Start with the basics. Check the guidelines on our home page.
- Choose a Shakespeare play; he wrote thirty-eight so you have quite a selection to choose from.
- Pull out the major themes. Things to look for: Corruption, Revenge, Love, The folly of Love, Greed, Disguise, Judgment, the Nature of Reality
- Consider a new setting. Where will your Romeo and Juliet meet? The ice cream parlor? Will Violet and Sebastian switch schools?
- Decide what to focus on, whether to tell the whole story (ambitious) or focus on a particular aspect or scene.
- Decide on the central conflict and theme. We would prefer that the central conflict and theme of your story grow out of conflicts and themes already existing in the play you’ve chosen to adapt. In this way you won’t wander too far from Shakespeare’s reason for writing the play. We want you to be creative, but not to travel so far from the original that we can’t recognize it, or that the meaning of Shakespeare’s dialogue is subverted too far from his own central message.
- Consider what fresh insight the introduction of a steampunk setting and elements will bring to Shakespeare’s existing themes and conflicts.
- It’s all about the characters. Find the emotional core of your story. Without it your story will be dead on arrival.
- Create an outline of events and match them against events in the original play. Make sure that the strongest events remain and that everything goes in its proper order.
- Create a timeline of events. After you have prepared the basic elements of your story, it can be helpful to write some kind of timeline to help you decide what should happen when.
- Give your ideas a shape, such as: Introduction (Introduces characters, setting, time, etc.); Initiating Action (The point of a story that starts the rising action); Rising Action (Events leading up to the climax/turning point); Climax (The most intense point of the story/the turning point of the story); Falling Action (your story begins to conclude); Resolution/Conclusion (a satisfying ending to the story in which the central conflict is resolved, or the main character reaches some kind of conclusion about the events of the story)
- Get down to writing—come out swinging. The first page —some would say the first sentence— of any writing should grab the reader’s attention and leave him/her wanting more. A quick start is especially important in short stories because you don’t have much room to tell your story. Don’t waste page space with long introductions of the characters or uninteresting descriptions of the setting: get right into the plot, and reveal details about the characters and setting piece-by-piece as you go along.
- Revise and edit. When you’ve finished the story, go back through it and correct mechanical mistakes, as well as logical and semantic errors. In general, make sure the story flows and the characters and their problems are introduced and resolved appropriately. If you have time, put the completed story down for a few days or weeks before editing. Distancing yourself from the story in this way will help you see it more clearly when you pick it back up.
- Get some second opinions. Send your revised and edited story off to a trusted friend or relative for revisions, edits, and suggestions. Make sure you consider everything that your reviewers tell you—not just the parts you would like to hear. Thank your reviewers for reading your story, and don’t argue with them.
- Incorporate whatever edits, revisions, and suggestions you feel are valid. Your writing will be better if you can carefully consider constructive criticism, but you don’t have to follow all the advice you get. Some of the suggestions may not be very good. It’s your story, and you need to make the final call.
- Make sure you’ve formatted your submission correctly. Use 12-point Arial, Courier or Times New Roman. Pages should be numbered consecutively. Double space the entire manuscript, with no extra spaces between paragraphs. Indent the first line of each paragraph by five spaces. Use 1″ margins all round. Save as either Microsoft Word (DOC or DOCX), Real Text Format (RTF) or OpenOffice (ODT) format.
- Check the guidelines on our home page one last time.
- Give your story a title. We’d prefer inclusion of Steampunk elements in the title of each story, i.e. “Othello, The Half-Machine Moor of Venice” or something similar.
- Prepare a brief introductory letter to submit with your manuscript, giving a an overview of the story and a short bio. Send your submission to Matt Delman at: firstname.lastname@example.org no later than 12 a.m. U.S. Eastern Time on 30 May 2011.
- You’re done! Now you get to eat chocolate.
- Why Shakespeare?
