THE MAKING OF A STEAMFUNKATEER: Creating a Steamfunk Persona

Muhammad AliWhat is a Persona?

A persona is the fictional person you wish to have been had you lived during the period of time your Steamfunk setting covers, or had you lived in the world in which your Steamfunk stories are set.

Creating a persona takes some thought, a bit of time and a little research.

Deciding who to be is a fun and creative process. If you find it difficult to come up with a persona and a back-story, remember – do not take yourself too seriously and relax. The ideas will soon flow.

Here are some steps to assist you in the development of a Steamfunk persona:

Decide Upon a Time Period

Choose a particular historical occurrence you want your character to have been around for and, possibly, to have participated in; or choose a time you would like to further reinvent, or explore, or think had cool clothes.

Choose a Culture

Steam Sistas 1Decide what culture your persona is from – are they from the Mandinka of Mali? A group of runaway slaves, now living in their own city in Mexico? The Black British underclass?

Research the clothes worn by your chosen culture during your chosen time period and establish your persona’s dress style.

Choose an occupation and / or skill set based on those used and valued by your chosen culture; or you can choose to be a cultural anomaly that travelled and learned abroad and now uses the skills of other cultures with those of your own.

The reason you need to select a culture and time period first is that it’s easier to determine what names were in use at a particular time and place. If you choose a name first then you may find it difficult to fit it in with the culture your character is from. Naming your persona Shaka Vusumazulu, a Zulu name, would not make much sense if your character is from the Oyo Empire (of what is now called Nigeria).

Select a Name

Ogunlana with FlintlockEvery culture had its own naming ceremonies, practices, or manner in which names were given. Investigate the culture and see what kind of names they chose and how and why they chose them.

It is best to be as authentic as possible when selecting a name, because your name can open doorways to activities and points of interest for you to investigate in developing your persona’s history.

If your persona is from the Oyo Empire, for example, your name would represent your mission, your power and your challenge. Your surname would traditionally be given first, as family lineage is very important, and then the names you were given through various ceremonies (including your naming ceremony after your birth), initiations and deeds. If you wear a title, that is given before your surname. My real name – and title – for instance, would be said this way traditionally: Balogun Ojetade Farinmola Aregbesola Efunsegun Ogunyemi Oyabode Abeegunde Ige. My title is Balogun, which means “War Chief” and my surname is Ojetade, which means “The Ancestors are Royal”, indicating my lineage is a royal one. Each of my names tells a bit more about me. To know my entire name is to know my story in a nutshell. As my accomplishments increase; as my life expands, so will my names.

Once you finally decide upon a name, write it down and have your friends pronounce it. Do you like the way it sounds rolling off the tongue of others?  Does the name lend itself to jokes or teasing and if so, can you handle that? I once introduced myself to a gentleman as “Balogun”. He responded with “What’s up, Bag-of-Bones?” I found that hilarious and clever, as I was very thin at the time. Others might have not found the humor in that; something to consider before making a final choice on a name.

Flesh-Out the Details

Nivi HicksOnce you have settled on a name, a culture and a time period, you can stop there.  You may simply be Serengeti Jones, a 19th century British ex-slave turned monster hunter; or, you can go into depth, developing the ins and outs of your persona through research and imagination.  For example, you may be Serengeti Jones, hailing from the City of Westminster, former valet of Lord Alouicious Jones – member of the London Hunter’s Guild and Lord of the House of the Red Wolf. During an expedition in Kenya, your former master was killed by a rabid leopard – the same leopard you killed with your steam-powered slingshot. Seeing this as a God-sent opportunity for freedom, you fled into the wilds of Kenya, leaving Lord Alouicious’ young son, Brent, to fend for himself. You soon discovered that Brent has become a Simbada – a were-lion – who terrorizes the village that took you in. You now hunt Brent and his lycanthropic kin.

Your persona’s back-story can be as simple or complex as you choose. Just have fun with it.

Of course, to create a more multifaceted persona will take time and research. So you don’t feel overwhelmed and so this stays fun, you can start slow and simple, adding more details to your persona’s story as you go along.

