Hey there, all you creative minds! As an author, I’ve come across a multitude of fascinating characters. But today, we’re going to talk about something special: creating memorable robot characters in steampunk. If you’re into gears, goggles, steam, and clockwork, then crafting robotic wonders is right up your alley.

What’s In a Name?


First things first, let’s talk nomenclature. In the world of steampunk, robots are typically referred to as “automatons.” They’re intricate, steam-powered mechanical beings, often humanoid, with a certain Victorian-era charm. In my series, The Adventures of Bodacious Creed, these machines are affectionately termed “steelies” (singular: “steely”). Different names add flair and authenticity to the world you’re creating. The term “robot” wasn’t coined until 1920.

Fleshing Out the Mechanics of Your Robot Charcters


Now, on to the nuts and bolts – literally! Not to mention the engines and circuitry. Steampunk automatons are all about clockwork and steam power. When designing your robot character, think about how it operates. Does it have steam vents? Is it powered by an internal furnace? These mechanical details give life to your automaton and make it feel like a real part of the steampunk universe.

Giving Robot Characters a Personality


Robot characters in science fiction can sometimes feel cold and unemotional, but in the realm of steampunk, they can be as lively as any human character. If you’re writing a series, you may want to start with them doing simple tasks, and show how their programming advances over time. Think of quirky mannerisms, speech patterns, or even wardrobe choices. Yes, your automaton can have a sense of style. This can go a long way in endearing them to readers.

Lucky and Dixie from "The Adventures of Bodacious Creed"

The Purpose They Serve


An automaton needs to have a purpose in the story. Is it a loyal sidekick? A formidable adversary? A wise guide? In my world, the Creedverse, steelies serve as medical assistants, guards, and guides. I even have one (so far, just in my series bible) that assists in a small chocolate factory and has injectors in its fingers for different fillings. Define its role in your narrative, and tailor its features and character traits accordingly.

Interaction with Human Characters


One of the most engaging aspects of an automaton character is its interaction with human characters. How do people in your steampunk world view these mechanical beings? Are they trusted companions or are they met with suspicion? This dynamic not only builds your automaton’s character but also reflects the society in your fictional world.

Their Own Journey


Finally, consider giving your robot characters their own story arcs. Perhaps it’s seeking to become more human, or it has to overcome some mechanical limitation. Whatever the case, giving your automaton a goal adds depth and makes them more relatable.

There you have it! Crafting an automaton character in a steampunk world is an adventure. From the intricate mechanics to a dash of personality, your robot can be a memorable addition to your story.

Just a brief note before I go: remember that building characters, be it human or mechanical, is an art. Take your time, let your imagination soar, and don’t be afraid to make bold choices.

If you’re looking for a place to keep track of your fictional world (or worlds!), including its characters, locations, timeline, and much more, I encourage you to check out World Anvil. Start with a free account and see what you think! World Anvil is where I keep my series bible on the Creedverse. While most of the information is private, there is a lot of information available to the public. Check out the For Readers section and the Appendix!

Until next time, keep those gears turning and your creative engines steaming!


“’Don’t blame you,’ said Marvin and counted five hundred and ninety-seven thousand million sheep before falling asleep again a second later.” ~ Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy



Hey there, fellow creators and steampunk aficionados! If you’ve perused my works, particularly The Adventures of Bodacious Creed trilogy, you know I have a penchant for mixing the Wild West with the riveting gears and gadgets of steampunk. But weaving historical accuracy and the clockwork advancements present in the steampunk genre is tricky. Let’s dive into the challenges and discuss how to intertwine the past with some steam-powered sci-fi flair, and explore the vagaries of blending history and steampunk.

What’s the point of combining History and Steampunk?


Steampunk is a subgenre of science fiction that revolves around steam-powered machinery. It is usually set in an alternate history, often the 19th century, and features advanced technology based on the steam power of the era. The history of the time creates a rich backdrop for the innovations and evokes a sense of nostalgia while allowing for surprising differences.

The Stakes and Gears: Historical Accuracy vs. Steampunk Technology


Knowing Your History

An authentic steampunk narrative demands a well-researched historical foundation. If you’re going to make historical changes, it’s good to know what you’re changing. Chances are, you’ll find a lot of history to incorporate in your stories. For example, I read a ton about San Francisco in the mid-to-late 19th Century before writing the second and third Bodacious Creed novels.

Dive into the social norms, clothing, politics, events, and speech of the era you are focusing on. The aim is to transport your readers back in time before while introducing the gadgets, and changes, that make your steampunk world unique.


Altering Historical Events

One of the intriguing aspects of steampunk is how it allows us to play with the past. Imagine altering historical events thanks to steampunk technology. The key is to consider how the technology could plausibly change outcomes and shape society differently.

