Category Archives: Genre Markers

Do Genre Restraints Create Ageism?


Wouldn’t it be nice to visit with Buffy now that she is middle aged?

Being a middle-aged woman who has been a fangirl most of her life, I find there is a dearth of middle-aged women characters in popular culture (unless you count all the evil stepmothers in fairy tales). And yet, with middle-aged women being one of the largest consumers and creators of pop culture and anything in the fantasy/science fiction genre, you would expect plenty of representation. I can only think of one or two really memorable middle-aged character; most female protagonists are usually very young or very old females.

My favourite is the menopausal witch, Jenny Waynest, in the Winterlands novels by Barbara Hambly.

This image is from the cover of Dragonsbane. That is meant to be Jenny being cradled in the talons of the dragon. As you can see, that damsel is a rather attractive young woman with a strategically torn dress. Jenny is meant to be short, mousy, and not fashion model pretty.

A quick search of the usual fan art sites on the internet comes up with just a few images of Jenny – with only one showing Jenny as a human. Most show her in her dragon form. If I turned up dressed as (the human) Jenny to a cosplay event, I doubt anyone would get my character right. Most would think I was Nanny Ogg or Professor McGonagall, who are considered elderly rather than middle aged (though McGonagall was only middle-aged in the books).

Lady Sybil with her husband Sir Samuel Vimes, the Duke of Ankh Morpork

Even Terry Pratchett has only a few middle-aged female characters, like Lady Sybil Vimes and Lady Margolotta (though, as a vampire, does Margolotta Amaya Katerina Assumpta Crassina Von Uberwald really count?). They are only secondary characters, though Sibyl does manage to play a major role in several Discworld novels. Middle-aged women are nearly invisible in Discworld, think Doreen Winkings (vampire by marriage), Mrs Evadne Cake, and the series of humorous landladies that pop up in the books. It must be noted that in all the Tiffany Aching books, we never learn what her mother’s Christian name might be, though we know her father’s name is Joe and her grandmother was Sarah.

(By the way Disney, you couldn’t do better than to convert Tiffany’s books into animated movies. The story for ‘Wintersmith’ will make everyone forget Frozen.)


Thanks to Doctor Who being such a long running show, we have had the opportunity to see characters age, including everyone’s favourite companion, Sarah Jane Smith. Sarah Jane managed to remain feisty, opinionated,and strong willed to the very end; it is a damned shame Elisabeth Sladen died so young and will never get to see an elderly old lady with grit and wisdom. And River Song has to be considered middle aged, even though she isn’t exactly human, as she is played by Alex Kingston who is 53 (same age as me).

Of course, genre has a major impact on the ages of your main characters. In Young Adult fiction, the protagonists are going to be teens or a little older (or at least look like teenagers, even if they are hundreds of years old – I’m looking at you Twilight). Older women might play secondary roles, but they are never going to be the protagonists. However, why does nearly every other television show, movie or dystopian novel assume only young people can be protagonists? Where are the middle-aged female superheroes suffering from menopause and finding it difficult to fit into the same clothes they were wearing in their twenties? Do the genre markers for our various narratives actually encourage ageism?

Captain Janeway – she never seems to garner the same enthusiasm in fans as Kirk, Picard, Sisko or Archer. (Except in slash fiction.)

Genre fiction is supposed to be able to take risks and envision strange, new worlds. So why are middle-aged women so under-represented? If you can think of a middle-aged lady protagonist in any Steampunk narratives (not a secondary character or antagonist) that will rock the world like Buffy, please feel free to let me know!



Filed under Ageism, Characterization, Feminism, Gender and Sexuality, Genre, Genre Markers, Pop Culture, Steampunk Feminist, Steampunk Genre, Steampunk Writer, Subgenres of Steampunk, Uncategorized, writing, Writing Style

Scientific Writing seen as a Form of Creative Non-fiction


What really defines the genre of science writing isn’t so much its structure, which uses all the same devices as fiction, but its intent.