- Shakespeare and the Problem of Adaptation
- Julie Taymor’s The Tempest
- The Folger Library website
- The Folger Library YouTube channel
- American Shakespeare Center
- Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare
- How To Write Like Charles Dickens
- The Birthmark, by Nathaniel Hawthorne
In a recent interview, Phillip Reeve (author of the Mortal Engines quartet, and the Larklight series) made this statement in relation to his waning interest in Steampunk:
“As for the current Steampunk fad for faux-Victorian Science Fiction, that’s actually the opposite of Science Fiction. Its fans often try to link it to Wells and Verne, but there’s no real connection; those writers understood the science of their time, and extrapolated stories from possibilities which it suggested; Steampunk is all about ignoring science and pretending the Victorians could have built robots, or whatever. Its look appeals to me as a setting for cartoons, or lightweight comedies like Larklight, but it’s really just a sort of literary dressing up box, and I’m afraid it’s not a very deep one and the costumes and props are starting to look rather threadbare…”
I think he has a point, personally. While I hope there will always be room for lighthearted romps within the genre, there’s not enough satisfying, thought-provoking, muscular writing out there.
As we play with the possibilities that a Steampunk reimagining of Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets allow us, are any of you adhering to the old guard science fiction preference for technical accuracy, believability, and depth of theme?
If Steampunks revere the writing of Jules Verne (who kept copious notes of scientific fact and theory), then shouldn’t we at least try to make the scientific side of Steampunk as well-researched and believable as the costumes and set design?
Big Think has some interesting videos, and this one seemed timely for those of you who are submitting to the anthology:
“We as Americans I think really struggle with finding our own identity within Shakespeare. I think we generally have this inferiority complex relative to the English. There’s still this adoration for the idea of monarchy, and the English represent civility and intelligence and divinity even.
When we, American actors, try to take on Shakespeare it’s a real challenge to find our own voice within it, to find an American voice within it, to personalize it, to resist all of the reverence and the preciousness of it and really break it down, destroy it, recreate it in our own image.
The person who was most effective at that for me was Chris Walken. He played Iago to the late Raul Julius, Othello. Chris is a highly intelligent guy, but the way he was able to craft that language was like nothing I had ever seen. He didn’t give into anyone else’s idea about what this language was or who Shakespeare was. It was vicious and improvisatory and just brilliantly his own, and it’s a very rare thing that American actors are able to do that. You hear people and it’s like this kind of these faux British intonations or this middle American, whatever that is, but it doesn’t speak to a real persona.
So that’s the real challenge I think for us as performers, but also as readers of Shakespeare, really to claim it for our own.”
Greetings Steampunk Shakespeareans!
We’ve been getting a number of questions lately about submissions; namely, people wanting to know whether their story or sonnet has been accepted for publication in the anthology. Believe me, I understand the anxiety — especially if you submitted a story to us in say January and are getting nervous now that it’s the end of April.
Never fear though, as Jaymee, Lia, and I have discussed this particular point at length and we came to a decision:
We’re not going to send out acceptances or rejections until after the submissions deadline has passed.
I can imagine those who’ve submitted to us already aren’t all that pleased by that announcement; however that’s the choice we made after much discussion on the topic. We want to encourage as many submissions as possible, and if we send out acceptances now, then we run the risk of discouraging authors who may have been writing their story for some time now from sending in their works. And we really, really, really don’t want to discourage anyone from submitting.
So we decided to hold off on notifying anyone because of that. We are reading the stories as they come in though, so no worries about that. We’re just not announcing who’s been chosen until after the deadline. Watch this space in June/July for the final story list after we send out acceptances!
Today is Shakespeare’s birthday and deathday, if legend is to be believed, yet in the alternative reality of story which permeates our world he has never been more alive.
His affection for the foibles, failings, good, evil, and drama of human experience at every level of society enables his work to transcend shifting time and popular culture to find relevance in every age.
His work has influenced writers as diverse as Herman Melville, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, William Faulkner and JK Rowling.
As with so many other writers of fiction, his influence is evident on every page I write. Yet much mystery surrounds the man himself. Was he a grammar school graduate without a university education? Or an aristocrat of the first order? No one really knows for sure, and none of that really matters to me. Everything that matters is in the work itself.
There one finds, writ large, his compassion for the predicaments of those at all levels of society, his curiosity for all forms of knowledge, his hatred of pomposity and self-pride, his understanding of the ambiguities of power, of man’s ability to distort truth to suit himself… so many facets of human nature are reflected in his work, displayed in his version of the globe. We recognize each portrait and can apply the truth of each one to every era because man’s nature hasn’t changed from Shakespeare’s time to ours. What was true then is still true.
