Writing Steampunk...But Not Really.

Lev Lyonne

I have this weird relationship with steampunk. The idea of it is immensely appealing to me. Flying ships, eccentric characters, alternative versions of history? That sounds right up my alley. Unfortunately, every "traditionally steampunk" book I’ve ever tried falls flat for me. I think it’s because they lean so heavily into the technology and the innovation side of the genre, that the plot and characters often fall flat.

If you have steampunk suggestions that have a rich plot and engaging characters, let me know.

However, the point of this article today is not my reading preferences. It is how to incorporate steampunk elements into your story. While the genre as a whole is a bit overwhelming to me, plucking bits and pieces from steampunk and incorporating it into different genres is a lot of fun.

My series The Spectacular Flying Thieves is a historical fantasy with a few elements of steampunk. I took what I liked from the genre (I mean, who doesn’t love flying ships) and wove them into the history, the fantasy, and even the romance of the story. Keep reading to figure out how to do the same!


Steampunk is defined as “a genre of science fiction that has a historical setting and typically features steam-powered machinery rather than advanced technology.” It has typically been known to take place in Victorian England, but it certainly isn’t limited to that. Steampunk is basically if the Industrial Revolution did not happen, or if it occurred in a different way, so it is an alternative way of looking at history. Steampunk and its elements can take place in any part of the world.


Figure out what elements of steampunk excite you the most. For me, it was the idea of flying ships. Perhaps the idea of gears fascinates you and you want to throw carriages that run on gears into your historical romance. Maybe the attire, goggles and coats and top hats, is immensely appealing to you, so maybe the characters in your Wild West novel dress like that.

My suggestion, always, is to do research. Go to Pinterest and surf through the thousands of steampunk images. Read some steampunk short stories and books. Pick and choose what your favorite elements are and see if they would mesh well for your story.

In As the Crow Flies, there was a fleet of ships, there was a lot of travel, and there was already magic, so I thought adding flying ships would fit pretty well. If you are writing a contemporary novel, of course, it may be more difficult to add steampunk elements. However, I’m all for stretching the imagination and breaking down genre barriers!


Steampunk is defined as “a genre of science fiction that has a historical setting and typically features steam-powered machinery rather than advanced technology.” There are actually other kinds of “punk” genres that may appeal to you more than steampunk. They include (but certainly are not limited to):

  • Cyberpunk

  • Dieselpunk

  • Biopunk

  • Clockpunk

I would suggest, if you are considering melding genres together like I do, that you investigate these different types of punk genres! Clockpunk catches my eye, and is definitely something I’m going to incorporate in future writing. Clockwork and magic seem like a great combination for me.

The most important thing to do is explore lots of different options, do some research on different genres, and make note of what catches your eye the most.


I think the most important thing to do before pulling bits and pieces from genres, to mash into one story, is to understand if your story needs it. If it is a historical romance, and the focus is truly just on the characters and some historical settings, then perhaps you don’t need to go crazy with adding bits of this and that. It might distract from the romance and the arc of the story.

It’s really important to have fun with your writing, and to stretch your imagination, but it is also important to not overwhelm the reader. Always respect your story, understand each genre deeply, and then start playing with fire.


Take all this advice with a grain of salt and just have fun with your story! Good luck!

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