Lynne Lumsden Green


Like any the genre, fictional or non-fictional, the genre of scientific writing is characterised by several markers:

  1. It is objective, and so by inference, unbiased. However, simply by picking a topic, a scientist is showing a bias. The impression of objectivity is an artificial construction.
    Any research should be repeatable by anyone with the same equipment and methodology. However, the choice of methodology will affect the results, as will the method used for interpreting the data.
  2. It is factual, with no assumptions or guesswork. However, the very choice of the facts can create a bias.
  3. The language is formal, and incorporates scientific terms and jargon. This is a style constraint, and both fiction and non-fiction genres have their own styles that vary from genre to genre.
  4. Scientific articles are usually written by people with scientific qualifications. However, it must be pointed out that scientists are just people and are capable of getting things wrong just as easily as getting things right.
  5. Research should be based upon proving or disproving a hypothesis.

Now…speaking of the concept of what a hypotheses is: a hypothesis is not a law, it is just a theory, a story that explains the known facts in the best way. If another scientist comes up with a theory that explains the facts better, is won’t take long for that to become the accepted theory.

Bruce and Tony  and SCIENCE.PNG
Often, a hypothesis is constructed in metaphorical language, like the Big Bang Theory, Schrödinger’s Cat, and Survival of the Fittest. And that goes against the concept that only poets use metaphors.

In the genre of science writing, the aim is to be an authoritative way of explaining reality.  However, what is real for one person isn’t necessarily real for another. And pseudo-scientists are quite capable of using all these genre markers to good effect.

Warning Science Ahead

What really defines the genre of science writing isn’t so much its structure, which uses all the same devices as fiction, but its intent.



Filed under Creative Non-fiction, Genre, Genre Markers, Science, Science Articles, The Writing Life, Uncategorized, writing, Writing Style

Grimdark: a subgenre of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and how it relates to Steampunk and Gothic genres.

Grimdark is a subgenre or a way to describe the tone, style or setting of speculative fiction (especially fantasy) that is, depending on the definition used, markedly dystopian or amoral, or particularly violent or realistic.
From the Wikipedia article on Grimdark

Let’s get one thing straight from the start: even though Grimdark and Gothic share some common genre markers, they are not the same genre. The best way to define Grimdark might be to first look at the Gothic Literary Genre, and highlight the contrasts.

Gothic Genre Markers:

Symbolism – The Gothic style depends heavily on symbolism to create resonance within its setting, characters, and plots. A good example of this is the use of weather in Gothic novels; it is always thunderous and gloomy when the author is trying to create suspense. Indeed, flashes of lightening accompany a revelation or epiphany; thunder and downpours will foreshadow the appearance of a villainous character or the beginning of a significant – and usually tragic – event. Nature is seen as great and mysterious force.

Romance – I don’t mean kissy, kissy romance (though there may be some of that too), but Epic Romance, with weird fates, inescapable destinies, strange journeys and the unending battle between good and evil, the stuff of ballads and poetry. Stylistically, a Gothic novel had its roots in epic poetry. In fact, the Romantic literary movement had a strong influence on the development of the Gothic novel; the Romantics favoured natural, emotional and personal artistic themes.

Ambiguity Ambiguity dominates the characters, their motivations and lives. Anti-heroes abound. This was the genre that provided literature with the Byronic hero; brooding, damaged, and damn sexy.

The Macabre and the Supernatural – The Supernatural is the obvious flipside to the normal and natural. Vampires, ghosts, monsters, they have all had starring roles in Gothic novels. Often, science is seen as both a force for good and for evil (more ambiguity), creating both problem and cure. The darkness of humanity often meddles with the unknown, with dire consequences.

Morality and Consequences – Because of this darkness, there has to be consequences. Someone commits a crime, whether purposefully or accidentally, and there are repercussions: revenge, hauntings, and such like. The villains are punished, the protagonist receives some sort of reward if not an anti-hero. Not every Gothic story ends happily. Justice will be done, as the power of social stability is stronger than any transgression; this was particularly important in Victorian Gothic literature.