That is why Shakespeare’s plays have been successfully re-imagined in thousands of ways without losing any of the essential truth at each one’s core. Whether set in a science fiction future, a neo-Victorian alternative history, or feudal Japan, that truth still illuminates our understanding of ourselves and others.
Every writer worth his salt at some point in his life asks himself the question: “How can I pull that off? How can I make my work transcend time?” The answer is always “Tell the truth” and the master of that, is Shakespeare.
Re-imagining Shakespeare’s plays in a Steampunk setting enables us to interpret and experience his work from a fresh perspective, but should not distort the truth at the heart of his original. I am full of admiration for those who have submitted to our upcoming anthology. The deadline for submission is May 31st if you would like to take a crack at it.
In the meantime, I hope you will find your own way to celebrate Shakespeare on his birthday. You can participate in a vast range of activities set up around the world from street parades to performances, or consider writing your own post about Shakespeare.
We at Steampunk Shakespeare are delighted to have been invited by the Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust to be one of 50 selected bloggers from around the world to share a story about how Shakespeare has influenced our lives. You can find the others at the Happy Birthday Shakespeare! website.
The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust is offering four days of activities to celebrate: a Saturday morning parade and walking spectacle that culminates at Shakespeare’s grave at Holy Trinity Church, carnival bands, street entertainers, children’s workshops, a Romeo and Juliet Challenge, and Sonnet Sleuths.
Call for Submissions: The Omnibus of Doctor Bill Shakes and the Magnificent Ionic Pentatetrameter: A Steampunk’s Shakespeare Anthology
Now it’s your turn.
How has Shakespeare influenced YOUR life? Join the conversation by leaving a comment below!
Contrary to many people’s assumptions when they first meet me, those who have never heard me speak nor seen me write, my first language is English. Yes, I also speak a particular basilect of English, but my first tongue is, nonetheless, closely related enough to the Queen’s English that I majored in it for my undergraduate degree.
Contrary to many people’s assumptions about Shakespeare, those who have never seen his plays nor read his texts closely, he is not actually a hard writer. Yes, okay, he’s difficult, in the sense that he was writing for a different time period, a different audience. But no, he’s not a high literary writer.
The more I learned about Shakespeare, the more I understood that his words do not soar and they are not the pinnacle of the English language and they most certainly are not the sole purview of language elites whose command of English is so tight they lord over it, rapping fingers for committing a typo.
You see, Shakespeare was about appealing to the masses of his time. So he had to be able to write words that spoke to the average person in the audience of his time. You cannot write words that soar if you want the average pleb to understand you, because they have no time to run around trying to catch your words; you need to write words that go right down to the ground and get your message across, right into the head and, muses willing, the heart. Shakespeare was all about that, because Shakespeare needed to get paid. In an age like that, and today, you don’t get paid for confusing your audience (unless you’re James Joyce).
When I say his writing was not the pinnacle of language, I refer to the fact that, in order to communicate what he meant to his very ordinary audience, he had to make up words, mess up grammar, twist language around to suit his own needs and purposes. Shakespeare’s work shows us how language can change, expand, contract, curl up onto itself, welcome into it different forms of saying something significant to an audience at large. Shakespeare’s work taught me how to be daring with my grammar and my vocabulary, and appreciating what Shakespeare has done has taught me to be generous and appreciative of many memes of today.
Come now, do we really think he would have slammed down the wordplay found in the likes of the Cheezburger cats? He wrote for the stage, for the audience, he wrote to send his words out. That is the duty of the writer: writing for the audience and sending words out there, and you have no control over them after that. To control communication is to control people. To control how people communicate is to be oppressive. To control how people understand communiques of various sorts is to tell people there is a right way and a wrong way to understand the world.
The more I understood Shakespeare, the more I understood this.
