So you've decided to write a story. You love to read Diesel Punk, so you've decided to write Diesel Punk. First, be sure to check out Write A Story for basic advice that holds across all genres. Then, get back here for a rundown of the genre-specific tropes that will help you, hurt you, and guide you on your way. All examples here are, well, examples of examples. Do not try to wrap your head around a story using all of the examples.
Necessary TropesFrom the definition on the main Diesel Punk page:
A Punk Punk genre of Speculative Fiction based on the 1920s - 1950s period, spiced up with retro-futuristic innovations and occult elements. The dieselpunk narrative is characterized by conflict vs the undefeatable (nature, society, cosmic), strong use of technology, and Grey and Gray Morality. The protagonists are usually Heroic Neutral and have low social status.One of the things you need to establish is a sense of different yet familiar times. Zeerust is your friend here; take something iconic from the time period and use it as a design model for your props. Make sure the retro-futurism is worn down with grease and grit. The horrifying scale and depressing futility of the Great War led many to believe that warfare had become obsolete — surely no one in their right mind would want to start a war when technology made easy conquest impossible (and they may be right, see Divergence below). To reflect this, choose non-military-types for Action Heroes, too individualistic and too busy exploring, solving mysteries or whatever to join military units. Or go for a Science Hero, a character type that is still fresh in this era. The villains on the other hand are likely to be in uniform and eager to find a way to make war exciting (and effective) again, possibly using bigger battalions or Weapon of Mass Destruction. They can be foiled though, being Fascist, but Inefficient.
DivergenceYou will need to decide at which point(s) your story diverges from real history. A common one is that The Great Depression didn't happen, which is a pretty big one since it changes the economic and political situations considerably. In our timeline, The Great Depression and its aftereffects ended the optimism of the 1920s and left industry and commerce dead in the water. People lost confidence in capitalism and liberalism, and left- and right-wing extremist politicians were able to sway the masses. None of this has happened in a typical Diesel Punk setting. The next big point of divergence involves World War II breaking out. It doesn't have to: a story can have the Soviets' or Axis powers' belligerence defused or contained. In a Diesel Deco-flavored story, the dictatorships aren't calling the shots; maybe the League of Nations has been successful? The world is open and peaceful, and human and industrial resources are available to raise science and engineering to new heights. Conflict is likely to be vs nature (exploration) or vs some kind of Science villain, maybe someone who wants to set history back on the global conflict track. In a Diesel Noir-flavored story, the different dictators are still in power, but competing in some other arena. A Communism/Naziism Cold War, maybe? This is a more dystopian variant, with democracy in retreat all over the world. Conflict is likely to be vs society, or vs various spies and agents. Or maybe World War II did break out. Even without the disrupting effects of The Great Depression, it is likely to occur due to a number of reasons, including Soviet visions of a world-wide revolution, German revanchism, or Japanese expansionism. In that case divergence can simply be a technological difference (Diesel Weird War). The period had oodles of war-related inventions, a lot of which never saw practical use. They can in your story, though! Some of the inventions that were put to use can very easily be Turned Up to Eleven; a impenetrable Franco-Belgian-Dutch system of fortresses from the Alps to the Frisian Sea, Soviet Land Dreadnoughts, RAF Airborne Aircraft Carriers, Stupid Jetpack Hitler, nuclear arms in every arsenal (with some kind of phlebotinic countermeasures to avoid having the fun end too quickly). It is also possible to diverge later, in the aftermath or final stages of World War II. In our history, conflict continued with Cold War, post-colonial unrest, and the perpetual crisis in Palestine. In a Diesel Dystopia story, liberty is a thing of the past as governments feel the need for total control to avoid being overrun by greater or lesser powers. Even worse, in a Diesel Desolation story, the war has finished off civilization completely. Even later divergence lands you in Atom Punk territory.
PitfallsYou'll want to avoid writing a story that is Steam Punk, Raygun Gothic (e.g. going into space), or Two-Fisted Tales (e.g. too much Diesel era, too little punk) rather than Diesel Punk. Also try to avoid ending up with Present Day Past. As with Steam Punk, some anachronisms are to be expected and are perhaps necessary, but the right period feel is essential. Anachronism Stew tends to creep down in stories written by modern people and set in the 1930s - and raise a good bit of ridiculousness since there are still people who were alive back then and can quickly point out the Values Dissonance. Generally, the Rule of Cool draws people who are untrained in history to point out the cool features of the era, the Roaring Twenties, the wild parties sprinkled with bootleg booze, shiny and chromed classic cars with bonnets long enough to keep the front wheels in Paris and the back wheels in Berlin, the newly-found sexual freedom under the Hollywoodian glamour. Two things have to be remembered, for they are the staples of the age, the foundation for both World War II and The Cold War:
Suggested Themes and AesopsExploration: during this era the last uncharted parts of the world were visited by westerners.
