It’s difficult to write a proper blog post about not being a preachy steampunk fiction writer without being preachy in the process.
Is that ironic? I genuinely don’t know since I try to avoid using that horribly misunderstood word overall. But I will say this conundrum is exceptionally annoying.
However, it’s even more exceptionally annoying to read someone’s sermon after they sold you a bill of supposedly fun fiction. So here goes my attempt to not preach an anti-preaching blog post to steampunk fiction writers. Or anyone else who cares to listen.
Let’s start with the Rule itself.
Too much preaching gets obnoxious.
Because steampunk is set during a (somewhat) past era, it’s far too easy for oh-so-civilized 21st century steampunk fiction writers to turn their noses up at how utterly backwards our ancestors were.
But how backwards were they really? And how civilized are we really?
It’s impossible not to employ morals and ethics in a story. Just don’t do it at the expense of the adventure.
One great way to follow this Rule is to focus on the adventure at all times. If a moral or ethic applies to a certain spot, then employ it indeed. If it doesn’t, don’t force it.
Another tried-and-true tip is this: Don’t use your exposition sections (typically in the first chapter or two of the book) to opine (i.e., preach) too much about what a sexist, racist setting your character is caught in. If that has to be the case, establish it through other means distributed throughout the story such as:
Some secondary or tertiary character’s offensive comment: Move aside, boy.
An inward grumble about how much easier it would be to run without a corset: If she could have, she would have throttled the whole women-hating society’s throat for pushing such ridiculous female fashions forward.
A notice of someone’s lady’s maid: Her tight dark curls were largely swept up under a white cloth, and her eyes were downcast with no personality showing in her face or form.
You know the oft-quoted writing rule of “show, don’t tell”? That one’s debatable depending on the situation. But “show, don’t preach” is much more universally appropriate.
One final trick to try if you’re writing in historical or quasi-historical settings is this: Consider how moral and ethical you are in your time before you go judging other people in theirs.
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t judge at all. Obviously, there’s plenty of bad stuff to condemn throughout history. But there’s also plenty of bad stuff to condemn today. There always will be as long as humans act like humans, which is pretty much the problem with Earth’s entire existence.
We’re too prone to do stupid stuff, all while thinking we’re being clever.
Does that sound preachy?
If so, consider it this way instead: When steampunk fiction writers – or any other kind out there – genuinely recognize their moral and ethical flaws, it does something positive to their mindset. Which does something positive to the words they choose and how they arrange them on paper.
The result is less preachy prose. And when steampunk fiction writers, et al., produce less preachy prose, it’s automatically more engaging.