Yes, of course I understand that to many, Shakespeare is the height of writing, the gold standard. I understand that many people divorce the man from the literature and claim all the works stand the test of time and are universal (which they are not always, depending on where you go; if they are universal it is because the British Empire has imposed a set standard across the world that we can understand Shakespeare, whether or not we find parallels of his world in ours, whether or not we can find hints of our world in his).
But perhaps you could understand, then, that to this steampunk postcolonialist, Shakespeare is my Master Prospero, long gone from my island, who did not know I copied his scrolls and spellbooks, who does not know I long ago learnt to do more than curse with his tongue that he taught me, who does not see that I have fixed his staff, that I could become sorcerer myself and reclaim the island he left behind. Every time I touch his words, I touch the memory of the man who wrote them. And though I may not have as much of a command over my own ancestors’ tongues, I can still command spirits and cast spells with what words I know, and reshape my tongue besides to expand my world further still.
I learned that from learning Shakespeare.
One way to approach a steampunk adaptation of Shakespeare is to consider how Victorian attitudes and morals would have led them to interpret Shakespeare. There is a huge body of critical work available to those who want to find out what the Victorians thought of Shakespeare, and how they interpreted his characters. You might check to see if your library carries books like Victorian Shakespeare, Volume 2: Literature and Culture, for instance.
The Victorians collected and organized information about Shakespeare on a massive scale, done most notably by the Shakespeare Society (1840-1853) and the New Shakespere Society (1873-1894), in much the same way that Victorian scientists amassed huge botanical, zoological, and geological collections. The New Shakespere Society even insisted that historical research supported their variant spelling of Shakespeare’s name.
Steampunk, however, not only celebrates but also subverts and parodies Victorian mores, so while a straight-up Victorian treatment of Shakespeare won’t automatically make your adaptation Steampunk, neither will just throwing in a few cogs and gears. Similarly, whilst reading books like this may help you climb inside the minds of Victorian Shakespeareans, to make it steampunk, you could also imagine how a Victorian inventor or mad scientist might have interpreted Shakespeare.
Creating a steampunk adaptation of Shakespeare is not for the faint of heart, but it’s certainly a lot of fun!
You could also check out “Victorian Appropriations of Shakespeare: George Eliot, A.C. Swinburne, Robert Browning and Charles Dickinson” by Robert Sawyer for an analysis of how Victorian writers ‘borrowed’ from Shakespeare. There is an interesting review of this book by Fairleigh Dickinson University.
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One thing that is becoming clear, despite the high quality of submissions already received, is that edits will be required before a final decision is made. But you knew that already, right? That is how publishing works, after all.
Something you may not know is that, since space is limited, we are eager to see shorter stories, in the 5,000 words plus range, particularly from unknown writers. Why? Because if everyone submits a 10,000 word story, we’ll only be able to publish about eight of them, and precedence will naturally be given to the most well-known writers, as name recognition gives potential readers confidence to make a purchase.
We are keen to discover new talent, but if you are an unknown writer, consider keeping your wordcount on the lower end of the guidelines to increase your chances of acceptance. The higher the wordcount, the higher the quality will need to be to compete.
Adapting a play into short story form presents particular challenges, due to the need to replace visual information previously entrusted to the director’s vision, the actors’ interpretation, and the set and costume designers’ creativity. A story is, first and foremost, an emotional journey, which requires a certain amount of physical and emotional detail. Show us how the protagonist feels, how other characters look, what their body language reveals about their emotional state, and provide a vivid enough sense of time and place through worldbuilding detail to allow readers to become fully immersed in the story.
Lastly, although we prefer that you keep language, particularly dialogue, close to the spirit of Shakespeare wherever possible, be wary of interpreting that too strictly, at the expense of clarity. Sometimes it is necessary to paraphrase what’s being said in order for it to make sense!
Victorian productions of Shakespeare plays were no more likely to present them in Elizabethan dress than we do now. Anachronistic costumes were already in vogue, to make the Bard’s plays feel contemporary, fresh and relevant.
Actress Maxine Elliott (1868-1940) dressed in the role of Portia from The Merchant of Venice, 1901.
Let your imagination fly way out of the box as you prepare your submissions for the Steampunk Shakespeare anthology. We’re looking for a completely fresh take on Shakespeare seen through Steampunk goggles.
Bring it on, punks!