The new dreadpunk series I’m writing, The Londo Chronicles, is sometimes mistakenly labeled “Steampunk,” (Even by me so I can catch people searching for the right era but maybe the wrong kind of story.) How does dreadpunk differ from steampunk? In a lot of ways, actually. Here are five differences.
- Gothic vs Technologic. Steampunk is based on technology, contraptions and magic. Think hot-air balloons, dirigibles, steam locomotives, new-fangled weaponry and ways to incorporate the new weaponry into a person’s wardrobe. Dreadpunk, on the other hand, is based on horror and gothic motifs. Think cloak and dagger, Jack-the-Ripper, back-alley surgeons and creatures of the night. In The Londo Chronicles, I’ve even thrown in some dystopian themes for good measure. (An overbearing oligarchy, curfews, ration cards, and restrictive social mores.) Hey, when I go dark, I go REALLY dark…
- Different moods. When I think of dreadpunk, I think Bram Stoker and Dracula. Old mansions. Carriages. Comings and goings at night. Fog, mist, rats and most of all, a mysterious adversary that threatens the hero and heroine. Pretty serious stuff. For steampunk, I think of Jules Verne and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Jules had a knack for describing a future world that in many ways has come to pass. His books were full of new-fangled machines and forward-thinking protagonists who weren’t afraid to go where no man had gone before. Inventions, banter, wisecracks and lots of derring do. Steampunk goes a step farther than Jules Verne by adding in a feisty heroine who can swear and wear trousers if she chooses to. Good Gottfried! My dreadpunk heroine would be thrown into prison if she uttered a single swearword or wore anything other than a black dress.
- Ornate vs Practical Clothing. Dreadpunk style is based on Edwardian fashion, and is full of rich fabric and a penchant for elaborate detail. For those lucky enough to afford it in The Londo Chronicles, dreadpunk fashion is all about style: velvet and netting, metal studs and satin stripes, diamond pins, shining hats and lots of feathers. No dreadpunk hero worth his salt would get his hands dirty fixing a steampunk machine. No sir. Gloves at all times, citizen. (Here’s a Pinterest board that shows the kind of clothing my characters wear.) Like dreadpunk clothing, steampunk duds are based on Victorian/Edwardian fashion, but have a more practical bent, with accessories such as goggles, scarves, watch fobs, guns in ornate holsters, lots of leather, sturdy footwear and anything with gears attached.
- Social Status vs the Individual. There are some things a dreadpunk character won’t do. Violate etiquette for one. (Unless you are a feisty heroine.) Buck the system for another. (Unless you are a feisty heroine.) Or venture out alone at night (Unless you are a feisty and desperate heroine.) A dreadpunk heroine would rather pin an adversary to the wall with a jeweled dagger than fly after a villain in a hot-air balloon. In comparison, a steampunk heroine would use anything in her kit to rescue her lover or invent something ingenious to do the job. If she has to wear trousers and swear, she’s not bothered at all. She’s an independent miss who speaks her mind and expects to be part of the action.
- Mystery Plot vs Adventure Plot. Dreadpunk is about unknown horrors in dark alleys and cellars. Steampunk is about flying a dirigible to France to save Jean Valjean. There is always an element of adventure in steampunk literature. In dreadpunk, the tale involves a dark menace—especially one that prowls around London—that must be stopped.
Although I love technology and women who aren’t afraid of trousers, I love the gothic novel more. Most of my books contain some element of gothic in them. The dark mysteries of life and the eerie what-ifs are what make my writer heart tick. So it’s dreadpunk for me. Hammer Production films. Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Even The Haunting of Hill House. I’m thrilled to discover that what I’ve been writing for decades finally has an official name! Dreadpunk.