What is Steampunk?

A while ago I made a post on why every author should go with the sub-genre steampunk before it’s too late. Well, you might be wondering, “What is steampunk anyway?” Well, the point is, much of it is up to you. But I thought I’d give you all an outline.

Steampunk is simple in concept. Everything is powered by steam. It might be useful to look up the different parts of a steam engine before you embark upon your quest to make a steamcraft book. Knowing the difference between a piston, crankshaft, and boiler might be helpful. But you can expand upon it yourself. I made up a word for steamcraft tech. It’s flygear. It’s sort of like flywheel, a real word. The flywheel is the wheel the crankshaft turns in a train. The flygear is a similar thing, except instead of a wheel, it’s a gear that works with other things in the machine, like the rotor, guns, etc.

The actual setting of the sub-genre can be varied upon. I thought steampunk cowboys would be cool. Take it out West! Some people bring it to England in the 1900-Victorian era. Think carpetbags, leather trench coats, and pipes.

Obviously, mixing the two together is the main idea. How do prim-and-proper duchesses and earls fit with oily, squeaky machines? Well, the 1900s in England wasn’t all rich people. You can focus on the lower classes, and only a little on the upper. Instead of the beggar down the street who walks with a cane, how about the old ranger with half of his face made of old automaton parts and watches.

Maybe this doesn’t appeal to you. You want it more like our life here on Earth; I know how you feel. Bayonet is not like the scene described above.

In an email to a friend describing steampunk, I said that you can make your world like our world. It’s all about picking out the alternates. What I mean by this is finding the small things that can be differed upon. Czar instead of President. You could also use Regent, Chieftain, Empress, Count, Duke, or Elder. I think things like King and Lord have been overused, so try something different! You can use this idea in everything, whether titles or types of soldiers or kinds of pans (e.g. skillet and wak)! I like to look around and find alternates of everything. Washroom instead of bathroom, or should we use the lou? Alternate spellings for names and words. Deadbolt or deadlock? These differences relate the steampunk world to ours but give it its own uniqueness. This is more how Bayonet is.

There are a lot of clichés in steampunk which aren’t bad to follow, but can be varied upon. The three metals brass, bronze and copper are the most commonly used in the genre. I mainly use these, along with tin and a few made up materials. You don’t need to use those though. Use titanium, iron, or mithril if you want.

Another thing common in steampunk are airships. Airships, or blimps, are the main source of transportation. They’re really handy for all sorts of scenes. Romance: “We knew not how long we gazed at each other. We saw naught but our faces and the far off sunset, heard nothing but the other’s breathing in sync with the rotors’ slow beat and the whirring of the tick-tocking gears around us.” Action: “Jane-Vell dodged a whizzing bullet and ran across the deck under the bulbous balloon, hoping desperately the engines wouldn’t fail. And that a single dart would hit the balloon matrix.” Mystery: “There are only ten people in the Hotel-Class 74. Not one of them has left. The murderer is still here, among us, one of you. And we have to find him before the engine boost closes. Then we’ll all be dead.” You can imagine airships in a number of ways. Frigates and other sailing ships is one idea, focusing on decks, cannons, and massive props. Another way to view them is as luxurious indoor flying hotels. You can pick.

But my motto is “be bold.” So I don’t use airships. You don’t need to either. Use whatever transport you want. Just remember not to make it too like our world!

What about animals? Creatures and such? There’s not much to say about that. I know two authors that have huge birds in their steam-bestiary. You can take tigers and lions, or sloths and bears, or toths and bearions! I made up a few creatures myself, but tend to stick with real or mythological animals. A touch of castle fantasy isn’t bad!

As to the inhabitants, I use humans. But don’t let that limit you. Oh no, their are hundreds of possibilities. I always though Minotaurs and Dwarves, especially Dwarves, would be cool. Imagine a whole crash of short people tinkering with brass and bronze in a humid forge. Stop making them blacksmiths…make them steamsmiths! Fauns could be fun too. They can spruce up the night markets with some music while the minotaurs guard the gates. Another thing to consider are robots, or droids as I call them. You can do whatever you want with those. I have them in Bayonet. I’d be careful with them though. After all, without electricity, how can you program one to think logically? What I do is have them act more as smart machines instead of metal minds. Instead of being programmed, they’re geared to preform certain tasks, but those tasks only.

OK, so what about weapons? This is one thing I haven’t seen much of. In The Sky Riders, a steampunk book, they use crossbows and electric pistols. I use guns, only that the bullets are propelled by pressure instead of gunpowder. It sounds weird at first, but it’s actually really cool. You could do that, or maybe something else. Swords? Staffs? Darts?

By what I’ve written, I’m sure you can see that a lot is up to you. That’s why steampunk’s so fun.

Well that’s all! I hope you enjoyed this post. I’ll see you in the next one.

To God be the glory.


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