So, you’ve got the background blue-prints to your Steampunk world, now how do you put that to use while building a story with characters and plot?
If you’re an outliner, you may be struggling with the amount of details you have to find a place for. If you’re a discovery writer, you may have already written the story and be trimming down on the info dumps and useless bits of the world.
One of the weirdest things about The Scribbling Windhund is the point of view. Since the story is told by the machine, it exists somewhere between an epistolary work, a play, and the diary of a fashion critic. So, I had an interesting task in building the world without the use of large descriptive paragraphs (except when Otto gets effusive in his drafts).
Here’s my advice:
Determine what information about the world is most necessary to develop the plot and characters…
As the creator of the world, I know that Prussians have a list of names approved by the state that parents must use. I know that households are given financial incentives not only to have children but to have children who win awards and honors. I know that there’s a garden inside Prussia where every flower is artificially created to be perfectly symmetrical.
But none of that made it into the story. It filtered my experience of the world and informed how I wrote Otto, especially, but I couldn’t find a place to fit it while I was writing. So, I didn’t try to force it into the story. I remember I had to cut a section I particularly liked where Karl was looking down at the city and could see the garden and Otto told him about the perfect shape of the flowers. There’s was about five pages and it was acting as a fun metaphor for the culling of living things (like people) in the name of perfection, but really it wasn’t adding to the plot or the characters so I took it out.
And when to reveal it:
If you try to tell everything about the world on the first page, there will be no room for them to get attached to the character or story and in the end. I might feel like a textbook about the world. So, figure out when a technology or law gets revealed organically (then make sure it’s consistently applied even before the reader knows about it).
For example, Otto doesn’t mention the constant surveillance of the military, or the banning of imported alcohol, or the monitoring of sexual behaviors until later in the story. But he always behaves as someone who lives in that world and is particularly careful about what he says to and about the military.
Hide information dumps by building character and tension around them
I feel like this is a dirty trick, but it’s so useful. Whenever I have to get information about the world to the reader, I try to imagine how I would have learned about it explicitly in the world. I’m not afraid of character’s thinking back to school lessons, mother’s lectures, or the like.
I got to really cheat once or twice in this story, because the main character writes for a newspaper and takes the opportunity to educate children about something that happened in the past. Since the story is set up the way it is, I was able to include the actual newspaper story and the character’s interpretation of the event. Karl does his share of educating as well, but it comes paired with either an actual disagreement he’s having with Otto or with a personal disagreement with himself. So there’s always two or three things happening while the reader is learning about the world.
The Fantasist is a quarterly online magazine that publishes three original Fantasy novellas on the third Thursday of every third month.
And this month, while they celebrate Steampunk, one of them is mine!