So youíve done your research. Scoured every Victorian website and studied all of the steampunk classics. And youíre ready to start incorporating your research into your very own steampunk story. Right? Of course you are! But how ever do you get started?
Whether you have compiled your research for writing steampunk, or a historical fiction piece, or just because you want your story set in modern day California (and you live in China!), the aspects stay the same. We all know that your characters will show some sort of human emotion/reaction to the conflict you are throwing them in. However, itís the little details which make a story real. What are they wearing? What are they traveling in? Does your society have open prejudices or suffer from diseases which became taboo back in the 1950s? If so, then you must have the details to back it up. This is where your research comes in.
We live in a very fast pace, modern society, and your readers arenít going to have the patience to read through ten pages on the intricate designs of your steam engine. As a writer Ė especially one who will be writing steampunk Ė you must learn to sprinkle your details throughout the action. For example, as much as I adore Victorian England, if I wanted to read about the political climate of Queen Victoriaís court, Iíd pick up a biography. However, if Iím reading a steampunk story where this is a central point, I get more enjoyment in seeing the politics come out through the characters reactions. By making your details miniscule, you pull the reader into your story and as an added bonus? They feel clever when they recognize whatís going on.
When it comes to incorporating your research, less is more. Donít be surprised if you spend two months organizing all this fabulous material, only to find that you wonít use half of it in the story where it was intended. Donít worry! Anything you learn is a good thing, and can be used in another story. Or your next novel. Knowledge is great in that way: itís awfully hard to throw away. Little things you donít realize youíre going to use will pop up at the most surprising times, and this is what makes your world more real. The little things. The surprising details. Not monologues or pages of description.
I know. Iíve been there. Itís hard not to show off all of your hard work. You want to make sure the reader is seeing exactly what is in your head when you are putting your scene on paper, and it feels really good to see your word count go up. At the same time, you have to remember one very small fact: You have to write stories you would want to read. And if you feel your work is too much research and not enough action, how do you think it will come across to your readers? Yup. Thatís right. Boring.
With that said, donít scrimp on what you need to make the scene complete. If youíre working on a piece where a mad scientist is creating a massive robot to control mankind, and he is describing just how this thing works, by all means, add the details! Add your research! Just donít forget to put in some action to break it up. Little things. Itís all about the little things.
This goes for clothing too. Let the reader see enough so they can envision your character, but donít write pages on the design of the corset! Or the colors! Or your characterís hairstyle! Sure this can be used as a great action (especially if they are studying themselves in a mirror), but every word you write should have some purpose to the story as a whole. Including descriptions.
Ok, so donít add too much detail. Or too little. What am I getting at? Writing is the ultimate balancing act. You donít want to bore your reader to sleep, nor do you want them scratching their heads when it comes to imagining the world you are creating. So whatís a writer to do?
First, read steampunk and get a feel of how the published writers do it. Second, figure out just what type of research you need to do, and how that research could best be used to work with your story. Nothing is better than a fully developed world, but it takes some time to build one. Third, and most important, start writing! And read what you write. See how it feels to you, then let it loose.
This week, there will be two mini assignments. The first will be to read a small passage written by Gail and myself. I want you to tell me what historical details are important, and how they set the scene for the reader.
Secondly, I want you to write your own scene. Donít worry. We will be reading them all and making comments before Week Three, so youíll have plenty of time to receive feedback on your use of research (and details!)
That said, have fun! I canít wait to see what you write!
What details are important to this scene? And what do they tell you about the character, and the world they live in?
Brass and Bone, Cynthia Gael
I kept slipping against the cobblestones and nearly falling, only catching myself at the last minute. I did not care to know why the stones were so slippery, whether it was from the oils which drained from the tin men pulling the carriages, the mysterious slurry running freely in the streets throughout Londonís working class district, or less savory substances.
At that moment, all I was concerned about was escaping from those who sought me and were trying to strike me down. Evidence of an almost successful effort on their parts now stained dark the blue of my dress, and the hilt of a blade extending from my side spoke of their intention.
They hadnít expected me to fight them. I was meant to come with the unresisting passivity of a highborn lady. Witch though I was, we all had roles we were meant to play. But when I faced the men my lover had betrayed me to, I failed in the pretenses of society. I fought them until one lay dead in the gutter while the other ran after me with such tenacity it was as if his life was in danger instead of mine.
Write a three to four paragraph scene set in the steampunk environment. Donít tell me whatís going on. Let your knowledge/research of the time period you choose come out of your writing.