Before I get into my reasons for why you should try writing a story set in a steampunk world, I should probably explain what steampunk is. Honestly, there is no set definition for steampunk, but it tends to be a story set in a world reminiscent of the past but with anachronistically advanced technology, attitudes, fashion, or all of the above. Think of the movie Wild Wild West or The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Many of these stories are set in an alternate version of the late-eighteen hundreds, but some are in a neo-Victorian future or something completely different that still hints at steampunk’s Victorian origins. The genre is open and growing and waiting for more authors to explore it.
Still unsure? Well, here are a few why you should write a steampunk story:
- Half of your world-building is already done. Even if your world is mostly from your imagination with monsters, mechanical spaceships, or robot servants in Downton Abbey, you still have the scaffolding of real history. With a little research, you can establish chunks of your world-building, such as manners and customs, social hierarchies, fashion, architecture. It doesn’t matter if you set your story in England or India, historians during the Victorian era wrote volumes and took photographs! You have tons of inspiration right at your fingertips.
- You can rewrite history. Since steampunk is an alternate history, you can change a historical event and completely rewrite history from that point on. Have you ever wondered what would have happened if women got the vote while Jane Austen was alive? Or what if Napoleon had succeeded in conquering and uniting Europe? Steampunk is a genre that is all about manipulating history and exploring the what-ifs. Have fun with it. See what can happen with just a little change.
- You can utilize historical figures. Are there any historical figures that you find absolutely bad-ass, twisted, or just plain interesting? If you set your steampunk story during the same time period as your favorite historical figure, they can make a cameo or they can be one of your stars. Think of Hamilton. History with a twist. What if Tesla had even more advanced technology or what if he and Edison got into an escalating battle that threatened the world? You could even go as far back as Cleopatra’s time. Could she have defeated Caesar if she discovered some cutting edge technology in the Library of Alexandria? Do your research, explore your imagination.
- You can create wild, new devices or machines. Let your imagination run wild. If you have an interest in science or engineering, steampunk is the perfect place to crack your knuckles and get writing about whatever strange device has been bopping around your brain. Your new tech can destroy planets, cure diseases, or just chug, pop, and belch steam. Steampunk often relies on the mixing of old and new technology to change history, so think about what Cleopatra could do with a laser or if the Vikings could have conquered the world with flying ships powered by steam.
Steampunk is one of the most open genres in literature, and with boundless possibilities, it’s yours to explore and make your own. Write a short story, write a novel, draw a futuristic cityscape, or even a play. Give it a try.
Kara Jorgensen is an author of fiction and professional student from New Jersey who will probably die slumped over a Victorian novel. An anachronistic oddball from birth, she has always had an obsession with the Victorian era, especially the 1890s. Midway through a dissection in a college anatomy class, Kara realized her true passion was writing and decided to marry her love of literature and science through science fiction or, more specifically, steampunk. She has an MFA in Creative and Professional Writing and hopes to one day live off her writing. You can find her first book here.