Professor BadassSome questions you can use to help develop a detailed history for your persona are:

Would your persona have been literate in your chosen culture/time-frame?

What type of clothes does your persona normally wear?

What type of clothes does your persona wear for special occasions?

How did people of your culture/time-frame tell time?

How did people of your culture/time-frame keep track of days?

What kind of religion and religious duties would be required of your persona?

What does your persona know of history/science/medicine/geography?

What type of money did people of your culture/time-frame use?

How does your persona personally obtain goods and services?

What were the eating habits of people of your culture/time-frame?

What does your persona eat in a normal day?

What types of wildlife live in your persona’s area?

How did people of your culture/time-frame deal with trade?

Who are your culture’s allies and enemies?

What are the military tactics and strategies of your culture?

Funkdafying Your Fashion

In building your persona, be sure that your chosen style of dress makes the statement you want it to. This statement can be bold, or subtle; serious, or humorous; frightening, or inspiring. Know that all fashion makes a statement, so what you put on will reveal things about your persona (and yourself).

You can spice up your costume with various props and trappings. Goggles, top-hats, bowlers / derbies (yes, they are the same – it is a bowler in the UK and a derby in the U.S.) and modified Nerf guns are common accoutrements in Steampunk.

steamfunkateer 1Yes, I said Nerf guns.


Hell, you could get really funky with your Steamfunk and mash it up with a little Nerfpunk. What the hell is “Nerfpunk” you ask? It’s this:

steamfunkateer 2

Heck, if you can Steampunk your Nerf, why not Nerf your Steampunk?

Personally, I am a fan of masks and masquerades. I am fascinated by them and by the implications of the mask becoming the face. I have even written stories about it and one of my favorite poems is We Wear the Mask, which was actually written in the Age of Steam, by Paul Laurence Dunbar:

We Wear the Mask

    WE wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

    Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

    We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

Steamfunk WarriorSoon, many a Steamfunkateer will don masks as part of their personas with the coming of a new and beautiful Steamfunk line of masks from master mask-maker, Shay Lhea, who is taking inspiration from my Steamfunk short stories and from the funktastic stories in the Steamfunk anthology. I am also creating a series of short stories based on the back stories she created for each of her masks. Be sure to check those out on Shay’s Oculto Masks website.

Creating a Steamfunkateer can be a rewarding – and challenging experience. Push the limits of your creativity and have fun with it. And, of course, always…always…keep it funky!

About Balogun

Balogun is the author of the bestselling Afrikan Martial Arts: Discovering the Warrior Within and screenwriter / producer / director of the films, A Single Link, Rite of Passage: Initiation and Rite of Passage: The Dentist of Westminster. He is one of the leading authorities on Steamfunk – a philosophy or style of writing that combines the African and / or African American culture and approach to life with that of the steampunk philosophy and / or steampunk fiction – and writes about it, the craft of writing, Sword & Soul and Steampunk in general, at He is author of eight novels – the Steamfunk bestseller, MOSES: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 & 2); the Urban Science Fiction saga, Redeemer; the Sword & Soul epic, Once Upon A Time In Afrika; a Fight Fiction, New Pulp novella, Fist of Afrika; the gritty, Urban Superhero series, A Single Link and Wrath of the Siafu; the two-fisted Dieselfunk tale, The Scythe and the “Choose-Your-Own-Destiny”-style Young Adult novel, The Keys. Balogun is also contributing co-editor of two anthologies: Ki: Khanga: The Anthology and Steamfunk. Finally, Balogun is the Director and Fight Choreographer of the Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage, which he wrote based on the short story, Rite of Passage, by author Milton Davis and co-author of the award winning screenplay, Ngolo. You can reach him on Facebook at; on Twitter @Baba_Balogun and on Tumblr at

13 responses »

  1. Milton says:

    I see a story coming…

  2. Lori says:

    That top pic is a favorite of mine. To those who don’t know, that is Cassius Clay, A.K.A. Muhammed Ali.

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  9. crelod says:

    This is really helpful for making my persona and the persona of my characters!!!

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