The link takes you to a Youtube video, with Cogpunk Steamscribe (in her Steampunk Sunday persona) discussing the delightful gadgets of the Steampunk cosplayer.
I went away to spend some time with my parents.I was away from my computer … but took plenty of pens and paper with me. I often do my ‘chunking’ exercises with pen and paper. ‘Chunking’ is when you write out your idea, as it comes to you in chunks and pieces; this is what my first year lecturer called the process. You might call it something else. It doesn’t matter what it is called, it is just the very first step – after thinking – towards writing a story.
I thought I was in holiday mode. My muse disagreed.
I came up with three solid ideas for short stories, including the ‘Dissected Graces’ story based on the artistic anatomical models. I finally have got a handle on the (hopefully final) structural edit to my Steampunk novel; I will have to kill quite a few of my darlings in the process. I also wrote five individual timelines for characters within the novel, which support the structure and at the same time give them all logical stories of their own that don’t conflict with their characterisations or motivations.
I even came up with a strategy for the structural edit that doesn’t make me too fearful of messing up. I am going to write up the new timeline I came up with, and copy and paste into it. In this way, I keep the original draft ‘pristine’ in case I do stuff things up. I’ve been trying to make better sense of my story and plot for a couple of months, so I am very pleased to be moving forward again.
Writers don’t really get proper holidays, because you can never predict when a great idea is going to strike. The muse can’t be ignored. So, I might not have done much in the way of writing on my computer, but I was certainly doing a lot of writing by hand. I was gone for five days, and I have over 13 pages of notes and observations, timelines and research plans. Some of this stuff is pure gold.
Sometimes, getting out of your familiar work routines kick-starts a new train of thought. That is what happened to me. So I am adding this to my writer’s toolkit.
Just as vampires and zombies are big business at the moment, ghosts were popular everywhere in the Victorian era. A sure sign of their popularity is that Dickens climbed onto the money wagon with his own ghost story A Christmas Carol. We all know how very popular that story was and still is. You can’t say it is not a commercial success! Why were ghost stories so popular?
Part of the blame can be laid at the foot of the growing interest in Spiritualism, mediums, seances, and Ouija boards. On both sides of the Atlantic, it was not unusual for fashionable parties to be themed with a spot of Spiritualism. Who could resist the lure of contacting a departed loved one? I know how much I miss my deceased family & friends, so why would the Victorians be any different?
The esteemed literary historian, Jack Sullivan, argues a “Golden Age of the Ghost Story” existed between the decline of the Gothic novel in the 1830s and the start of the First World War, brought about by popularity of the works of the American author, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Irish writer, Sheridan Le Fanu. It is important to realise that the ghost story has never really gone out of print, but the popularity of the genre fluctuates, both through time and geographically.
Even though the Steampunk genre stands squarely as a subgenre of the Science Fiction genre, this doesn’t mean a ghost story can’t add some excitement to the plot. Sheridan Le Fanu was famous for construction hauntings that were only visible to a single character and inferred the ghost (or other gremlin) was only a figment of that character’s imagination. And seriously, who doesn’t like to be given a bit of a scare while sitting safe in an armchair?
In reality, a mechanism has no gender or sexuality, even if it is painted pink and covered in lace, or gunmetal grey and carrying weaponry. Even the most sophisticated computer -designed to mimic feminine or masculine traits, like Siri – has no innate gender. Our Western society posits ‘normal’ as ‘male’, and so most robots are thought of as male, unless the robot is overtly feminine.
This androcentric designation of gadgets and robots had been used within the Steampunk literary genre as well. Unless you specifically write against this, it is a very easy lazy writing trap to fall into. However, it also doesn’t work if you designate all your robots and gadgets as ‘female’; unless you want your inventors to be characterised as straw feminists.The TV Tropes website has a page dedicated to the phenomenon of androcentric gendering.
As the English language has an underlying Patriarchal discourse, language cannot be considered a gender neutral medium. Western culture in the Victorian era was staunchly Patriarchal, but that doesn’t not mean that Steampunk narratives have to mimic that cultural prejudice. In fact, I would argue that the Steampunk literary genre should embrace the concept of Écriture Féminine because of the overwhelming Patriarchal discourse, to give balance and a postmodern resonance to any narratives.
Even if you are writing in an androcentric manner for the purposes of parody and/or satire, you should be writing with the awareness of how your word choices define gender within your prose. Écriture féminine isn’t – and shouldn’t be – limited to women writers. It is just another brush to add to your writer’s toolkit.
The Other is a literary and sociological concept, used to understand the construction of identity. There is an ‘Us’ and there is ‘The Other’; the outsider, the foreigner, the nonconformist, the maverick, and the rebel are usually identified as ‘The Other’. It isn’t a cut-and-dried concept, because Otherness changes with location, time period, and circumstances. My own personal definition of Otherness relates to the underlying Patriarchy of my Australian ‘Western’ culture – the Other is someone who is not white, male, heterosexual, rich/middle class, or human – someone who isn’t ‘normal’.
In the early decades of the Twentieth century, in the Modern era, someone like Ming the Merciless was ‘The Other’. His East Asian appearance, his name, referencing the Ming dynasty of China, and the name of his planet Mongo, “a contraction of Mongol” (Brian Locke, Racial Stigma on the Hollywood Screen: The Orientalist Buddy Film) all delineate to his foreignness and otherness. This made him a cookie cut-out classic villain of the era; no real motivation was given to his character because being Other was apparently motivation enough.
My personal favourite example of the female Other is Jadis, the White Witch from Narnia. She is a powerful female and refuses to submit to any authority other than her own. Of course, this makes her completely evil …
In this Postmodern era, society has become more accepting and tolerant of the Other. In the 1960s and 1970s, Doctor Who’s the Master was made to resemble Ming somewhat. Lately, the Master has been quite human looking, John Sim’s Master was given a more in depth backstory. It might be argued that the Doctor has always been a representation of the Other. They are both 3D characterizations, and more understandable and likeable for their rounded personalities.
In the Steampunk genre, Otherness may equate to
• Femininity, and in particular nonconforming women.
• Being ‘Foreign’
• Non-heteronormative sexuality
• Living to the precepts of an Alternative Philosophy to Capitalism
• Not being a human (like a Timelord or Frankenstein’s monster)
• Being poor (or, rarely, extremely rich)
• Being a criminal
• Being under or over educated.
Now, we can all think of villains that are examples of these sorts of Otherness. In fact, using Otherness to create a villain is overdone. Otherness can also be used as a virtue when creating characterization. Terry Pratchett was the supreme master of this: Captain Carrot, Granny Weatherwax and Archchancellor Mustrum Ridcully.
Captain Carrot Ironfoundersson is a six-foot-tall dwarf (by adoption), and could pretty much be the poster boy for Otherness. He is in a serious relationship with a vegetarian werewolf. He is a policeman who is the opposite of street smart, being kind to a fault, trusting, and believes everyone is good at heart. He is a simple man, but never confuse simple with stupid, because he is also one of the most intelligent characters in the Discworld universe. He is clever enough to hide this, though his close companions have a fair idea of his genius. More criminals have been caught due to Carrot’s apparent naivety than ever by cunning. And before you point out that he is a tall, white man in a position of power … remember that context is everything for defining Otherness.
So, if you are contemplating making your villain one of the Others, recall that this is using a stereotype and lazy writing. Think about how scary a villain might be if he appears completely bland and normal, a razorblade hidden in a slice of bread. How much deeper will be your characterization, and you will give your audience much more to think about.
There you go, Erin! A deeper discussion of Otherness.