(Note: Due to a scheduling blunder, there will actually be two articles today. Stay tuned for the next one [a review of a “Doom II” WAD] in about fifteen minutes or so.)
Well, it’s been a while since I wrote a writing-related article, so I thought that I’d look at how to write comedy in the cyberpunk genre. This is mostly because, at the original time of writing this article, I was working on last year’s “A Cyberpunk Christmas” short stories.
When I started writing a couple of these stories, I wasn’t sure how they were going to turn out and – to my delight – they ended up including a lot more comedy than I had expected. So, I thought that I’d share some of the ways I got inspired to add some comedy to them.
1) Computer games: One way to learn how to write cyberpunk comedy is to play computer games. The best type of game to play is probably cyberpunk “point and click” games (like “Technobabylon” and “Beneath A Steel Sky“). These games often contain numerous brilliant examples of clever observational humour and/or humour relating to futuristic technology.
But, playing any kind of computer game will help you to come up with better cyberpunk comedy. Even just using a computer will give you some inspiration. And, if you’re reading this right now, then you’re probably already using a computer. Well, all the cool people are anyway. So, put that smartphone down and get thee to a desktop computer!
So, why is this a good source of comedic inspiration? It’s because most games and computer programs have their glitches and quirks which can be a source of humour.
For example, the first of last year’s Christmas cyberpunk stories involved a futuristic cyberpunk virtual reality world, with the humourous twist that it was running slowly on account of the servers being overloaded by lots of Christmas shoppers.
If you’ve every tried access the internet on a Sunday morning or have accidentally tried to play a computer game with the graphics settings on maximum, you can probably see where I got the idea for that particular joke from.
So, just find amusing quirks and glitches in modern technology and try to find a way to add them to the futuristic technology that appears in your cyberpunk story.
2) Styles: Although it’s probably a good idea to have read a few cyberpunk novels ( eg: the “Sprawl Trilogy“), so that you know the type of narrative style that is popular in the genre, don’t feel like you always have to use this style.
Yes, the traditional cyberpunk narrative style does have it’s advantages (eg: the ‘information overload’ effect that jargon-filled cyberpunk narration creates), but occasional sections written using a ‘normal’ narrative voice can be a lot more funny.
This is because they stand out from the ‘traditional’ cyberpunk narration and because the more mundane narrative style helps to highlight the absurdity of the situation you’re describing.
For example, one of the other stories I wrote last year features ‘traditional’ jargon-heavy cyberpunk narration like: “I’d have to triple-wipe the local cache and then send a Bulgarian Burner routine to the cloud servers“.
But, when I wanted to describe an especially amusing use of futuristic technology, I subtly switched to a slightly more ‘old-fashioned’ narrative style: “A rotund man sat on top of the 3D copier machine with his trousers down, a plastic replica of his buttocks gently forming in the tray beside him“. This description happens during a longer description of things that are happening “off-line”, so the change in narrative style isn’t too jarring.
So, switching between cyberpunk and non-cyberpunk narrative styles can be a good way to add some comedy to your story if it’s done well.
3) Large and small jokes: If there’s one thing to be said for the cyberpunk genre, it’s that it is complex. As I mentioned earlier, it’s a genre that relies on “overloading” the reader with information in order to make itself seem like an especially “futuristic” type of science fiction.
So, use this complexity when you are writing cyberpunk comedy. Include a few small jokes scattered around your story, but also make sure that your story has a few “longer” jokes too. In other words, make sure that the central plot of your story is funny too. However, this is probably a lot easier to do in short fiction than it is to do in longer stories.
For example, in the two short stories I linked to earlier, the first one has a lot of small jokes about computer glitches, internet trolls etc…. But, the main joke of the story comes from an over-zealous moderator pre-emptively censoring the funniest line of the story. The main joke is either left to the audience’s imagination, or it’s that the moderator is acting like a humourless rule-obsessed zealot.
Likewise, the second story includes a few small jokes about how futuristic computer hackers don’t get holiday pay, how everyone is spending Christmas on the internet and about how grim futuristic cities are. However, at the very end of the story, it turns out that the whole story is just a cynical sci-fi retelling of a much more traditional Christmas story.
So, yes, include both large and small jokes in your cyberpunk comedy story.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