A funny thing happened on the way to publication of my upcoming steampunk/alt-history romance Badlands. The biggest one? It actually became a steampunk/alt-history novella.
When I first envisioned it, the story was a space western. Somewhere I still have all the initial background for the planets and the history and the politics. Then I started writing, and I discovered that I made the “world” too big. My crew had to hit multiple planets for the storyline to work and I never felt like I did any of them justice. Plus I felt my characters got lost in the shuffle.
So I shelved it.
But I couldn’t stop thinking about how much I loved the basic storyline, and how much I loved Ever (the heroine). So after letting it sit for a couple months, I decided to take another crack at the story…as a steampunk. When I made the shift, I didn’t realize quite how much would have to change as a result.
The setting was a given, and it was the most simple change. I knew where Ever was going to come from and quickly figured out how to make the society similar to how I had originally envisioned it (with minor tweaks). But in order for that to work, I had to re-examine the political arena. As soon as I realized that America needed to be divided in more significant ways, that moved along smoothly.
So…the big stuff was easy enough. Then I tried to start writing. I never considered changing Ever’s name or appearance. The name fit her too well and I didn’t want every woman in this world to wear corsets and bustle skirts. I wanted her as wild and untamed as the land she grew up in. And since it was a new nation with its own societal rules, I could get away with it.
Not so with everyone else. Not only did I have to severely trim my character list (certain roles no longer made sense on a dirigible instead of a spaceship), but all of them needed new names too. So out went all my cool, wacky, original names, and out came websites with 19th century monikers. As an author who has an obsession with names fitting characters, this was a big challenge since in my mind all of them fit their old names (in fact one I still think of as “Stone”).
Names took up far more time than they should have…and then I realized the gender of a key character had to change as it wouldn’t work historically to have them as female. It was a major *head-desk* moment. And then I had to think about fashion and character histories that actually, you know, fit history (I was changing many things but still wanted it to feel familiar to readers).
In the end, the story still dictated everything. I just had to work around the genre and time period a bit. It makes me wonder though, how many readers would have cringed at anachronistic names (particularly for the men: Brendan and Stone)? Would a female in a position of power in the late 19th century US have made you roll your eyes and throw the book?
As the author, it mattered to me, but basically, how much does this stuff matter to a reader?