As I mentioned before, my NaNoWriMo project is more alternate history steampunk than fantasy steampunk, though there are certainly elements of the latter there as well. As such, the process has been quite different as far as writing and research is concerned. Thankfully Wikipedia exists, because I don’t know what I’d be able to manage otherwise.
The trouble I run into, though, is with the exposition. I know the reader knows, or can easily find out, what a general history of the Western World is comprised of. I know that Boston itself is a well of history, as well. But what to find, what to change? What’s too much, what’s not enough? And, most importantly, how do I show that to the reader?
Because the story is told through the point of view of a person from our world, Maddie, I can get away with a certain amount of observation. She’s an art historian, which I thought was a different way to go about decoding history; she can literally see what’s happened in the way the art of the alternate world has evolved. Art history was the subject I would have gone into had I not stuck with English, mostly for the reason that I believe art tells as many stories as the written word–just with a brush instead of a pen (or a chisel, or whatnot, right?). And as far as steampunk is concerned, the artistic element is just tremendous.
Other issues include advanced 19th century technology. Technically the year is the same in both worlds, except that the world Maddie finds herself in hasn’t progressed further than the late Victorian, in some ways, as far as fashion, design, and general technology. But the technology is perfected in a way the Victorian period never saw. And unfortunately, the technology aspect is always where I go a little wonky. I want to describe things, but my mind is not that of an engineers (hey, I just learned how to change my oil). I can see the object, but I can’t describe it. I know about Stirling engines, steam-powered airplanes, and the like. It’s just putting it into practice that’s difficult.
So, suffice it to say, since the point of NaNoWriMo is not to sit and research for thousands of hours and then write a few words, I’m leaving intentional gaps in the narrative, concentrating very strongly on dialogue rather than description. In some ways, I expect that’ll leave me more work to do later (whenever I have a chance to get back to it, that is! November is tough enough to devote time away from AGC!).
My top 5 favorite things about my alternate Boston:
- The Church of the Weeping Mary – a gargantuan cathedral dedicated to the Mother of God (the vast majority of the population are, in fact, Marians) that spans two city blocks, has six domes, and might look a little like something out of “Kubla Kahn”. It was designed by William Morris.
- The Reveres. The silversmithing family is still doing what Paul started in the 18th century, and their beautiful work can be found all over the city.
- Beacon Hill District – Although Beacon Hill was excavated in our world, it was not in this world. It is now home to the bourgeois class, who live in expansive homes with rather lovely views.
- The air mansions. Nothing says you have too much money like your own floating castle. Flammable? Yes. But some things are worth the risk. Right. Right?
- Dragons? What?