Steampunked: Keeping the Novel Afloat While Surfing the Genre
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.