The Outsider  as a character – This could be the protagonist. This could the the antagonist. This could be the monster, as in Frankenstein,or, The Modern Prometheus, the most famous literary outsider of all time.By being ‘outside’ society, whether physically, intellectually, emotionally, or culturally, the Outsider works against society’s constraints. The Gothic novel can’t function without this vital character.

Secrets – Gothic novels abound in secrets: secret marriages, secret children, secret tragedies. It is often the hiding and final revelation of these secrets that underpin the entire plot. (Who is that woman you’ve got hidden in your attic, Mister Rochester?)

Some well known Gothic novels are Dracula, Frankenstein, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, The Picture of Dorian Grey, The Woman in White, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and The Turn of the Screw. You can see how these genre markers are common to all these narratives. Even modern Gothic novels, like An Interview with a Vampire, confirm to these genre markers.

George R R Martin

The most perfect modern example of the Grimdark genre would be George R R Martin’s series, A Song of Ice and Fire. A Grimdark novel might have secrets, symbology (Ice and Fire, for starters) and a horde of Outsider characters, like a Gothic novel, but there is a strong streak of cynicism and violence in this series that is completely opposed to the Romantic themes in Gothic literature. It is a dark and dystopic vision of human nature, in a fantasy setting with dragons and white walkers, and it is absolutely brilliant. Justice or morality have been thrown out the window.

Grimdark Steampunk isn’t my writing style, but I enjoy reading it. Many of the recent Steampunk novels I’ve read lean towards being Grimdark rather than Gothic, such as Jay Kristoff’s The Lotus War series and Stephen Hunt in his Jackelian series.

I like the definition by writer Jared Shurin, that Grimdark genre has three key markers:

  1. a grim and dark tone;
  2. a sense of realism (his example, monarchs are useless and heroes are flawed), and;
  3. the agency of the protagonists. Whereas in high fantasy everything is predestined and the tension revolves around how the heroes defeat the Dark Lord, Grimdark is “fantasy protestantism”; characters have to choose between good and evil, and are “just as lost as we are.”

You can immediately see that relates back to the genre markers for the Gothic Literary Genre. I have heard of the term ‘Steampunk Gothica’ used for Steampunk novels that borrow heavily from the Gothic Literary Genre, but the modern Steampunk genre has evolved from the Gothic genre so I consider it a redundant term. Grimdark is something else again. Something gritty. And when grit gets into the mantle of an oyster, it turns into a pearl.

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Filed under Genre, Genre Markers, Steampunk Writer, Subgenre, Subgenres of Steampunk, writing

The Edisonade Literary Genre: a Steampunk Perspective

The 1868 cover of 'The Steam Man of the Prairies' by Edward S. Ellis.

The 1868 cover of ‘The Steam Man of the Prairies’ by Edward S. Ellis.

Edisonade – definition gleaned from Wikipedia

‘Edisonade’ is a modern term, coined in 1993 by John Clute in The Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction, for stories based around a brilliant young inventor and his inventions, many of which would now be classified as Science Fiction. This sub-genre started in the Victorian & Edwardian eras and had its apex of popularity during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Frank Reade and His Steam Man of the Plains, circa 1875

I don’t know about you, but that sounds suspiciously like something I would write about the Steampunk genre. In fact, you could almost classify my current Work-in-Progress as sitting in the Edisonade genre. Almost … except my protagonist is a female inventor, and I am writing in the 21st century. Does this mean I write in the Neo-Edisonade genre?

 At this point, let’s take a deep breath. Genre is all about labels, and labels are nothing more than a way of organising. And I know I said I was looking for a better term for Steampunk, but Edisonade isn’t the label I am looking for! Neo-Vicwardian Retro-Futurism is still out in front.

