In the first part of this article, I was talking about how I was approached to create a series bible that would be used my multiple authors to create The Darkside Codex, Musa Publishing’s shared world. I’ve discussed where the germ of the idea came from and also where I got the ideas for the city of Southwatch. But that’s only the first part. I used all the various techniques I discuss in my new book, Terra Incognito: Building the Worlds of Your Imagination, to flesh out the city once I had built its basic structure. So, let’s return to that idea and see how Southwatch grew from just a few buildings on a small island into something people could incorporate into their stories—
Continuing on, I started identifying people who were needed in the town. I decided Southwatch was a city-state run by a baron. However, he handles the major issues with the Empire that controls Southwatch. There is a Lord Mayor and a city council running the day-to-day operations and then each city district has its own council also. However, beyond that, I began developing personalities any of the writers could use. Some of them are simply names and positions like the Lord Mayor’s secretary, the bartender at a specific bar, two second-story men, etc. Just something a writer could use as a hook for a story or as a background character their protagonist could meet in passing.
Then I started thinking of specific people to populate Southwatch. Here’s where I started adding in the mad scientists, the baron’s secret police, sky pirates, a couple of industrial spies, the military leaders who were stationed by the Empire to protect Southwatch and the southern coast; all of these had more details so they could be potential protagonists or even antagonists for the writers. For my good friend and fellow author, Myke Cole, I created the Imperial Coast Guard and stationed one of the Coast Guard Squadrons in Southwatch.
Another area I provided a bare bone sketch was in the Southwatch Underworld. I came up with the names and areas of interest for several of Southwatch’s seediest characters. However, I left it at that. I am hoping some of the writers will explore these characters. Now if I was writing about one or all of them, it would be safe to say, I wouldn’t want to be on any of their bad sides. I suspect if you dig deep into their characters, you’re not going to like what you see. However, another author may decide one of them is really not a bad person, but they’re as much a victim of circumstances as the people they terrorize. Another person might decide even I wasn’t depraved enough with their story. That’s why I left some of the characters wide open. I want the writers to bring the story each character has hidden away to life.
Concept Sketch of Southwatch
While most steampunk is set in a variation of Victorian or Edwardian England, we decided this would not be just an alternate Earth but a new world with its own history and religions. We already had the city map, but if this was a new world, I was going to need to start with the macro and work toward the micro. So, first we created the world of Thalia by creating the continents and the oceans. From that, I was able to identify which continent held Southwatch, and I did a larger version of this map, identifying the current Empire of Dalriada and its neighboring lands. Then, we did an expanded map of the Empire of Dalriada and identified the various duchies, kingdoms, and imperial city-states allied with Southwatch.
I decided since Southwatch was an independent city-state inside an empire, the Empire of Dalriada would be similar to the Holy Roman Empire and Southwatch would be one of the imperial electors. Given its industrial power and being a major port city, it allowed Southwatch to have quite a bit of influence within the empire without controlling large tracts of land. This would help the authors concentrate on the city, but give them the ability to include imperial intrigue, foreign spies, or even do a story involving traveling around the globe if they wanted to investigate the entire world.
If you’re going to have a world, it can’t just exist in a vacuum. So, I wrote the history of the lands around Southwatch and wove the history of the city into the over-all history. This helped identify the old lines of nobility as well as introducing events reflected in ancient documents that might be discovered in the bowels of the city or even a potential pretender for the imperial throne who might be living in Southwatch completely unaware of their noble bloodline. Would the current nobles welcome him into their midst or would they dispatch forces to ensure the permanent extinction of the threat?
In conjunction with my work, Celina helped design the major religions in the Empire. She came up with the major religion as well as three minor cults. By designing the religions, she then created the holidays in Southwatch as well as deigning the calendar. It’s an unusual one: twelve months with thirty days per month (five weeks of six days each) and then a short five-day month which is dedicated to the major holy days.
Along with developing the religions, she also designed the most commonly seen fashions in Southwatch. After all, what is the local noble supposed to wear when out and about on the town? What are the latest fashions in filter masks for slumming below the cloud? After all, once can’t be expected to wear just any old filter mask.
Seriously, Celina put a great effort in developing and refining what is standard wear in Southwatch. She helped design not only the clothing for the aristocrats, but helped design the standard uniforms for the police and Sky Rangers as well as identifying the styles of clothing worn by everyday people both at work and at play. Even though a lot of steampunk focuses on the gentleman adventurer or the lady daredevil, even they will be encountering people of all ages and social classes. By determining what the fashions of Southwatch (and by extension, the Empire and beyond), this helps ensure continuity in the various stories to come.
The advantage of having this be a near-Earth-but-not-quite is we can introduce almost anything into the story and make it work. Glass as strong as steel? A rare element that assists in personal flight devices? Androids possessing human souls? Is it magic? Is it super-science? Is it a combination of both? Or is it Clarke’s Law (“Any sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from magic”) in action?
Well, the fae might have something to say about that.
Oh, hadn’t I mentioned them yet? Yes, they are the ones who decided to make Southwatch pay for all the pollution they’d been pumping into the sky for hundreds of years. They maintain the winds keeping the cloud perfectly centered above the city. They figure the humans will figure it out eventually. As I point out in the series bible, the fae may be playful or they may be malevolent, but they always have their own reasons for doing things. Always.
Southwatch has been built and destroyed at least three times in its history. There are things that lurk within the bowels of the city and on the outskirts and within the cloud. Some might call them the undead. Some might call them shadows of the past. Some might claim they’re creatures from a different reality summoned by a mad genius and then released into the world for an unfathomable purpose. All of them could be right. However, there are no friendly undead. They do not fall in love with humans. Humans are cattle to be used and discarded. Humans can be agents to accomplish tasks the undead cannot do during daylight. Humans can be toys (sexual or other), but they are not love interests. Remember, some of what we would call undead are not former humans. They think very differently and see humans very differently from the way humans see themselves. This could be fertile ground for Steampunk Horror, especially if the otherworldliness is played up.
In a nutshell, these are the steps I went through to build the city of Southwatch, which was going to be the crown jewel for what I called The Darkside Chronicles. Unfortunately, Musa Publishing closed its doors in March 2015. Still it was a great project to be involved in and it was great seeing how all the different things I talk about in Terra Incognito came together for this project. And this might not necessarily be the final end of Southwatch, but that will have to wait for another telling.