I want to start this blog article with a personal story that has very little to do with Steampunk, but it will help illuminate the point I am trying to make.
This happened over twenty years ago, in the first year after my eldest daughter was born. I used to take her for a walk on every fine day, in her pram or in her sling, so that we both got out into the air and sunshine. On this day, I was walking along Ipswich Road, a main street in Brisbane, the capital city of Queensland, Australia. We had never had any issues with these strolls, right up until a bunch of hooligans in a car threw a beer bottle at my feet, where it smashed into smithereens. We were trapped in a field of glass shards, while the car drove off. I was panicked at first, making sure that done of the glass had ending up in the pram with my darling. Then I lifted the entire pram and gingerly tiptoed my way through the razor-sharp glass fragments until well past the last glittering splinter, so that I wouldn’t end up with lacerated pram wheels.
To this day, I don’t know if those young men threw the bottle with deliberate intent. I’d like to believe that they were just unthinking, rather than cruel. Surely no one would target a baby in a pram? But part of me wonders if that was the whole point for them, that as a new mother I would have represented everything they were trying to avoid: adult responsibilities, the chains of marriage, the loss of freedom that comes with having children. However, there was no shout of derision as they threw their bottle, which would back up my ‘thoughtless’ theory.
The point I am making here – as writers, we tend to explain away everything that happens in our stories. But in real life, things happen randomly that we can’t explain. There are mysteries that remain unanswered until the day we die. As much as writers prefer to write about order, there is chaos and randomness in the world.
Because of this reality, I always try to add some mystery and randomness deliberately in my narratives. I try not to explain away every single incident, which allows readers to make their own speculations and draw their own conclusions. Of course, I have to make explanation for anything important to the plot, but not everything need be a brick in your Steampunk narrative. There is room for decoration.
As an example, look to Terry Pratchett’s ‘Nation’. The main event in the novel, the tsunami, is never explained away. It just happens, and the characters have to deal with it. Of course, the characters come up with their own explanations for why they were deluged, the wrath of gods being favourite, but this is never confirmed or denied explicitly. It was an ‘act of god’ in the insurance sense …
Bad things happen to good people, and often through no fault of their own. Every story needs conflict. But every now and again, let the plot wander where it will.