Erotica author, aka Elspeth Potter, on Writing from the Inside

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Steampunk Worldbuilding Questions

I'm in the early stages of creating a world in which a steampunk Western can take place. Here are some of the questions I'm asking myself. Some of them I answered promptly; some of them I'm still pondering.

1. Alternate history or alternate world fantasy? How close will my world be to the "real" world? Is geography the same as in the real world?

2. Overall mood: is it utopic, dystopic, or somewhere in between? How is the world organized politically?

3. Technology, magic, technology that might as well be magic, or some other variant?

4. How are women and people of color positioned? What plot opportunities does that create?

5. What are the boundaries of technology? What can be done? What can't be done, and why? What plot opportunities does that create?


  1. To me, the first steampunk question was "Which year?" I did a lot of research of the 1800s to determine how much technology I could away with. for example, every steampunk wants an airship, but true airships, the kind with steering mechanisms, didn't come along until late in the 19th century. So if I throw an airship into 1840s, what kind of background can I use to justify it? As it is, my "girl genius" is inventing a way to make a bicycle seat more comfortable because she works in private.

    The second question I had to ask was, what was going on politically around the world that might create or interfere with a plot for me?

  2. Those are both excellent! Thanks, Ef!

  3. Here's something I thought about-- What are the social norms for women? Decent women must wear corsets and no makeup? Do women need chaperons or risk their reputations?

    Is there a social caste system?

    Alternative world, you can fudge on tech facts facts.(Some places in Montana didn't get railroad until 1910!)

    I wrote a steampunk short set in an alternative Britain, alt Germany...

  4. Those are great questions. I definitely need to think on what costume is okay with societal norms and what's considered outside.

    Your short sounds interesting!