World-Building Wonders – The Steampunk World of “Tainted”
I was asked to share how I created the steampunk world for Tainted, the first book in my steampunk series, The Soul Chronicles.
Before I begin, I think it is good to define what steampunk is. There are a lot of definitions out there, most of them wordy and abstract. So I took the common elements and narrowed them down to one statement: steampunk is the fusion of our history (usually Victorian Era or wild west) and science fiction/fantasy. The “steam” part comes from advance technology that is run on—you guessed it—steam.
I like to use the word “fusion” when defining steampunk. Why? Fusion is the process or result of joining two or more things together to form a single entity. With steampunk, you join the historical genre with the speculative genre and fuse them together with steam-powered technology to create a brand new genre.
So now that you know what steampunk is, let me share how I created my own fused world. For the historical aspect, I went with the Victorian Era. I love this time period because there was so much change that occurred during this era. This is when the Industrial Revolution occurred (perfect for my steampunk technology), many things were in the process of being invented (again, perfect for steampunk), advances and changes in the medical world, women were stepping into the world of higher education and science, and all the advancements of science itself.
For the speculative aspect, I went with fantasy. The idea for Tainted originally came from an online conversation where someone asked if necromancy could ever be used for good. I had this image of a woman who had been “tainted” by her father’s research, and although it opened her up to amazing power, it also was killing her on the inside.
And thus Tainted was born. But instead of straight up fantasy necromancy, I chose to use science instead, and ask the questions 1) Are there lines we shouldn’t cross in our pursuit of the unknown? 2) What happens if we cross those lines? 3) Does it hurt others?
Kat’s own abilities stem from science as well, namely, the laws of science. She can manipulate matter. This means she can cause things to combust, or move, or cause particles to draw together (forming a solid) or drift apart (creating liquid or state form). She can even cause time to stand still. But humans were never meant to contain such power, and it is killing her soul.
Lastly, the steampunk technology. I chose to go with a more covert approach instead of flashy, in-your-face technology. Steam technology is part of the everyday world in Tainted, and thus not focused on as much by the characters, in as much we use the coffeepot to make coffee in the mornings, or use our cell phones to connect with other people, but we don’t sit there and gawk at how amazing our technology is. We simply use it. It is part of the background of our lives.
Now some steampunk authors love to build all sorts of cool gadgets and gizmos. Great! I wanted to focus more on the story of the characters and use the steampunk aspect as the backdrop to their story. I think every writer has the freedom to be as overt or covert with their technology as they want to be. And I think it also depends on the story you are writing. If it’s about an inventor, then yes, you’ll probably have a lot of cool inventions. If it’s about a socialite, eh, not so much.
So there you go. To build a world of steampunk, you research your history piece, pulling together what works for your world, including cultural aspects, manners, beliefs, and even fashion. Then you choose if you want a more science fiction or fantasy feel (maybe even both), then tie those into your world. You want magic? Great! You want AI automatons? Great!
Then lastly, have fun coming up with your own unique steampunk technology and decide how covert or overt you want to be with it. Does it take center stage of your book? Or is it the backdrop? And how does it work? Some things you can get away with just showing it in use, but some things readers might want an explanation for, depending on how overt you go with your technology.
Now go forth and write!
Morgan L. Busse writes fantasy and steampunk for the adult market. She is the author of the Follower of the Word series, including Daughter of Light, Christy and Carol Award finalist. Morgan lives on the West Coast with her husband and four children. You can find out more about Morgan at www.morganlbusse.com
Kat Bloodmayne is one of the first women chosen to attend the Tower Academy of Sciences. But she carries a secret: she can twist the natural laws of life. She has no idea where this ability came from, only that every time she loses control and unleashes this power, it kills a part of her soul. If she doesn’t find a cure soon, her soul will die and she will become something else entirely.