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Know Thy Steam Power!

We already discussed what makes the steampunk fiction genre tick. And that’s steam power. Hence the name.

But let’s not go too fast too soon and risk blowing a gasket in the process. Most of us are too caught up in our electronic gadgets to know much about “archaic” energy production like steam power.

I mean, isn’t that, like, what the dinosaurs ran on?

If that’s our mentality, then we’d better believe we need to do some research on the subject before we write about it. As Tuesday’s Definition detailed, “If you’re writing in the steampunk fiction genre, feel free to throw in just about any technology you want – just as long as you can make a steam-power case for its existence.”

That qualifier is essential for anyone who wants to be truly accepted in this authorial area.

Get a feel for actual Victorian technology.

Because the steampunk fiction genre is typically found in the sci-fi/fantasy sections of a bookstore, there’s a lot of room to run when you’re working on a manuscript of this nature. While real steam power can only do so much, steampunk fiction steam power is hard-core stuff!

That is to say it’s hard-core if you, the writer, can make it convincing. Whatever futuristic or fantastical gadgets you choose to employ, they need to be plausible enough to make readers buy into them. So look into what steam power could actually do. Then build off of it.

Feel free to start out with Writer’s Digest’s recap of common technologies used in the steampunk fiction genre:

Airships float above the earth, detached from mundane terrestrial concerns, providing the escape of travel with the romance of a bygone era.

Other technologies come into play as well: steam power plants; cunning clockwork mechanisms; Gatling guns; Congreve rockets and early generations of repeating rifles; railroad locomotives; land walkers; and steam-powered elephants.

Yup. Steam-powered elephants are okay to employ should you so choose, and should you so do the research necessary to make it plausible. Research like:

  • Obviously, you can use the internet to search for credible articles, diagrams and histories. Obviously. It’s almost pointless to list as a resource when the typical types of people interested in the steampunk fiction genre are geeks, a term I use with a high level of admiration and jealousy. The sci-fi/fantasy/steampunk crowd is on the higher-end of the technological knowledge scale, so you guys have your web resources down to a science, I know. With that said, use them well.

  • There are also plenty of books out there you might find useful, including histories about Victorian-era technological advances. A quick online search found this fascinating non-fiction possibility: Clockwork Futures: The Science of Steampunk and the Reinvention of the Modern World. Since I’ve never read it, I can’t officially endorse it. However, it does look like an intriguing read at first glance.

  • Search for Steampunk fiction-writing communities to help you round out your details. More than likely, those are going to be online. But hey, you might be able to find something local too, particularly if you live in a big city. It’s worth checking out.

Ultimately, you want to have fun writing in the steampunk fiction genre. Or any other kind of fiction genre, really. Just make sure you base that fun on a firm foundation so readers can enjoy the experience as much as you do.

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