Someone recently asked me about my forthcoming novel Innocent Darkness and a) whether or not I plotted it out and b) why I chose Steampunk.
Oddly enough Innocent Darkness wasn’t originally Steampunk. It was originally set in present day Sylmar, California. It was the first story where I had actually plotted out the entire story, on paper before I ever wrote it. (Granted, by plotted I mean I had a four page summary from start to finish so i wouldn’t forget my ideas).
I’d been really wanting to write a Steampunk YA and but was having trouble thinking of ideas. So, I thought about the ideas I had in development and went “hmmm, I bet I could Steampunk that.”
I got the idea of Noli’s flying car and started working out basic details in my head, since Steampunking the story changed a lot of things right off the bat. Then, I sat down and began to write, trying to follow my basic story, but make it Steampunk as I wrote.
I already had a working knowledge of Steampunk and had read a few Steampunk books. Still, I did a lot of research as I went along, because every Steampunk world is unique and I needed to decide what elements worked for my story.
Flying cars, evil headmistresses, and opium dens all seemed to easily find their way into the story. These elements help to bring out the “Steampunkyness” of the story. Steampunk is also all about the gadgets, so I had to create my technology as I went along, in addition to creating the “rules” of the world that any paranormal romance or urban fantasy has.
It’s always fun to bring in familiar Steampunk archetypes–air pirates, mad scientists, inventors, etc). But the trick to making your story fresh is to give it your own twist.
Steampunk can take place anything, anywhere. Instead of modern day, it now took place in an alternate version of Victorian California. I had to create an explanation as to why there were now flying cars and different technology. Every alternate history has some sort of reason as to why it differentiates from our own.
The Victorian elements were fun to add and a lot of them simply fell into place–others I had to really search for and think about to find something that was just right. Googling Victorian torture methods gives you interesting results.
I’m a pantser by nature, but I didn’t find operating with this basic outline to be stifling because I used it as a guideline, not a template. It wasn’t detailed so there was a lot of room to add twists, turns, and even surprise characters. A major character from the outline never “appeared” in Steampunked version, but a new, very vibrant character very naturally took her place and had her own interesting quirks and back story. I discovered a main character had a dark and painful past and a character I hoped to include never made it past a mention or two (hopefully he’ll make the next book.)
It was an interesting experience for me, working from an outline that was very modern and adding the Steampunk elements as I went along. The basic plot and the main characters are the same, but two stories are wildly different. One thing I did like was when I got stuck I got go “where am I in the outline?” and figure out how I was going to get there. If i found something didn’t work, I simply changed it.
I don’t think I’ll ever be a hard-core plotter. But it was a fun experiment.