Suzanne Lazear: “Writing Steampunk”

Posted July 25, 2012 by Sara | Novel Novice 1 Comment

Today, we are thrilled to host an exclusive guest blog from Innocent Darkness author Suzanne Lazear. Thanks for stopping by, Suzanne!

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One of the great things about writing Steampunk, to me, is all the research.

Even though it’s not historical fiction, I still found myself doing a lot of research in order to write the Aether Chronicles books. Since it’s a Victorian-based world I needed to get an idea as to what life was actually life so I could use it as a springboard to create my own.  Basically, I needed to know what the rules were so I could break them.

I researched fallen gentry to get idea what it would be like for Noli and her mother to “fall” from society after Mr. Braddock’s disappearance. I took an online class run by a police officer and pelted with hypothetical questions so I could get the scene where Noli and V are pulled over by the hovercop just right. I looked up pictures so I knew what Los Angeles looked like in 1901.

The ease of online research makes it easy to world build on the fly.

How is the Big Bad Pixymobile powered? Since Noli is a mechanic, I needed to know this. I could look a few things up and figure it out while writing the scene.

What would a steampunk tree house look like? A quick Google search gave me pictures to serve as inspirations so I could come up with my own ideas.

I spent hours looking at dresses, because I like looking at pictures of steampunk dresses, so I could get ideas as to what the characters might wear.

Some details are more important that others, but I was having a good time researching.

Besides serving as building blocks, research can add fascinating (and terrifying) details to a story. For example Noli is sent to a terrible reform school. I pulled many of the things that happen to the girls from actual treatments used on women in Victorian mental institutions. Some of these things were quite horrifying.  The sensory deprivation box Noli is put in was actually used to treat different sorts of “imbalances” during that time. The ailments Noli and Charlotte talk about were things girls and women were actually institutionalized for.

What lady’s magazines were in print back then?  What some common faery lore beyond a mushroom-ringed oak tree and not eating faery food?  When did the carousel arrive at the Santa Monica Pier? What did people eat? Did they have take out in the Victorian era?

Sure, I could make up all or part of it, one of the fun parts about writing steampunk is tweaking history and playing with reality.  But it’s also good to know what the “real” answers are.

I even did research on names. Even though my version of 1901 has very different technology, the society I’ve created is still quite proper.  Where we would have no problem calling a girl named Charlotte “Charlie”, that probably wouldn’t happen in Noli’s world, at least in regards to her friend Charlotte Wilson. So what were girls named Charlotte called as nicknames?  (The answer is Lottie.) I needed to look up Gaelic versions of the names of the Darrow children.  Speaking of the Darrow family, that name was carefully selected (anyone want to guess why?)

Sometimes my research was on line, there’s some great Victorian resources out there like or Googling “Victorian Torture Methods” yielded some interesting information – including things I actually used. I looked though old lady’s magazines from the era. Brushed up on my faery lore and re-read classic fairytales.  Read articles on life in the era, especially in regards to the lives of the wealthy. Poured over census lists for name ideas. 

I also did a lot of asking questions over Facebook and twitter—including asking other authors who write in the era questions, like what exactly is the proper term for Victorian underpants? (It turns out I was actually referring to bloomers.) 

Research can be quite fun when world building.  You just don’t want to get too carried away. After all, you have to get some actual writing in, too.


Sara | Novel Novice

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