction you need to have a good original concept outlined to make the story be something. You need a strong plot, interesting characters, and an appropriate, engrossing setting. You are creating a whole new world that never existed before, but therein lies the fun: there are no rules except what you create. You want your characters to have what we think of as super powers, or machines that do things not physically possible? Science fiction yo, write it into existence.

Another thing I am enjoying is something that has been a downfall for most my other writing: too wordy (until I edit it down). In Steampunk with it’s Victorian era influences to class, structure, and language, wordy is right. With Steampunk you get to make up new terms or use old ones that have long ago been dropped from our modern English vernacular. It does amp up the amount of google word synonym searches, but man is it fun to use old timey terms when talking about a machine we could only hope to see fifty years from now in the future.

Traditionally, to make a story fit into the Steampunk category you have some standard additions and rules to adhere to. A classical facade for one. Another – which is interesting considering the social demonstrations of feminism and minorities we have seen in the real world of late – is the idea that the term of a ‘fairer sex’ never happened. In most Steampunk novels, chivalry was advanced and women were not seen as meek, needing to be protected. That tenet alone brings with it a whole new set of rules… and dangers. In my opinion, fiction is fiction and the lines get to get crossed when you want them to. Mechanical and magical can get combined, and if done right, can work really really well. Feminism combined with servants? Oh it’ll put some people’s gender inappropriate undies in a twist, but see if I care.

And maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there are strict rules to follow, things not to combine, things not to say or do, and maybe I should google that too, but for now, I’m enjoying the freedom, along with the technical research and studious note taking and organizing that it takes to keep straight everything about creating a whole new world, time, language and people. Steampunk was born to be an over-the-top form. The trick is making it relate-able to other people.


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