The perfect example of the Edisonage genre hero would be Frank Reade (and Frank Reade Junior). The four Frank Reade stories concerned adventures with the character’s inventions – robot-like mechanisms powered by steam. The first book,  Frank Reade and His Steam Man of the Plains, is frankly a rip-off of The Steam Man of the Prairies, even to the illustrations (see the examples above). Frank Reade Junior was a cog that didn’t fall far from the engine. This teenaged inventor built airships, submersibles, steam-powered and electrical vehicles for getting about on land, and steam-powered robots (proving that he was just as able a plagiarist as his father). He has been the protagonist in many a story and novel, even to this day, by an assortment of authors.

Tom Swift is a slightly more modern example of the boy inventor genre. These books were also written by more than one author. They made famous the ‘Tom Swifty’,  in which a ‘spoken’ sentence is linked by pun-ish adverb. For example:

“I find the interior of this submarine very roomy,” said Tom, spaciously.

“The lava is hot,” said Tom magnanimously.

“We have to move, right now!” exclaimed Tom, swiftly.

(Gosh, I can hear you all groaning. I’ll stop.)

What I find sad is the lack of girl inventor fiction. Thank goodness for ‘Girl Genius’ webcomic and Michael Pryor’s ‘The Extraordinaires’!!

Joking aside, the term Edisonade was only ‘recently’ been coined in 1993, well after the term Steampunk was coined in 1985. Because of this, I would argue the Edisonade could/should be considered a subgenre of Steampunk. As well, Steampunk is a much broader genre.


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Filed under Genre, Genre Markers, Steampunk, Subgenres of Steampunk

Steampunk Gadgets and Verisimilitude; or, How to Bling Up Your Narrative

Steampunk Enterprise Desk Lamp

Steampunk Enterprise Desk Lamp, Art by Joe Keller,

The topic of this blog was the request of a friend who is also a writer.

You want to add gadgets to your Steampunk novel, but are you uncertain about how to go about this process? You’re worried that your gadgets lack any originality? Take a deep breath and stop worrying; this is rocket science! And you are in charge of the rocket. You don’t have to have a science degree to write about gadgets. A little research can be your friend here.

Image from website

Image from website

Need inspiration? Spend ten minutes just looking at gadgets online. What sort of gadget are you looking for? Make your search terms as specific as possible. So, say you’re looking for a striking form of transportation for your protagonist.

Suggested List of Locomotion Search Terms: steam, steam-powered, electric, Victorian, Edwardian, motorised, velocipede, bicycle, vehicle, engine, train, flying, lighter-than-air, dirigible, airship, airplane, aeroplane, balloon.

Let’s pick three at random: steam-powered, flying, velocipede. A whole pile of interesting images pop up! Here are three of them:

Steam-powered Copeland high-wheeler

Steam-powered Copeland high-wheeler

Steam-powered velocipede

Steam-powered velocipede

Glider designed by George Cayley, British aviator, circa 1852.

Glider designed by George Cayley, British aviator, circa 1852.

Aren’t they lovely? Now imagine a vehicle that incorporates the most interesting features of all three. You pick what features really strike your fancy. Now write down a fulsome description of your imaginary machine (and draw it if you like), and how it works, and what it must feel like to ride in it. And now you’ve sorted your first gadget! Give it a wonderfully bizarre name, and you’re away…


Filed under Bling, Gadgets, Genre Markers, Setting, Steampunk, Verisimilitude, writing

Scientific Jargon: A Steampunk Perspective

Mad Scientists of the world unite!

Mad Scientists of the world unite!

Jargon: the language, especially the vocabulary, peculiar to a particular trade, profession, or group.

When you are writing Steampunk, you are writing Science Fiction. When you are writing Science Fiction, your characters have to maintain a plausible level of scientific knowledge, and the setting and plot need to maintain a similar level of scientific verisimilitude. They all need to walk the walk and talk the talk. All scientists use jargon, and different scientific fields use different jargon.

A little research will provide you with a working vocabulary in  your chosen field. For example, if you are writing about botany, you need to know what the various bits of a plant are called, and have a little background knowledge in plant classification.  A botanist would know the difference between a deciduous tree and evergreen tree, or a stamen and a pistil, but they might be completely clueless about how electricity works. Jargon is very specific to its field. (And I loathe how every scientist on television is an expert in every different sort of science. That is lazy writing.)

