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Steampunk: dimensions issues
J Boone Dryden
Posted: Monday, August 29, 2011 1:28 PM
Joined: 5/7/2011
Posts: 42

I am working on a project (Empress of the Danforthe), and it occurred to me that I had not gone into specific detail about the dimensions of the city-ship that is the main focus of the story. I am curious if this is a big issue given that the story is a more technofantasy style of steampunk, rather than the more traditional technology-driven, retrofuturist version. 

(I am open to all sorts of feedback so please do not worry if you're not a steampunk reader or fan. I'm just curious if -- in building this world -- that would be important to the background of the story or if it can be overlooked).

L R Waterbury
Posted: Monday, September 26, 2011 7:47 PM
Joined: 4/28/2011
Posts: 60

I'm not any sort of expert on steampunk. I think I've read a sum total of three books that fit into that genre. Nevertheless, to put in my two cents about your question, I don't think it matters what kind of fiction you're writing. When it comes to specific description, less is more. Personally, I feel that a lot of writers describe way too much and give me very specific details about things that are, in the end, utterly unimportant.

When I write I try to stay away from too much description. I try and stick to describing only things that might make a real impression on my characters because that's how we tend to see the world ourselves. When I walk into a room I don't inventory (in detail) the furniture and knickknacks. Of course, there are occasions where I might notice things more, as in "Dear God! Look at all the chintz! I think I can see myself reflected back to me in all shiny fabric!"

The purpose of description in fiction, as far as I understand it, is to situate the reader in a specific physical world. But I think the most important thing is not to oversaturate with details because that's just not how we actually perceive our surroundings. And when we do perceive things, we don't tend to think in technicalities like exact size and shape (it's a tetrahedron with an internal cubic area of 7.89 meters). We tend to think comparatively (that thing is as big as my Aunt Tilly's ass).

As to your specific question about the dimensions of the city-ship, I liken that to visiting an island. When I visit an island for the first time, I don't think to myself, "Oh, look, it's 500 feet wide by 756.3 feet long." Instead, I think, "Geez, that's small. I could walk across it in half and hour." I'm guessing your city-ship is bigger than that, but I'm sure you can manage to find a way to describe it in human terms and not technical ones. Now, if you're really intent on including the actual dimensions, then you can always slip it into conversation in some way. "Did you know that Alpha City is over 2.5 miles long?" "Why no, I didn't. How fascinating. I thought it was only 2.4."

But if you use that actual (horrid) dialogue, I want credit.

Happy writing.
thomas keesman
Posted: Sunday, May 12, 2013 2:03 AM
Well, I haven't read "Empress" yet, but it's on my intended list.  I think it is important that the writer knows how big it is.  That gives her/him a chance to make incidental references along the way.  It also keeps us from saying "Zaxphron sauntered from port to starboard in ten minutes" when the distance is hundreds of kilometers [unless he has incredibly long strides].

I like to determine volumes, distances, populations and a host of other things that never see the light of day.  It decreases the chances of those kind of blunders.


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