I love to write, but I am wary of the old saying: “write what you know.” Wow, that would sure limit steampunk, fantasy and all fiction. Most people immediately recognize that writing and imagination suffer when hemmed in by an absolute adherence to our own mostly-boring lives and experiences. Drinking a cup of coffee in the morning is not the stuff of a great book, but tossed into the imagination of a great writer, exploring the translucent shades of life and character infused in the act of drinking that cup of coffee, it can be–but the writer must leave the world of easy, mundane fact and plunge headlong into the gray unknown in order to find it.
I love this popularly readjusted version of the aforementioned saying: “write about what you don’t know.”
When I write, a huge part of the joy involves the research (which does get tedious, and threatens to be never ending) I need to do to establish the setting of my story. This is more necessary in the historical fiction genre than in speculative fiction, but I did have to learn about a slew of topics in order to present my steampunk world effectively (even if I choose to ignore the facts on occasion, which the subgenre allows (my brutally overloaded zeppelin does need to defy all physics and laws of gravity and lift to fly, and fly fast, you see)–but whatever set of new rules you invent for your world, you had better damn well stick to them). I studied zeppelins, hydrogen, static equilibrium, steam engines, turbines, gunpowder, 18th Century muzzle-loading cannons, the Victorian/Edwardian era culture and clothing, the Great War, the British empire, bustles, John Bull top hats, airspeed, empennage, baggywrinkle and the Coriolis effect. Granted, I write about things I am interested in, so the histories and British empire parts come easy, but much of it is new to me, especially the science. Two of my three main characters are female (and one is a female half-Martian, to boot) and calculating the thoughts and feelings of the opposite sex is an adventure. ADVENTURE is the word. As I embark on every new book, it is an adventure. It is all new to me, and that is what makes all the of the work, all of the hours of isolation, FUN. And, hopefully, I make it possible for the reader to participate the adventure and the FUN.
Sebastian Faulks summed up this sentiment nicely and gives good advice to carry along the road to getting published: “Write about what you DON’T know. Research. Invent. Write about people of other ages, sexes, nationalities and periods in history. Then find a book you think is similar to yours. Write to the author care of the publisher and find out who their agent is (this info is usually on the author’s website these days). Good luck.”
Who is the steampunk Tinkerbell above? She has obviously dropped in on a convention. I don’t know who she is, where she came from or much about fairies. I don’t know what the story is here, but what a great story. I want to know the story, and do the research to find out what it might be. What a fun adventure in the offing! (I actually don’t know where this picture–posted on Pinterest–was taken or who is in it, but I love the costume).
Here is the coffee–what would Joseph Conrad do with this?