How much can you get away with? Well, how much different are various timelines in the Marvel Cinematic Universe? You can change a lot, but you need to know why things are different.


Characters Ground the Narrative

Characters serve as the bridge between the real and the reimagined. Crafting characters that embody the ethos of the era (whichever era you choose), while seamlessly interacting with steampunk elements, is critical. Your characters should not only reflect the historical setting but feel like real people, with genuine issues. Ground the story with realism, and the fantastical elements will become more believable.


Understand The Fantastical Elements

While steampunk has elements of whimsy, my world, the Creedverse, is rooted in science fiction. Yours may have fantasy elements. You should have a good idea of how the new technology works.


Be Aware of Historical and Modern Sensibilities

Altering history should be done with care. The past has its dark moments, and the way people thought and talked in past decades and centuries can seem antiquated to modern readers. You can write about the past with sensitivity. Part of the trick is to use modern words as a narrator, when antiquated words would seem racist or otherwise insensitive. However, characters can speak how they did back then. You are not the characters. You’re the author, and you can show how people thought in the past, even if they were wrong.


Fine-Tuning The Steam Engine

Merging history and steampunk is akin to fine-tuning an intricate steam engine. The gears need to fit. Immerse yourself in historical research, thoughtfully introduce steampunk elements, create characters that are both of the era and forward-thinking, and tread carefully around historical sensitivities. When you’re writing, Google will be your best friend. If you’re not sure if a particular bit of slang was in use, if a certain historical figure was even alive, or if some helpful machine even exists, look it up. (And, if that machine hasn’t been invented… you can say it was there earlier in your world. For example, in mine, business mogul Miles Morgan recruited a young Nikola Tesla, who then invented the light bulb in 1873.)

So, saddle up, authors, and let’s hit the steam-powered trails of history together.

“Science fiction isn’t just thinking about the world out there. It’s also thinking how that world might be.” ~Samuel R. Delaney



In science fiction, fantasy, thriller, mystery, and other genres, villains play a crucial role in driving the narrative. Their stories provide a counterpoint to the hero’s stories. Memorable antagonists should be well-rounded, and even sympathetic. At least, much of the time.

As an author of the niche steampunk western genre, I’d like to explore with you the art of writing steampunk western villains, including ideas that can help you create memorable foes for your stories. Writing memorable villains is a challenge, but one that’s worth the effort.

Understanding the Role of the Villain


A well-developed villain serves as more than just an obstacle for the protagonist. They should have their own goals, motivations, and conflicts that drive their actions. Consider their background, desires, and how they relate to the world you’ve created in your steampunk western setting.

In my series, The Adventures of Bodacious Creed, there are several antagonists. The driving factors behind their actions include psychopathy, fear, and greed. The main villain, Creed’s nemesis in the trilogy, is a savvy sociopath and narcissist who wants money and power, and doesn’t care whom he hurts, violates, or kills to get it.

Complex Motivations


To make sure you’re writing memorable villains, give them depth by providing them with complex motivations that go beyond simple notions of good and evil. Explore their past, personal struggles, or ideals that have led them down the path of villainy. This will make them more relatable and multi-dimensional to readers.

Moral Ambiguity


Steampunk western villains can blur the lines between right and wrong. Introduce shades of gray into their actions, allowing readers to question their own moral compass. This moral ambiguity can create intrigue and add depth to your villains.

Technology may be at the center of their criminal activities. This is steampunk, after all, a retrofuturistic genre that imagines a past where technology advanced quickly, typically in the 1800s to about 1920. This certainly plays a big part in my own novels.

Unique and Memorable Traits


Make your villains stand out by giving them unique and memorable characteristics. These could be physical attributes, quirks, or specific skills that set them apart from other characters. Emphasize these traits to make them more distinctive in the readers’ minds.

It’s fun to come up with characters that you normally wouldn’t think of. Look for pictures of random people online, or go people watching at a cafe, and see if that sparks any ideas. You may see looks that normally wouldn’t come to mind, but that inspire you to create a unique character, villain or not. There are also books available for writers with lists of character traits that can help expand your imagination.

Counterbalance to the Protagonist


Consider how your villain can complement or challenge the strengths and weaknesses of your protagonist. A engaging antagonist brings out the best or worst in the main character, creating more resonance in the story.

Engaging Backstory


Why is your villain the way they are? Why do they want things that are obviously hurting others? Craft a compelling backstory that reveals their motivations and influences their actions. You don’t have to reveal everything about their past in the story, though some hints can enhance the narrative. When you understand their formative experiences, personal tragedies, or defining moments, you’ll write them more convincingly.

