Steampunk Worldbuilding Questions
The steampunk book I'm writing is set in 1800’s America. I need to narrow down just how my version of this America is smooshed together to make it my own creation, but still believable. These are some of the questions I’m asking myself to really understand where this story is going and where it’s coming from:
1. What is the overall mood of the book: It is dystopian, utopian, politically charged or little pieces of each? We are at the tail end of a federal election right now in Canada, so I can’t help but think about politics no matter how hard I try not to. Do we, as a country, stick with the guy who is all about photo-ops, is a control freak and whose government was just found to be in contempt of Parliament; or do we switch to someone who is unknown but talks a good game? Do voters even make a difference? I would like to pursue a book in which the government is decided by one winning ticket in which the winner can decide who should be in charge of the country, sort of like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and his golden ticket. Hmm, that does sound like a good story.
2. The extent of alternate history. Is my world going to closely match the real world or will there be a lot of changes? Maybe there is only one change, but that change affected everything from then until now. The President of the day could have been assassinated and the vice had to take over, scrapping all the progress he made abolishing slavery. What would the United States be like if slavery still legally existed? Does the world even look the same? Maybe Canada overtook all of the Great Lakes in a war and the USA has poisoned most of their fresh water with industrialization. The USA is now dependant on their large, more dominant cousin to the North for fresh water. (Hey it could have happened)
3. What is the status of women and minorities? In a lot of historical books women are portrayed as the lesser sex, because at that time, women were not given the same liberties, they did not have the same opportunities in patriarchal societies. Minorities throughout history have had it bad. I am half Ojibway Indian so my ancestors were persecuted. In fiction, does this same oppression exist or is it more idealistic? In some ways I think making everything politically correct and ideal is an injustice to what minorities suffered. I am on the fence whether I want minorities to be in a position of equal status in my books or represent the injustices as they existed at that point in time so we don’t candy coat over what actually happened.
4. What are the social norms? I have found a fantastic book called Manners and morals of Victorian America. It’s fascinating! I love the social proprieties, not necessarily to follow them, but to be able to break those rules. If you are writing about Victorian America, the book is worth a look.
5. Technology. I every steampunk book, the extent of technology use must be determined. It might be magic, advanced technology for its time or some other unknown. Whatever the level of technology present in the book, the boundaries should be clearly defined. What is possible, what is impossible? I love the idea of strange inventions that actually work. The Victorians were famous for inventing crazy contraptions.
What questions do you ask yourself when world building?