Steampunk novels are fun, hot, edgy, thrilling, retro, futuristic, or any number of other adjectives.
Research the Victorian Age
Steampunk fiction is almost always set in the Victorian era, but it can range from the 1850s to the 1950s. Since the novels are often alternate history books, the author needs to have a background of historical facts and societal mores of the age. This is not to say that the steampunk genre has to fit into a tightly constricted corset of writing rules. Rather, the writer should have extensive background knowledge that will allow the writing to reflect the aura of the age.
Victorian writers who have inspired many of the gadgets and gear in steampunk fiction are Jules Verne and H. G. Wells. The mathematician Charles Babbage created a prototype for a precursor to the computer in the 1800s, and his work can be a guide to the technology of the time.
Read in the Steampunk Genre
Nothing prepares a writer like reading in the genre. Reading extensively will give a scope and perspective of what steampunk encompasses. Also, reviews and reader comments on the books will help the writer understand what readers want and expect in a steampunk novel.
Check online for the latest in steampunk literature, as well as the neo-classics from the 1980s. This steampunk article has a short list of recommended books. Other sources are Girl Genius webcomics, video games, and movies.
Steampunk World Building
As in other fantasy and science fiction writing, world building is necessary. The historical era it is set in serves as the backdrop. The era, the locale, and the clothing fashions are already available through research with a certain amount of tweaking. One defining element of steampunk is the use of steam powered technology. The machinery and gear may need to be devised by the author.
Cherie Priest, author of Boneshaker, created a steam powered ice drilling machine that is a central facet of the plot. Captain Nemo would be nothing without his Nautilus submarine. And where would H. G. Wells be without his time machine?
Machinery and technology are key components of steampunk, something the readers look forward to experiencing. Authors should take the time to graphically develop the steam powered gadgets and tools that will set their novels apart from others. The steampunk genre has given birth to new inventors creating all types of things that are steam driven. A simple search on the Internet will find them and help the author with ideas.
Plan the Theme and Plot of the Novel
Of course, no amount of inventions and gadgetry will take the place of a solid plot and clear theme. These may be planned using two methods. Reverse engineering is when the author decides which technology to feature in the novel and builds the plot around it. The other method is to develop a strong plot and then decide how to make the steampunk gear a major player in the development and resolution of the problem.
Sub-genres of steampunk fall into all the traditional fiction categories, as well as a few that are decidedly “punk.” These include cyberpunk, air pirates, gaslamp punk, diesel punk, and supernatural punk. Clearly, the genre is wide open to whatever a writer may imagine, opening up plot possibilities.
Once the novel is well under way, consider beginning agent research. Not all agents represent steampunk. It’s still considered a niche market with breakout potential. Finding an agent with the connections to properly promote the work is essential.
There are online resources for agent research, including Query Tracker, and there are still the print forms of agent listings such as the Guide to Literary Agents. Whichever method is used, there is no substitute for going to the agent website and reading it carefully, as well as researching the agent’s client list. Targeting the right agent will up the chances of successful publication.
The steampunk genre is growing rapidly, and with it, the number of writers who want to pen a steampunk novel. However, the old adage still rings true; write what one loves. If steampunk doesn’t appeal to an author, then writing it will be a chore. That will come through in the writing and the readers will feel it.
Authors should not hop on the steampunk writing train in hopes of capitalizing on the latest trend and publishing a bestseller. An author should do it because it’s fun, enjoyable, and something he or she truly believes in. If a Victorian era steam powered computer keyboard isn’t available, a modern one will do.