Writing Workshop – The distracting Steampunk Gadget

Isn’t this the most awesome steampunk gadget ever?  I have no idea what it is, but that’s half the beauty – my imagination can run riot.

Let’s face it, some steampunk gizmos are fabulous, and beautiful, and just desperately need to feature in that steampunk novel you are writing.  Don’t do it; resist the temptation.

Warning:  Include a wealth of information about a cornucopia of steampunk inventions and you kill your story.

There are rules and conventions to storytelling.  Yes, we need to push the boundaries, but push them beyond what your audience can bear and you lose them.

In film making there is a foreshadowing rule which cannot be pushed too far, called the ‘Proverbial Shotgun Technique.’  Audiences and readers are so familiar with this technique that omitting it becomes as big an error as over using it and in some steampunk novels I have read, it is definitely overused.

The shotgun technique is best illustrated by reference to the cowboy western film where it originated..  The camera zooms in from a general view of the bar to highlight a shotgun hung on the wall behind the barman.  The existence of this weapon has now been raised in the viewer’s consciousness.  Not using the shotgun to resolve a plot conflict, by the end of the film, is to leave the audience feeling deprived.

On the other hand, if a shotgun is suddenly produced to resolve a critical plot-line, without having been foreshadowed first, viewers/readers may feel cheated, because they never had the opportunity to anticipate this scene (technically called a ‘deus ex-machina’, ‘God out of the machine’: a cheep story device introduced to rescue a failing plot line).  So if your character is suddenly going to win a fight by producing, a spring loaded knife from up their sleeve, you had better have introduced at some earlier part of the story.

Similarly, if you explain in fine details the workings of say a steam driven car or the beautiful device featured at the top of this article – no, I have no idea what it is, but isn’t it fantastic – that device then has to play some part in the plot line of your story.

There are some nerds and geeks who will want to immerse themselves in detailed descriptions of how your story world works, but save that for your website, because most readers want a character driven plot and an exciting story.

Think of your gadgets and gismos as characters in your story:  the stranger walking past the window will receive only a passing description, whereas a character who drives the plot is described in a lot more detail.

If you are writing a thriller/crime/mystery, where your reader knows the villain is killed, you could highlighting a gun, a knife, and a rock.  This will increase the anticipation as the reader tries to work out which weapon is used.

Except in the above scenario, it is best not to use the shotgun technique to create red-herrings.  For that, it is better to use a MacGuffin, but more about that in a later post.

In short:  If you show it, use it. If you have used it already, but not shown it, edit it in earlier.Tweet this!


8 thoughts on “Writing Workshop – The distracting Steampunk Gadget”

  1. Great blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download it from somewhere?
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  2. Wow that was odd. I just wrote an really long comment but after I
    clicked submit my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr…
    well I’m not writing all that over again. Regardless,
    just wanted to say wonderful blog!

    1. Hi kieran,

      Now I’m really intrigued as to what you wrote originally – this is going to keep me up at night.

      Thanks for the comment, glad you enjoyed the article.


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