Tuesday, December 9, 2014

How to Write Steampunk Mysteries in 11 + 9 Steps

As I worked on this post, I knew that there would be some dissenters with my perspective and interpretation of the sub-genre. Steampunk has some fierce advocates, purists even, who are appalled when someone dares to modify the sub-genre they identify so strongly with. 

Just like purists in the cozy mystery are upset with the increased violence and sexuality in cozies, so, too, are some of the steampunk people upset with the natural evolution and extension of their sub-genre. Really, all I can say is, get over yourselves. Writers are going to mess with sub-genres and cross-blend genres and change the definition. It happens. And that’s exactly how steampunk was created by blending Gothic elements with the supernatural and other features to create something new.

Steampunk mysteries are categorized as speculative fiction. Speculative fiction, a term created by
Robert Heinlein in 1947, is fiction with supernatural, futuristic, and/or fantastical elements. You might wonder why we need a term called “speculative fiction” since we have genres for paranormal, science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Speculative fiction is not clearly one or another of these, rather it blends sub-genres.

This sub-genres of steampunk mystery shares, with next week’s urban fantasy mystery, the distinction of being outliers in the mystery world, both because of subject matter and because they have relatively fewer readers than the other subgenres.

Like the other sub-genres, steampunk and urban fantasy novels owe a debt to the basic elements of the traditional mystery. Nevertheless, each has its unique elements as well. So this week, we deconstruct steampunk mysteries. Come back next week for urban fantasy mystery elements.

1) The mysteries are a puzzle to solve.
2) All clues are revealed to the reader but obscured with red herrings and false leads.
3) These mysteries feature a murder (most often) or a crime of great substance.
4) The sleuth may or may not be a professional.
5) The power of reasoning is trusted to restore order and solve the puzzle.
6) Violence often takes place “on stage” with varying degrees of explicit violence or gore described.
7) The murdered person may or may not have been a character in the mystery before death.
8) The mystery uses plot devices to further the confusion of clues, suspects, and timelines.
9) The language of sleuth and suspects is closer to colloquial use and reflects social status.
10) The villain is the intellectual equal of the sleuth.
11) The murder/significant crime occurs near the beginning, often in the opening pages. Usually there are multiple crimes.

Additionally, to be a steampunk mystery:
1)   Most are set in a futuristic or historical time period and are often a hybrid genre.
2)   Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction featuring steam-powered machines as technology.
3)   Often steampunk mysteries are alternate histories of what might have been or are post-apocalyptic tales when people had to go back to steam.
4)   Fictional machines are created and used. “Contraptions” are common.
5)   Steampunk mysteries are often a series.
6)   Steampunk is a re-imagining of a world where there was never electricity.
7)   In steampunk place is less important than time.
8)   Nostalgia is an important element. Men and women’s roles are clearly defined, manners matter.
9)   In the steampunk world, wood, copper and other natural elements are used. There are no plastic or fossil-based products.

Steampunk Mysteries to read:
BecMcMaster--The Curious Case of the Clockwork Menace (London Steampunk) Michael Corlim--Bartleby and James: Edwardian Steampunk Chronicle (Galvanic Century Book 1)
Abigail Blanchet--Lady Sophia-Part 1-Death in Winter: A serial steampunk murder


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, Cathy. I personally don't write them, but they are an interesting little addition to the mystery field. So glad you stopped in and commented.