Creating worlds is probably the most fun an artist can have. There is a moment where nobody has a name, there are no laws, and no one has any faults. It is all pure potential. But the moment you give the characters strengths, they also take on weaknesses. They make mistakes, and within a few hours of world building, your characters are in a drama.
I have always been interested in world building, so when I first heard the word ‘steampunk,’ it was a kind of revelation. Here was a culture and a banner for a world I loved and understood. What makes steampunk so attractive to an artist are the recognizable motifs: victorian clothes, mad scientist, air ships. But beyond that there are no rules. In essence, Steampunk is a recognizable starting place for unlimited imagination.
If I build an entirely new world, then it takes forever for the reader to figure out who is who and where we are. The beauty of steampunk is the reader comes to the story with a few recognizable road marks and clues, then they follow the story to something totally new.
World building is only the first step. The next is emotion. What are the relationships between these people? If you get it wrong, then you have a soap opera. If you get it right you have a classic, a tale people understand heart and soul. If the writer really gets the emotion right, then it resonates with people across boundaries of space and even time.
So, when I discovered the genre of steampunk, it gave a name for numerous things I already loved: movies, art, counterfactual history, the aesthetic of the industrial revolution. However, I am a writer of children’s books and young adult. So what does a steampunk book from me look like? My first thought was Charles Dickens. From there I learned about the workhouses in Victorian London, which were meant to be so terrible, so repressive that no one would want to ask the government for help. People were literally punished to inspire them to succeed. Humiliated to drive you to try harder. Somehow this reminded me of high school. In a flash, I had my story and my setting: a steampunk workhouse/factory populated with teenagers and evil guards. It seemed like the perfect metaphor for adolescents, and a unique place to set a love triangle.
I am anxious to know what steampunk fans think of the story. Did I get the world building right? Hopefully the goggles, airship and octopus all grow organically from the plot and fit into the world. But even more than the world building, I want to know if I got the emotions right. If so, then maybe others will enjoy the story, even people who aren’t fans of the genre. For those of you who are fans, I look forward to hearing from you. Write a review or email if my new novel Steam turns your gears!