Set Designer / Location Scout
Internal Combustion and New Means of TravelThe internal combustion engine (ICE) has replaced the steam engine as the main power source. The typical power plant is a diesel-powered piston engine, but petrol engines and gas turbines are also used. Compared to the steam engine, the ICE 1) can be made significantly smaller and lighter, 2) is safer (steam engine explosions were common and lethal) and a lot easier to use (they don't require a trained engineer to operate them, for instance), 3) is a lot more fuel-efficient. This means that your story can have a non-engineer operating a light vehicle over a great range. The ICE also lets the aircraft really take off. Originally a Steam Era invention, the early-modern aircraft is almost synonymous with Diesel Punk. Of the 20 most produced aircraft to date, only two (the Mil Mi-8 and the Piper Cherokee) were designed later than the Diesel Era. New types of aircraft include:
Electrical Power and ElectronicsDiesel-electric transmission uses a diesel engine connected to a generator to power an electric motor that drives a vehicle. Since electric motors can supply torque down to 0 RPM, this makes the system ideal for trains, submarines, and ships (and heavy tanks: the Elephant tank used petrol-electric transmission). There are no transistors or other semiconductor components, so electronic devices are bulky, fragile, and require a lot of energy. Radio and primitive radar equipment is cutting-edge technology—no lasers or rayguns. Also (and much used in modern reenactings) materials like Bakelite and Textolite / Tufnol are emblematic for electrical and mechanical designs of the 1925-1965 age, just like brass was for Steam Punk. Electrical designs of the pre-transistor age were usually massive, strong, heavy, made to withstand high currents, weather and time.
Artificial IntelligenceThis period in our history saw the first working computers, the beginning of cybernetics, and a feeling that true AI was just around the corner. In a Diesel Punk story, AI (of some kind, most likely Robo-Monkey to Average Joe) has been realized. Contemporary computer designs aren't really advanced enough (and above all not portable enough) for AI purposes, so some kind of Applied Phlebotinum like positronic brains is needed. Usually packaged in a Tin Can Robot.
MediaNewspapers, magazines, and the telegraph are established forms of mass media, but the term "(mass) media" in this usage is a Diesel Age invention. Early on, a kind of telephone-based subscriber broadcasting was used; for instance theater and opera performances were broadcast by telephone. The iconic medium is radio broadcasting, with a wealth of programming music, Radio Drama shows and news. Furthermore, listening was often a communal experience such as depicted in The Waltons with the whole family gathered around a radio roughly the size of a widescreen TV today. Television broadcasting exists in most advanced countries (beginning with mechanical television in the early years) as well (cable radio and cable television also exist), but only a very small scale with the medium barely out of its experimental stage. For those without a TV set, movie theaters show newsreels. Film has sound and color. While the musical movie is more popular during the Diesel Era than nowadays, most modern genres have precursors in this age, including special-effects-heavy science-fiction and monster movies.
Costume DesignerVery much anchored in Real Life - again, there are still -as of 2014- people born in the 1920s living today to point out the glaringly wrong fashion choices.
What strikes most during The New Tens is the roughneck◊, proletarian◊ design◊ of most clothing◊ prior to the 1950s in the developed world. Most people had blue collar jobs back then, which would expose them to grit and dirt, they had to take the public transport to work, walk the streets in rough weather, so the clothing choice was justified. Tough fabrics, leather overcoats or trenchcoats for protection, hats and caps not only as the fashion demanded, but also as protective headgears. Also they had to don old, worn-out clothes while doing Dirty Jobs with machinery (which was more oily, sticky and stinky compared to its modern counterparts), to protect their better and more expensive clothing. The elegant pinstriped suit for males was mostly an upper class or Nouveau Riche class thing, poorer people would have donned such clothing for ceremonial occasions like weddings or funerals mostly.
Due to poverty and necessity to use the public transport and wash clothes by hand on one side and due to modesty in clothing and appearance imposed by the authorities, most people of the Eastern Bloc dressed like this up to the 1980s at work. While they might have used clothing closer to modernity in informal occasions.
The Epic Fails