Being interested in steampunk, it was only natural for me to want to join some forums, and after having joined the amazing forum Brass Goggles (http://brassgoggles.co.uk/forum/index.php), the question was raised about steampunk writing. Now, you may be thinking I’m some form of imbecilic badger for even asking this question, but once you read it properly you’ll realise the validity of my point, especially if you happen to be a fellow writer. The question is: What makes a steampunk novel, or any form of literature, steampunk?
Now, many will respond with answers such as ‘Goggles!’, or ‘airships, rayguns, cogs’, and all manner of amazing and seemingly logical suggestions, but that’s just the problem. A good many people are drawn to steampunk because of the technical aspect, myself included, others for the retro-aspect, whilst still more others for the simple fact that it ‘looks cool’. But the majority of fans, so I’ve seen, seem to be focussing more on the ‘steam’ aspect of steampunk, rather than the ‘punk’ half. It’s the same question that a lot of writers will face, for example: Goth writers wanting to write a story that will be seen as more gothic that simple horror. For steampunks, its almost the exact same problem, how does one write a steampunk novel that isn’t just another fantasy/science-fiction?
Well most steampunk writers will be able to sort the ‘steam’ aspect of the genre. With any kind of steampunk novel, the technology should always be the foundation for either the setting, or the plot, or both. Period technologies, culture and fashion of the age of steam are also a crucial aspect to consider. However, this is all fairly easy to accomplish providing you have the know-how. What’s more mind-boggling to accomplish is, as I mentioned, the ‘punk’ aspect. What one could ask is what is ‘punk’? Well, the concept of ‘punk’ is in itself rebellion against mainstream society. Bearing that in mind, all one has to do is apply it to a Victorian-esque universe. In short, feature some form of dystopian element that features in a universe relying heavily on steam-age technology. This could be anything from working classes rebelling against machines taking away their jobs to the use of old technologies in a battle for freedom against races with more advanced science.
There’s plenty of material out there to help aspiring steampunk writers with writing anything, just be sure to focus on the punk aspect in order to make your novel stand out as an actual work of steampunk rather than a science-fcition or fantasy masquerading as steampunk.
There’s one more thing I’d like to add, and this is going to make me sound like a hypocrite, but at the end of the day, you have to write for yourself. When I asked the lovely chaps and lady-chaps at Brass Goggles the same question, the response was basically ‘Write for yourself, and let others judge your work’. Whilst others may not find this as helpful as I did, what’s important to remember is that others will always judge your work differently to your original intention. As long as you’re happy with the work you’ve done, then you’ve little to worry about, and should be happy with yourself. So if you’ve written what you believe to be an ideal steampunk novel, but some bugger comes along as describes it as a science-fiction, historical romance or a Twilight remake (in which case you’re doing something VERY wrong), then be content in the fact that you see it as steampunk, and don't worry too much about the views and interpretations of others.
Just remember, you can’t spell steampunk without punk.