WRITING STEAMPUNK… http://www.romanceandmystery.com/STEAMPUNK.html
an alternative universe) you get to change HISTORY to suit your needs.
Steampunk falls within the Fantasy genre, being a subgenre of the subgenre Alternative History.
Steampunk is also a society, yes, but this book doesn’t go into that.
This book won’t tell you how to write a novel either.
It focuses only on the creation of Steampunk elements and twisting history to fit the needs of the
You’ll get lists of choices to make.
You’ll get examples of how to use history to your own devices.
You’ll get some beginning research help.
You’ll get a list of published Steampunk titles to submerge yourself in while deciding what TYPE of
Steampunk tale you’d like to write.
And you’ll get a list of publishers of Fantasy, the houses that publish Steampunk tales.
AVAILABLE through KINDLE and NOOK.
Trade paperback version available from Amazon.com.
What Steampunk Is
Steampunk is a hybrid, a blending of many bits and pieces of other genres to create a new genre.
Well, subgenre, actually.
Steampunk falls under the major genre heading of Fantasy.
Because it frequently takes place in a pseudo past it also falls under the umbrella of historical fiction.
I said “pseudo past,” right? That means Steampunk writers alter – sometimes mutate or mutilate —
history to fit their own purposes. Therefore it falls under the Fantasy subdivision of Alternative History.
We aren’t going to stop there though.
Does it have a strong romantic theme? It can, which tucks it, sometimes, in the Romance field.
How about Action-Adventure? Absolutely! The majority of Steampunk tales incorporate just that!
Thrills, chills, excitement!
Mystery? Suspense? Yep, put it in.
Horror or magic? Why not?
Science and invention and exploration? Yes, yes, and yes.
Steampunk can be dark; it can be silly.
It is the early science fiction of Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, and others, recreated and embellished by
Steampunk can have any of the following:
In other words, the island nations of Great Britain (encompassing Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the Isle of
Wight, etc.). Usually set partially within London, or totally within London, though there is nothing wrong
with plunking it all down in Dublin or Edinburgh or Cardiff. This can actually be any time period during
the Industrial Revolution which, while it began in the 18th century, we will put at 1800 on through and
including the 1920s, perhaps even the 1930s.
Frequently post Civil War era, but it can be set earlier. Settlement west of the Mississippi was limited
prior to the 1850s when the various mining rushes really began populating California, Nevada, Arizona,
Colorado, Montana, Idaho, and Utah in particular. That doesn’t mean you can’t alter things. Go into the
cities: Denver and San Francisco are the best bets as there aren’t many large cities out this way until
the 20th century – not even in Texas! Whether in the outlands or the infant cities, American West
settings are usually known as Weird West Steampunk.
Head East, thou diligent Steampunk scribbler! Any large city east of the Mississippi or on the
Mississippi is a candidate for a Steampunk setting as well: New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago,
Pittsburg, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and those river cities of St. Louis and New Orleans can all offer fodder
for your tale. In fact, any locale that has something worth mining for a story, like manufacturing or
shipping, is fair game, not just these I’ve mentioned.
Go where no Steampunk writer – or few of them – have gone and see what you can dream up using
other locations in the world. Australia had gold rushes and was very much like the American West; the
Orient was just opening to the West and looking very mysterious; and as Steampunk tales can go
exploring, there’s jungles and mountains and ice caps for the dauntless to seek out.
Go REALLY Elsewhere
An alternative universe or parallel world where steam power is still the preferred mode of energy
and/or Victorian ideals or elements are prevalent is also an option – build the entire world to your
Head into the Future!
A future where Victorian ideals or elements are still the mode, of course – it’s been done at least
once, so why not do it again?
Stick with the 19th century Sci-Fi Classics
Take a leaf from the history of the 20th or 21st century and journey to the depths of the ocean, to the
Moon or to Mars, only do it in the 19th century – Jules Verne and H.G. Wells took us there but it can be
done again in your own inimitable way.
And if none of these appeal to you?
Just because these are the most common settings that HAVE been used, and are therefore familiar to
readers, doesn’t mean they are the only ones that can be used. You can dream up any type of setting.
We’ll go into each of these a bit more later on, but for now we’re moving on. Why? Well, there’s still a
bit more grounding in the genre…er, subgenre…to do before we can get steam up. Think of this as
shoveling those first chunks of coal in the boiler.
The true charm of Steampunk for a writer is that there are few things set in granite, or even in
diamond. Steampunk is flexible, even if the iron of a steam engine isn’t.
Rules of the Road
Obviously there do have to be some rules or guidelines to ensure that your tale be considered
Steampunk. Based on what is currently available to readers, here’s what these “rules” are:
1) As Steampunk stories are remakes, updates, reconfiguring, inspired by the first science fiction
stories ever written, they need to be, in essence, Victorian. It doesn’t matter where in the world or
universe or alternative universe or parallel dimension they take place, the feel, the setting, is one with
the Victorian world.
2) The story involves steam driven machines, clockwork mechanics, doing things that similar
devices were incapable of actually doing in the time period. For Verne and Wells this was science
fiction. For the 21st century writer of Steampunk, this is Alternative History.
3) The storyline uses elements of magic or that appear to be magic (such as conjuring, slight-of-
hand, magician’s tricks).
4) Because Steampunk is Alternative History, if set on Earth or involving the citizens of Earth,
historical figures can appear or be mentioned. Queen Victoria herself has figured in a number of
stories, though she might not recognize the portrait painted by a Steampunker’s pen.
5) Paranormal creatures and the fae can become featured performers in your piece. Bram Stoker’
s Dracula was a Victorian release and Wilhelm and Jakob Grimm collected all those peasant tales and
combined them in a book of fairytales during the 19th century. Categories here range from vampires
and were-creatures to faeries, pixies, trolls, dwarfs (the magical variety), banshees, etc. So can
creatures of spirit such as ghosts, gods, demons, djinn, imps, devils and angels.
6) Science is very much a part of the Victorian era, and thus beings created by science are
welcomed in Steampunk tales. These can be robots, cyborgs, people with mechanical limbs,
creatures built from spare biological parts (Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a Regency tale rather than
a Victorian one, but it is still within the time of the Industrial Revolution, and considered a reaction to
the creations of the Industrial Age). You can also breed your own biological creature or being. Or make
your hero disappear (Wells’ Invisible Man) after downing a bit of formula.
7) Mystery, suspense, danger, and frequently a ticking-clock feature (i.e. as there is a time limit in
which to accomplish something by) can be part of Steampunk story. Not only was the science fiction
genre created in the closing years of the 19th century, the mid to late part of the era gave birth to the
mystery novel, the detective, with Edgar Allan Poe, Wilkie Collins, and Arthur Conan Doyle leading the
8) Time travel has been a fictional trope for a long time but it really kicked into popularity when
science fiction was born. H.G. Wells’s hero in The Time Machine went forward to a world that
appeared nearly pre-historic, but authors in both fantasy and romance have been tossing characters
back into the past for a couple of decades now. The trick is to make the process by which the
traveling is done believable…and Steampunkishly creative for your audience.
9) Beings created via magic are another trope used in Steampunk. Golems, homunculi, and
zombies are among these.
10) Practitioners of magic, though these do not need to be wizards, witches, sorcerers or shamen.
They can be humans with a found or stolen conjuring book.
If there is any guideline that cannot, should not, be broken it is this two-parter:
The story must reflect the world of early science fiction tales in some way
AND it must include a being either mechanically, biologically, or magically constructed,
or with a paranormal, fae or spirit nature, or a person turned into a monster via a mysterious disease.