Powerful Gadgets


I mentioned that a steampunk villain will use the era’s emerging technology, or perhaps be affected by it. So, incorporate steampunk elements into your villains’ arsenals. Equip them with advanced technologies, unique gadgets, or even clockwork enhancements that amplify their abilities. These tools can make them formidable adversaries and add to the overall steampunk atmosphere of your story.

In my series, the criminal organization has a variety of gadgets at their disposal that make them a real pain for the heroes.

Psychological Depth


To explore the psychological aspects of your villains, develop their fears, insecurities, or psychological wounds. These things drive their actions, and knowing about them can help you make them more intriguing to readers.

Formidable Challenges


Craft scenes in which your antagonists present formidable challenges to the heroes. Design confrontations that test the protagonists’ skills, morality, and determination. Allow your villains to be a force to be reckoned with, increasing tension and suspense in the story.

You’re closer to seriously writing memorable villains! What’s next?

Redemption or Tragic Endings


Consider the fate of your villains. Will they find redemption or face a tragic end? Exploring the consequences of their actions can add depth to their character arcs and leave a lasting impact on readers.

If you choose a redemption arc, don’t make their conversion sudden. They should go through a lot that tests and challenges their behavior, so that through great difficulties, they come to see the world, and their actions, differently.

Writing memorable villans requires careful consideration of their motivations, traits, and the dynamic they bring to the story. And steampunk western villains need traits, motivations, and tools that fit into the genre. You want multi-dimensional characters with complex backstories. That way, you can elevate your antagonists to a level that engages readers and leaves a lasting impression. Remember, a compelling villain is not just an adversary but a key ingredient in driving the narrative and making your steampunk western world come alive.

“One may smile, and smile, and be a villain.” ~ William Shakespeare 

Today, June 2, 2023, I had the honor of joining Janet Forbes on the World Anvil Podcast! If you’re not familiar with World Anvil, it’s a world building platform for authors and game masters, and really a lot of fun to be part of. Please check out the fictional world of my steampunk zombie western novels, The Creedverse. Most of the information is private, for my use when writing my stories, but there’s some fun stuff there for readers.





Anyway, since I’m on the autism spectrum, and an autism parent, Janet asked me to be her guest on an episode about writing autistic characters. We had a lively conversation and some excellent comments and questions from viewers. While the podcast was live, it now lives here on YouTube:

World Anvil Podcast: Creating Autistic Characters with Jonathan Fesmire

I mentioned I had taken a lot of notes in preparing for the show, and that I’d share them on my blog to help fellow authors get a better idea of what autism is, isn’t, and how to write autistic characters with honesty and sensitivity.



What is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurological and developmental disorder that affects individuals in various ways, influencing their social interactions, communication abilities, interests, and behaviors. The phrase “spectrum” refers to the wide range of symptoms and severity.

I would love to see more, and better, representation for autistic people in fiction, but if you’re considering adding an autistic character to your story, it’s crucial to do so with care, sensitivity, and a commitment to accuracy. Here are 14 points that will help.

Understand Autism

This may be a tall order, but when you write about anything you don’t know a lot about, you should be researching it, anyway. So, before you write an autistic character, spend some time learning about autism. Read books, research papers, articles, and blogs about it. Watch documentaries and listen to podcasts. Read or listen to the stories shared by autistic individuals. Understand that autism is not a disease, but a different way of experiencing the world.

Reject Stereotypes

Stereotypes about autism abound in popular culture. Did you know that the man the movie Rain Man was based on wasn’t actually autistic? Kim Peek had a condition called Savant syndrome. Autistic people are often portrayed as savants, socially clueless, or emotionally detached. While some autistic individuals might exhibit these traits, understand that autism encompasses a broad spectrum of behaviors and abilities. Every autistic person is unique, and their experiences with autism are not universal. A common refrain in the community is, “If you know one person with autism, you know one person with autism.”

Portray a Full Character

Just as with any character, an autistic character should be well-rounded and have traits unrelated to their diagnosis. They should have strengths, weaknesses, desires, fears, hobbies, and a character arc that extends beyond their autism. Autism is part of their identity, not their entire identity.

Show a Range of Behaviors and Traits

Autism manifests differently in different people. Refer to the previously mentioned refrain. While some autistic people may have difficulty with social interaction or exhibit repetitive behaviors, others may not. Some might be nonverbal and communicate through alternate means, while others might love to talk, especially about their specific interests. Portraying a range of behaviors can help avoid a one-dimensional or stereotypical portrayal.

Avoid Deficit-Based Language

When describing an autistic character, use language that affirms their humanity and worth. Avoid pathologizing or reducing them to a set of deficits or symptoms. Using person-first language (e.g., “a person with autism”) or identity-first language (e.g., “an autistic person”) can depend on individual preference. Some of us are even Okay using the term “autists.” When in doubt, consider the preferences of the autistic community.