You can make your own jargon up, in fact, I would encourage you to give it a go. However, it has to be consistent. If your characters use a newly-coined word in one situation, they should use that word all the time. A good example of this technique is used in the webcomic Girl Genius; everyone with a natural affinity and intuitive talent for making gadgets are called ‘sparks’. This term never jars, as it is used consistently to refer to these gifted individuals.

It is possible to write a Steampunk novel without using jargon, but as the genre is all about science, it is harder to write without using scientific jargon. When you are using jargon, don’t assume the reader knows what the jargon means. You can include a glossary for these terms, but I recommend explaining the meaning of the term when you first use it in the text. There are a couple techniques that can achieve this result. You can have a character explain the meaning of the unfamiliar term to another character, the unknowledgeable character maybe a new apprentice, maybe a visiting relative, whatever. You can put in a footnote with a definition of the term – I tend to favour this method, because a reader who does know the term can skip the footnote. Or you can just explain it!

It wouldn’t hurt to know who were the giants in your field at the time of narrative. For example, if you were a botanist in 1871, you’d know who Henry Lecog was, who Anna Atkins was (a topic for another post), and that Joseph Hooker was in charge of Kew Gardens. Anyone who is well known to a botanist is part of their jargon. If a person from 1871 was to lack the knowledge of Atkin’s cyanotype photograms of plants, that person would not be a botanist.

Jargon can be fun. It is almost like a secret language – which was its original intent, to help keep guide secrets. Using jargon will make you narrative both more interesting and more authentic.


Filed under Editing, Genre Markers, Jargon, Language, Science, Science Fiction, Steampunk, Women in Science, writing, Writing Style

Horror and the Steampunk Genre

Pumpkin from Flickr

The Steampunk literary genre and the Horror genre are a match made in heaven. All the great monsters had their origins in the Victorian era. Frankenstein’s monster was created by Mary Shelley in 1818. In 1827, English author Jane C. Webb Loudon published The Mummy! Or a Tale of the Twenty-Second Century – a science fiction novel I would recommend for its originality of vision. I might suggest Mrs Loudon and Mary Shelly were the first Steampunk novelists, as Jules Verne wasn’t even born until the next year. Another woman writer, Clemence Houseman, wrote about a female lycanthrope in her 1896 novel, The Were-Wolf. A year later, Bram Stoker had success with Dracula, though there had been popular vampire fiction published all through the 19th century, like John Poldori’s short story in 1819, The Vampyre. There were even robots and other mad inventions. About the only classic monster not introduced into popular culture in the Victorian era is the zombie, which didn’t make its appearance in popular horror fiction until the 20th century.

The 1868  'The Steam Man of the Prairies' by Edward S. Ellis

The 1868 ‘The Steam Man of the Prairies’ by Edward S. Ellis

We all know the horror-genre influences in the works of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells. For example, there were the prehistoric monsters in the Journey to the Centre of the Earth, and the Martains from The War of the Worlds. There is a great deal of historical precedence for horror to mash-up with the Steampunk genre.

My favourite is the mad scientist, who doom himself with his own creation, which is – of course – the main plot of Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. This gives equal balance between the science and the horror, to create a Steampunk genre narrative. You can either go the ‘bucket of guts’ route with the horror, or run with lots of atmosphere and psychological horror. And there is no rule that says you can’t use both.

This article was inspired by Halloween. So tap into your dark side, and write a spooky Steampunk story!

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Filed under Genre, Genre Markers, Horror, Mash-ups, Pop Culture, Steampunk

Humour and the Steampunk Genre

Grim men with rocking horse.

Horsing Around

For some unknown reason, we tend to look back at the Victorians and consider them rather grim. I put this attitude down to the black & white photographs from the era. Even the brightest colours are reduced to dreary shades of dust and charcoal in B&W photography, and the unsmiling expressions were an artefact of the length of exposure time to obtain a clear photo. As an example, study the image above. The uniforms of the men could be scarlet for all we know, and the presence of the ‘smoking’ hobbyhorse, balancing baby doll, and toy cannon suggests this image was taken in jest. I would love to know the full story behind this image; I suspect this might be a bachelor party.

