Research for Fantasy Stories: Dieselpunk Research

Yes, you can – and should – do research for your writing, even if you’re writing fantasy. Especially if you’re writing historical fantasy. 

The dieselpunk short story series I’m working on is just that – historical fiction with elements of fantasy. While dieselpunk traditionally involves retro-futuristic technology (think the flying jetpack from The Rocketeer), it can also include elements of the paranormal or the fantastical. And to write any or all of these nuances well requires a bit of research.

Here are some of the things that I’m currently researching for my historical fantasy/dieselpunk series:

Jazz-Age Fashion and Aesthetics

The stories I’m writing take place during the Roaring 20s, and my protagonist, Cornelia Jones, is a wealthy socialite. While Cornelia’s adventures don’t really focus on the details of day-to-day life, I do want to give the readers an accurate feeling for the setting and the time period. The clothes that an upper-class woman in the mid-twenties would have worn, the kind of car she owns, other details like the use of telegrams and iceboxes and gramophones all help to build the world.

Scientific Advancements of the post-WWI Era

Cornelia Jones is the wife of a brilliant scientist and inventor, and so a lot of the retro-futuristic dieselpunk tech is found in her own home. In order to write about technology that did not exist at the time but potentially could have, I need to know what actually did exist at the time. I’ve been doing a lot of research lately on some of the biggest names in science from that time period – like Albert Einstein, Nikola Tesla, Niels Bohr, and others. Knowing what was happening in the world of physics in the 1920s helps me to write convincing scientific technobabble for inventions and discoveries that both did happen and never actually happened.

1920s Hollywood

Cornelia Jones lives in Los Angeles, and even though Hollywood and the movies don’t figure prominently in most of the stories, I need to know some of the basics of LA life during the 20s. My dieselpunk tales are set in the real world (not an alternate universe or alternate history), and so if I refer to Hollywood stars like Fred Astaire or Humphrey Bogart, then I’m messing up on the historical stuff (hint: both Astaire and Bogart were on Broadway in the 1920s and hadn’t tried their hand at moving pictures yet).

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the things that I’m finding myself researching for each new Mrs. Jones adventure. And despite my research, I’m sure I’ll get a few details wrong. However, I want to build a believable and consistent world, and researching to get the details down is important for that.

So whether you’re writing steampunk, dieselpunk, or straight-up historical fiction – don’t be afraid of the research!

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2 thoughts on “Research for Fantasy Stories: Dieselpunk Research

  1. Good point there, it’s too easy to just reduce all early Hollywood into “Astaire & Bogart”, if you don’t know better… 🙂 What I also love about research is that, far from being a chore you must do, it can open new avenues into your writing!

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