Highlight Strengths

Autistic people often have unique strengths. These can include exceptional memory, deep focus, detail orientation, creativity, and a strong sense of justice. Highlighting these strengths can provide a balanced portrayal and show the character as capable.

In today’s podcast, we talked about autistic superpowers, and it’s great to include things your characters are particularly good at. Two of the primary characters in my steampunk western world, Anna Boyd and Jonathan Johns, are on the spectrum, and they’re both brilliant. I’ve been told that writing is my superpower. I also think deeply and understand the world better through analysis. My son has a memory for dates, places, addresses, and names that blows me away, and he’s an exceptional math student.

Consider Sensory Experiences

Many autistic people experience sensory stimuli differently. Some might be hypersensitive to light, sound, touch, taste, or smell, while others may be hyposensitive and seek sensory stimulation. When concentrating, they may filter out more than most, or they may have trouble filtering out certain stimuli. This altered sensory experience can significantly affect how they interact with their environment. You should consider it when creating autistic characters.

Be Mindful of Mental Health

While most autistic people are perfectly happy being autistic, we often have comorbid conditions that need treatment. We often experience mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, OCD, or ADHD. If this is the case for your character, make sure you research these conditions and represent them accurately. We might be happy with our autism, but not with these difficult mental disorders.

Seek Input

Once you’ve written your autistic character, seek feedback from the autistic community. You may have friends on the spectrum and not realize it, but if you reach out to, say, people on an autism Facebook group, you may find that many appreciate that you want to represent people with autism correctly, and respectfully. They can provide valuable insights and point out any inaccuracies or stereotypes that you may have inadvertently included.

Promote Acceptance and Inclusion

Your portrayal of an autistic character can have a significant impact on readers’ perceptions. It’s said that people who read a lot of fiction are more compassionate and accepting, as if they’ve lived in the minds of many people. When writing autistic charaters, you have the opportunity to challenge harmful stereotypes and promote acceptance and inclusion of autistic individuals. Show that they, like everyone else, can lead fulfilling lives and contribute meaningfully to society.

Autism is Not a Tragedy

One harmful trope that often finds its way into narratives about autism is that it is a tragedy or something to be overcome. It’s essential to understand that many autistic people don’t view their autism as something to be “cured” or “fixed” but as an integral part of their identity. Treat autism as a different way of being, rather than a problem to be solved. Writing autistic characters includes understanding this fact.

Treat the character arc of an autistic character like you would with a neurotypical character. Just don’t have them “cured” in the end. That’s an overused, and frankly offensive, character arc. Your character should certainly make mistakes, learn from them, and grow, while remaining autistic.

Respect Privacy and Autonomy

Even if certain behaviors or traits of your autistic character may seem unusual or confusing to others, it’s important to remember that they don’t always require explanation or justification. Autistic people, like everyone else, deserve respect for their autonomy and privacy. It’s okay to leave some elements unexplained and allow your character to maintain their dignity and autonomy. It’s all right to show the inner reasons for some behaviors, of course, which often have to do with how the person experiences the world. If you don’t have autism, or even if you do and don’t have certain traits you’re trying to portray, do your research!

Be Aware of Communication Styles

Keep in mind that communication styles can vary widely among autistic individuals. Some may be nonverbal and use augmentative and alternative communication methods, while others may speak fluently. Some might have a unique speech pattern or use echolalia, repeating words or phrases. Reflect these varying communication styles in your writing, but tread lightly. It can be a fine line between honest portrayal and appearing to make fun of the character’s quirks.

Show Different Relationships

Autistic individuals, like all people, have romantic relationships, friendships, family relationships, and more. Show these relationships in your story to provide a full and realistic portrayal of your character’s life.


Oh, there’s one trope I’d like to address. Try to avoid the token autistic character. Yes, you may primarily focus on one character with autism, but some of your side characters may be on the spectrum, too. Even if you don’t say outright that they have autism, showing some mild autistic behaviors can add depth and make your story more real. If your story takes place in a time or place where autism hasn’t been identified, you don’t have to even name it. Just give an honest portrayal.

Yes, writing autistic characters can be a tricky task requiring sensitivity, understanding, and thorough research. However, by doing so, you can create a more diverse and realistic world in your story, providing representation for a group that has historically been misunderstood or misrepresented. Accuracy and respect are key. I hope this guide helps you create rich, well-rounded characters that resonate with readers and contribute positively to the representation of autistic individuals in literature.

If you’d like to read a prequel short story to my steampunk western series, The Adventures of Bodacious Creed, you can for free. The Obstructed Engine features the two characters I mentioned in this article, and you can get it here:

The Obstructed Engine