Logical progression from 'headless' photographsPhotoshop in the Victorian era

Most humour is ephemeral. But there are several strong suggestions that the Victorians enjoyed a good laugh: the success of Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain, and Gilbert & Sullivan; the enormous number of humorous photos and postcards; the popularity of Punch magazine; the lyrics of music hall songs; and the fact that even the most serious novels usually had some humorous scenes. So much for the stiff upper lip …

Girls dressed as gnomes 1902

So, what does this mean for your Steampunk narrative? Some authors add humour to their work as a matter of course, like Michael Pryor, while Ged Maybury writes with the intent of creating a humorous novel. The definition of what is humour changes from person to person. If you want to throw a tragedy into sharp focus, you contrast it to humour – the premise of nearly every modern horror movie.

The best humour isn’t forced. When in doubt, take it out. There is no such thing as half funny.


Filed under Genre Markers, History, Humour, Mash-ups, Steampunk

The Characterization of a Steampunk Antagonist

Cute man

For those who don’t know what an antagonist is, an antagonist is your bad guy, your villain, who wants to smash the world for her own gain, who wants to dominate mankind to fulfil his evil ambitions. They don’t have to be a human being; a robot, an alien invasion, a giant gorilla, even a plague can be your antagonist. The protagonist, your heroine, is the person who is trying to stop them. Without a protagonist, all that would be left would be no drama, no plot, and a very short story. The rest of this article will focus on human antagonists.

If your antagonist is a human being, she needs to be a rounded character, just like your protagonist. She needs to have believable motivations for her actions, even if they are world domination … WHY does she want to dominate the world? Does she want to stop world hunger, and feels she is the only woman up to the job? Was your villain very poor as a child, and never wants to be that poor again? Is he a Luddite, who thinks that the rise of technology will rot the pillars of society?

A good villain can be someone we love to hate, or someone we secretly sympathise with. Just like a good hero should have some flaws, your villain should have some virtues. If you can relate those virtues back to his motivations, even better. It gives your characterization the complexity to make your villain a believable personality.

Do not confuse your antagonist with the sexy bad girl or sexy bad boy, often a secondary character used to confuse and muddy the romantic subplot, or sometimes the hero’s-sidekick-in-disguise. They are a Steampunk staple, and are often an Airship Pirate who is secretly a rebel – think of the equivalent of a Steampunk Han Solo or some such. The real villain might do an about face if they can be made to see reason, but the Airship Pirate is only ‘naughty’ and never the inventor of world-smashing bombs. Nor should you confuse an antagonist with an antihero, like Verne’s Captain Nemo, Captain Mal from ‘Firefly’ or Avon from ‘Blake’s 7’. Antiheros blur the lines between what defines a protagonist and an antagonist, but they are still not villains.

The Steampunk Antagonist can be pro-Science or a Luddite, but some association with the new technology should be made. In my Steampunk Work-in-Progress, I have a father-son team as my antagonists, and both are talented scientists. They support the idea of eugenics, and are kidnapping all the greatest scientists in the world to create the kernel of a new super-race. They don’t feel the need to wipe out the rest of the human race, as they are expecting the human race to wipe itself out. They see themselves as noble saviours of the best of mankind, while at the same time being kidnappers, thieves and thugs.

If you are writing into the Steampunk genre, you have to keep the genre markers in mind. Your villain should exist in a Steampunk setting, like a factory or a laboratory or a submarine city … have fun with making their lair. Your antagonist needs to be a child of their time, and so keep the Vicwardian Aesthetic for their dress and decorative features, and should have values that fit in with that era. But these aren’t terrible restrictions … so let you imagination go to town.


Filed under Antagonist, Characterization, Genre, Genre Markers, Steampunk, writing