Steampunked: Keeping the Novel Afloat While Surfing the Genre

by Jonathan 5 Comments

Before the Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa season I reached approximately the half way mark in my second draft of Shadow of the Black City. I’ve got a pretty good idea of the large story arc and have enjoyed filling in the gaps.

Then the holidays came and the writing stopped.

It’s been a good break because I’m forcing myself to rethink the setting and feel, the direction and destination, and character development of my novel with an eye on these things for the next revision. After reading this, I feel justified in revisiting these things now.

I’ve managed to delve into China Mieville’s New Crobuzon in Perdido Street Station. I’m about 250 pages in and it’s given me much to consider. Shadow of the Black City is definitely steampunk, although my reading of the genre is scant. To remedy that, I put a number of books on my wish list for Christmas. I recieved The Anubis Gates, Perdido Street Station and The City and The City so far. I have a line on The Difference Engine from my brother. I also have an eye on Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker.

Is it silly of me to pursue this genre while not being well-read in it? Maybe. However, while the steampunk setting is pretty cool, the story — about people — is what interests me. Soooo, my goal is to have those steampunk elements seep through as the story is told, not be steampunk for the sake of being steampunk.

I’ve juxtaposed my steampunk city, Bogozeçi, with the desert realm of the Jashem. The protagonist, a nomad from the Jashem, has been to Bogozeçi once before. Events force him to travel there again and dredge up a host of feelings and memories he would rather not face. The city will be fleshed out through character interaction there, both nomads and city-dwellers.

Having read as much as I have of Perdido Street Station, I already see commonalities in the tropes I’m developing and the stuff Mieville has concocted. Stuff that existed in my head before I began reading Perdido Street Station. The last thing I want is for a reader to say, “Hey, this is a rip off of Perdido Street Station!” If it is, what’s the point in writing it?

Again, the solution comes back to story. I’m assuming those who enjoy the steampunk genre won’t mind seeing  familiar manifestations of steampunk elements as long as the story is compelling. That said, I’m striving for some originality, if not in the concepts themselves, then in the way they are arranged and used. We’ll see. That’s part of the fun.

If you’ve faced similar challenges, I’d love to hear. If you have any steampunk recommendations, especially in those works that are darker and heavy on the literary style and lighter on the gosh-wow side, please feel free to comment.

Comments ( 5 )

  1. Tweets that mention Steampunked: Keeping the Novel Afloat While Surfing the Genre « Words and Coffee -- Topsy.com
    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jonathan Danz, Jonathan Danz. Jonathan Danz said: New Blog Post - Steampunked: Keeping the Novel Afloat While Surfing the Genre - http://ow.ly/SG0x [...]
  2. ReplyTeresa
    I think you've brought up a great reason as to why it's so important to be familiar with the genre you write and to read, read, read. Some of the tropes can be eliminated without affecting the overall plot or characterization, and others you can twist to present in a new way. But you can only do these things if you know they exist. It's also like you say: some tropes are not only expected by the reader, but if you leave them out, oh boy won't you hear about it? ;-) I haven't had a problem yet, but I'm still reading and playing catch-up so I could have missed something. I know my critique group will point tropes out to me in a heartbeat, so I count on their knowledge too.
    • ReplyJonathan Danz
      I was drawn to steampunk mostly through visual means (mostly movies (City of Lost Children, The Prestige, The Illusionist, Rocket Man, The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello, Time after Time) but also music, (Tom Waits, mostly) websites, video games). I liked the feel and the flavor before I knew what it was called. As I read more in the genre (I've also read Green and Mainspring by Jay Lake), I'm enjoying it even more. Steampunk seems to have a fair amount of latitude as to what falls into the genre and I like that. I suppose the ideal novel have bits of sci-fi, fantasy, horror (Lovecraftian if possible), great characters and a compelling story. Should be a breeze...;-0. It seems like there are some things I'm destined to learn the hard way, but if having to read more is the hard way, sign me up. Thanks for commenting!
  3. Steampunk Education « Words and Coffee
    [...] posted the other day on my need to be better read in the steampunk genre (Since then I’ve received The Difference [...]
  4. Birthday Book Haul - The Reading List Grows | Words and Coffee
    [...] Jeff VanderMeer’s blog and read Finch. I cut my New Weird teeth on China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station and followed that up with The City and The City and The Scar. I’ve already read [...]

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