I was doing research for Tea and Book on Steampunk and I realized that there is just so very much out there and I didn't know any of it. I know you are all shocked!! But as any good sleuth will tell you.. If you don't have the information research it!! I found oodles of interesting articles on it and I think over time I am going to do a series on Steampunk.. Between both blogs I should be able to write about it without flooding either blog.
While I found an excellent discussion on just WHAT Steampunk is and posted it on Tea and Book.. For Bodice Rippers, Femme Fatales and Fantasy, I want to focus on how to write a good Steampunk Romance Novel. To that end I found the following article on The Fancy Reader
- good world-building (it doesn’t have to be so detailed or drastically different, but it does need consistency, realism, interesting and perhaps logic, but there are some aspects that one shouldn’t interfere with, such as the class system in a British-set story. Remember, steampunk is essentially a type of historical science fiction.)
the age of technology (some authors seemed to think mentions of goggles, science, personal machines (like sex toys) and airships were enough. No. That’s just cosmetic. It has to be part of the society’s fabric, so things like sex toys shouldn’t be treated as inventions. Inventions are a contemporary concept. Innovative modifications of existing anachronistic machines can work, though.)
good characterization (surprisingly lacking in some I read as authors spent so much time focusing on the technological aspect and the shagging.)
political activism (this is the key element, usually in form of people fighting for their rights or to break from the control in politics or social reform but grassroots, hence ‘punk’ in steampunk; the best real-life example of social movements that could be used in a steampunk novel would be the 1838-1859 Chartist movement (note: one of its leaders, William Cuffay, was a British-born black man, usually working as a tailor and after he was sent to Australia and then Tasmania, he was a social activist until his death) and the 1888 Matchgirls Strike. Anyhow, the main core is people versus control. Hell, you can even use the French Revolution in a steampunk romance. Imagine this: the nobility uses an army of steam-fuelled automata to control people until people have enough and say, “Fuck that!” and turn it round. I admit I don’t like the French Revolution, but some people do, so why not? Or you could have old Australia with its colony of convicts. It’s difficult, bearing native Australians – or indeed, the US with native Americans – in mind, but that’s the beauty of steampunk: see social construction below)
good romance (of course! Otherwise it’d be just a steampunk novel)
no magic (it defeats the whole point of steampunk)
no paranormal (no vampire, no werewolf, no demon, nothing of its kind; if they exist, then it’s best that they were the results of a scientist’s work, ranging from genetic engineering to a man-made virus; think Frankenstein or The Island of Dr Moreau, and in a small number – that means they shouldn’t be accepted as part of the norm or to be a mass. They can be seen either as someone could fight to save or free, or to destroy as they are part of Big Brother’s effort to control the world. Political activism, remember? Because otherwise, it’d defeat the whole point of steampunk.)
social mores (good manners, traditional naming system, class system and etiquette still matter, for instance)
- different perspective of social construction, e.g. race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. Remember: if you can change the history of a country, then you can change its laws and attitudes. Surprisingly, a very high percentage of authors failed to take advantage of this very best thing about steampunk. Most seem to show that the best they could do is associate women with traditionally male-dominant professions (professor, pilot, engineer, scientist, pirate, etc.) while keeping all major characters white and straight. If you set a story in Britain, consider the possibility of taking advantage of Britain’s neglected/ignored history: black, Indian and East Asians Britons; many were certainly born and raised in Britain before 1880s.
Queen Victoria had a godson, who was Indian, growing up in her home and becoming one of her trusted political advisers. Look it up if you don’t believe me. What if there were more like him and that it’s part of the norm? And why not?
A steampunk romance author doesn’t have to change it all for her story, but I just think it’s a shame if she doesn’t change any for her story. Example: all genders – male, female, either way – are equal, but non-whites aren’t, or all races are equal, but must be heterosexual so there would be homophobia.
In some countries with its natives, you could make it so that they would be in control of their lands without interfering with large parts of the actual history, e.g. what if the government didn’t take their lands and left them to theirs while focusing on those with no roots. It’s an empowering revision of some kind. It’s best to do it when you know how it works, but stay well away from it if you’re not sure. Basically, play it around with history in mind.
That doesn’t mean you have to think, with a US-set steampunk romance: “Oh, black and white peoples back then couldn’t marry, so I can’t try that.” We’re still in What if? land, remember? What if the history was alternative yet a parallel? Such as ancestors of African Americans chose to travel to the US as settlers with all social mores left intact? What would the US be like if there were a such thing? I suspect it’d still be the same as some parts of the US’s real-life history – the struggles were on economic issues, between the rich and the poor, regardless of race.
We already have glimpses of African Americans, American Indians/natives, Asian Americans and more trying to combat some issues in history and politics, but their contributions were cut short, ignored or neglected in real life, so in a story, we can take those real-life efforts farther in a story by making them part of the norm. Authors of historical fiction can’t do this, but authors of historical SF or fantasy can, and so can authors of steampunk. Take advantage of this, authors!
The origins don’t have to be detailed or told in a story, but it can be accepted as the norm in this universe as part of world-building. We don’t think about the origins of what we are, don’t we? Why not for those characters?
In short, a Steampunk romance can have same fashions, same social mores, same history and same time-line of technology, science and literature, but different social constructions as a result of history revisions.
- the heart of Steampunk: people. Yes, there is technology, society, social issues and politics, but it’s always about people, eg. their fight for rights or rebellion against something huge, like a government, a corporation, or Big Brother. You know that part where they say “They’re controlling our lives”? That’s it. A mass would try to break free from that control.
Anyroad, Steampunk Romance is still evolving as a sub-genre. Some directions I appreciate and some directions I don’t. Particularly, the paranormal aspect. I bit my lip when I recently saw a line-up of 14 new Steampunk romances and 10 of them feature vampires, fairies and demons. What a way to miss the point, authors. What you’re writing are gaslight romances, not steampunk romances.
There is a massive focus on inventor as hero or heroine, which conjures mixed feelings in me. Half of mine thinks it’s fun and the other half of me thinks, “You guys are acting as if technology is a new thing when it should be the norm” or “Please don’t make technology the core of the story.” I mean, do we think about guns when we read a war story? Guns are very much part of characters’ lives, but they don’t revolve their lives – and for author, the story – around them.
All that said, I do enjoy reading steampunk romances and gaslight romances.
Have to admit that I honestly didn’t think, when I wrote about this type of romance on my old blog and elsewhere, that it’d ever become a sub-genre. (I couldn’t find that post, but I obviously wrote some more because Tara Marie gave a heads up at her blog here: Maili/McVane is back (oops) about a post I wrote in 2006.)
I think Steampunk Romance would remain a niche and will probably continue as a small sub-genre, like vampire romances were during 1980s and 1990s, until a couple of decades later.
Yes that is the post in it's entirety I found it absolutely fascinating.. I wonder if I was Steampunk in another life?
What do you think about Steampunk?