Full Steam Ahead--How to decide if it feels right.

Greetings all, with many happy returns of the day.  I am a science writer who has recently been drawn into the wonderful world of Steampunk.  I have spoken with a number of friends experimenting with Steampunk, and they say that the genre is actually undefinable--a bit fantasy, sci-fi meets history, alternate timelines dealing with social issues.  For the most part, I get it, but I am having a devil of a time trying to decide on appropriate story scenarios to open my series of YA novels with.  I have my characters, and a ton of ideas, but could use some feedback from other writers about what feels appropriate for the genre, and which storyline to open with:   

Topic 1--An eccentric scientist and his automaton disappear.  Months later a mysterious string of impossible robberies occur suggesting a non-human perpetrator.  


Topic 2-A band of thieves steal an airship to use in a string of bank robberies.  One of the main characters is employed to sneak aboard and steal the key from the inventor, but winds up having second thoughts when he gets to know the crew.  The story can go in two different directions.  

  1. The main character, goes after the felons, and overcomes them, but subsequently crashes on a floating island, and accidentally awakens an ancient race hellbent on destroying the now dominant surface dwellers.
  2. The main character pursues the felons, and after crashing on an island has to rescue his niece and them from being sacrificed by local tribesmen who worship a winged god, possibly by altering his airship to look like said beastie.  

I am wrestling with whether or not I am mixing too much fantasy into the story.  Should I keep the setting of London,  or include a deserted island as per Verne, or introduce a mythical lost race?  Is it too much.  

Can not wait to hear from you.

Views: 88

Comment by M. Morria Nickles on October 16, 2013 at 8:58am

I would go with the first theme, or the second theme with line 2.  I would stay away from the tribesmen and sacrifices etc, unless you do extensive study.  

In my story Anasazi Desert Chronicles, the Aztec Empire's priests have done that to an airship crew... but it is part of well known practices in the Aztec religion.  Basically if you are creating  a tribe or using a known tribe, study and create a well established culture for them before you start writing or possibly risk come off very offensive.  Just my two cents from having lived in the Southwest among the Native Americans out here.

Comment by Kevin Steil on October 16, 2013 at 10:02pm

Hi Reginald,

congratulations on jumping in with a story to write.

Here are a few thoughts I had after reading your post.

Topic 1 would truly be a steampunk story with inventory and automaton tropes. I'd be disappointed, though, if the inventor and automaton really were the thieves, or if they were coerced into being thieves, as both would be predictable storylines. I'd be more intrigued with some twist in the story like they were actually stopping robberies even though it looked like they were committing them.

Topic 2 also has good tropes to use - airships, airship pirates, undercover secret agent - although that agent needs to do more than just steal a key to disable the airship. Nice twist that the pirates aren't bad pirates but have some more noble reason for their piracy that would endear them to the reader, especially if it's coupled with a bit of "Rob from the rich" Robin hood story element.

With the first branch of the story, it suddenly feels like a totally different story. First it was airship pirates, then it's an ancient race being released. It could work if the airship pirate story was pretty short and only served to bring everyone together before crashing.  And the ancient race story would need to be pretty compelling. I'd compare it to Hitchcock's Psycho <potential spoilers> It starts off as a theft and an escape, which goes horribly wrong when the thief is killed mid movie and then it's all about Norman and his mother. The norman story was so grand and gripping that Marion Crane and the initial theft become inconsequential except as the reason to get her to the Bates motel.

The second branch would need some serious explaining how the secret agent, while infiltrating the pirates, needs to not only bring them to justice but apparently wants to use them first to rescue his niece before betraying them to the authorities.  What would be more believable is that the agent hires the pirates to fly to an island to rescue the niece and there upon they all find dangers and obstacles a plenty.

The other commenters are right, too - be consistent in the worldbuilding, enough to suspend disbelief, or the whole thing will fall apart.

Good Luck!

Comment by Reginald Pinafore on October 18, 2013 at 3:28pm

Thanks everyone for the fantastic insight.  I think my world building could use a bit more work, true.  Because I was gearing it towards a Young Adult audience, I thought I would introduce a character who was driven by science, a Benton Quest type, who is dealing with a secret organization.  Originally, I was thinking of having a series of books where this scientist hero, seeks out ancient artifacts and civilizations, but I am draw more towards the social issues and story lines that can be explored using stories based in and around Victorian London, and in terms of story-building this seems to make the most sense.  I was also thinking of having this mysterious league headed by a Moriarity type villain, who becomes trapped in a robot body, or considering a Medieval scientist,  or sultan, who to escape death had his body transferred into a machine and is looking for a way to take over the world, as usual, or extend his life.


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