Write Your Frustrations

I wouldn’t call myself a Goon.  I do have a Something Awful account, I pop into the forums infrequently, but I’m by no means a regular and have likely made fewer than a dozen posts.  However, it’s a fantastic site to be any part of because of the width and breadth of the membership.  No, that was not a Goons-are-fat joke.  But it’s hard to imagine another place on the internet where the readership can simultaneous raise $61,000 to help a village in Haiti and generate photoshops of a character named “Dickbutt.”  It’s a site of opinions, some of them insanely pedantic, most of them well thought out, and all of them shared with little timidity.

I bring the site up because of two ongoing threads about Steampunk.  I’ll owe this post an update this evening with the actual links, but one in traditional Goon style is a takedown of a self published Steampunk novel, which has turned into opinions about both self publication and Steampunk in general.  The other is an offshoot, looking to talk more specifically about the opinions and gripes that people have about Steampunk both as a literary subgenre and as a movement in general.  I won’t say I understand the latter myself.  I don’t cosplay in general (I did one time for a Steampunk-themed wedding reception) and while there are some who have turned it into a fantastic artform, much of what I see falls into the categories of “Just Glue Some Gears On It” or “when goths discover brown.”

The discussion of Steampunk literature has largely revolved around the frustrations many have with the typical tropes.  The frequent failure to consider the effect on the working and servant classes when their jobs are largely taken over by machinery.  Suggesting the existence of complex coal-powered-steam driven devices that lack hoppers or the apparent need to refill on either coal or water.  I’m not suggesting that either of these issues are endemic of all Steampunk, but they are frequent enough that I’ve noticed them, and that the Goons posting in these threads have noticed them.

So what do I with my personal frustrations with the genre?  I face them head on.

This post is not my attempt to paint Nickajack as some sort of magic cure to the ails and shortcomings of other Steampunk novels.  That’s presumptuous, and really setting an unobtainably high standard for the novel.  Instead I’m simply saying you should embrace your frustrations with your favorite genre.  Sometimes you may decide to solve the problem with a dose of handwavium, after all sometimes tropes are tropes because they have no good explanation that wouldn’t otherwise dismantle the genre completely.  But more often than not these frustrations can serve as a fantastic source of tension within a story.  Just be careful not to mistake response to trope with plot.  While contravening cliché can result in enough of a plot for a story, too often these attempts when highlighted come across as too clever by half.

What can I say, there’s always a delicate balancing act when it comes to writing.

So what if you don’t have any frustrations with your genre?  Well, first I’d like to ask how you know it well enough to write in it, but I’ll avoid getting quite that confrontational.  Instead, I’ll suggest finding some.  Oh, I don’t mean you are required to track down every common frustration with your genre and correct them all at once.  But know what’s out there, know what people complain about, and be ready to have someone ask you about them while on a panel or at a signing.  You might not care to have an answer, but at least knowing what frustrations are out there let you sound more knowledgeable about your chosen genre.


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