Steampunk is full of characters. Not just fun and interesting people whose personality would cause them to be described as such, but also actual characters. One of the more amazing aspects of our subculture is that many people assume Personas, or alternate identities that they use in their writings or at events as though they were a completely different person. Some do this for a chance to better immerse themselves in the future that never was environment they’ve come to know and love. Others have built up businesses or formed entertainment groups around their persona and being in-character gives them a chance to really sell what they’ve concocted.
The first question many will have is: Do you need a persona? The short answer is no. The longer answer is you really don’t as there are many Steampunks who don’t assume another identity. Well known social justice writer Jaymee Goh has often said that she is her persona and doesn’t see a need for assuming a new name to get her message across. Mike Perschon is one of the leading Steampunk academics and hasn’t really taken on any special persona, even though he is known as the Steampunk Scholar.
For others persona is incredibly important to have. Christine Rose was a Young Adult author who wanted to write a different style of story and assumed the pen-name O.M. Grey. By creating her new persona she could pursue a love of writing Paranormal Romance stories and has also won quite a few accolades as a Steampunk writer. Captain Robert of Abney Park is pretty much Captain Robert of Abney Park, even when visiting Disneyland.
Once you’ve decided you want to assume a persona for yourself the creation process begins. I typically recommend using the 5 W’s of journalism as a starting point. For those who might not be familiar, the 5 W’s are Who, What, When, Where, and Why. They’re intended to be used as a guide for when journalists write a story for what sort of information they should provide. They work surprisingly well for building the backstory and direction to go with your persona.
The first question that’s important to ask yourself is actually the Why of a persona. Why do you want to take on a whole new personality and identity for your involvement in Steampunk? Are you hoping to use it as a starting point for a venture of some sort? Do you want to have a character to slip into at events so you can do more than just chatter about the movie you recently saw? Or is it meant to be a guideline for your outfits and accessories?
Consider why you want to create the person first and the rest of what you want to do should fall into place fairly easily. Remember that you can change the reason you’re doing this in the future if you find something else to do with the character. The League of STEAM originally created costumes for the Labyrinth of Jareth ball. It was only later that they turned into a performance troop that is well known and loved to this day. Flexibility is key when it comes to any sort of creation, and the ability to change things as you need is equally important.
Once you’ve figured out your goal for your persona it’s time to start work on the nitty gritty details. When and Where work together to become your next step. Different parts of the world had very different customs and situations that changed over short amounts time in many cases. Kansas before the Civil War versus in the 1880s, for example, had very different tones from one another. Once a battle state between the pro-slavery and abolitionist sides, Kansas eventually settled into a frontier area that was a gateway on to territory further west. By the 1880s Kansas was very well known for many stories of settlers, bank robbers, and lawmen rather than armed skirmishes of the 1850s.
The When and Where combined will give you a lot of information to work from. They can affect not only the occupation you select, but also how you dress, and even how you speak. This is especially the case when you start moving into the Edwardian period for inspiration or even if you’d like to do more of a Dieselpunk angle.
What you want your persona to be is the next step, and involves a brief statement describing your persona. It should be simple, no more than a few words, and you should be able to sum it up quickly. This doesn’t mean that all you are is this sentence, as everyone has unique details. Just don’t try to load yourself down too much with ideas and side projects on a single character.
Airship captain, law enforcement, mad scientist, craftsperson, writer, adventuring lady, the list goes on and on. There are a myriad number of options to choose from when it comes to an occupation for your persona. There are certainly some ideas that are more common than others as a cursory glance at Steampunk websites will show. Take some time to consider your options and work through an idea that you’ll be happy with. Don’t feel you have to go with something unique and original. If your local Steampunk group has created a mythos that involves Airship Captains then there’s nothing wrong with creating a crew member to fit in better. This is for you to decide and not others after all.
Finally the last question to ask yourself was made famous by a certain Doctor. Who are you? This is where you start to fill in the little details that make up the personality you’re creating. A name is, of course, very important to have and don’t feel you need to come up with something catchy or clever. If you’re hard to forget, then people will remember your name even if it’s John Smith.
Think about what makes your persona tick. Look at habits, preferences, little personality traits that make a person unique and add them in as you think of them. Backstory is important as it helps to form the drive of a character and where they want to go from here. Events that happened in the past are just as important as what’s going on today. What was their family like? What kind of friends do they hang out with? These details will go a long way in helping you nail down the Who of your persona.
With these five questions you should be able to develop a great deal of depth and direction for what you’re trying to do. Take time to consider all of these and be willing to roll with ideas as they’re offered to you or are brought up. Flexibility is important in the creation of a persona; though don’t be afraid to stick to your guns on other details that are required for making them who they are. Be willing to show off a little bit when gathering with other Steampunks. Most importantly, though, make sure you have fun with it! After all, if you’re not having fun, then why are you doing it?