Four Tips For Writing Daily Short Stories

Last February, I randomly started writing daily short stories (like this one, this one and this one) and, unlike both these articles and the previous short story collections I’ve posted here, at least some of those stories were actually written on the same day that they were posted. In retrospect, I should have prepared a buffer of stories first (seriously, do this!) but it was a somewhat unexpected thing.

So, I thought that I’d offer a few tips about writing daily short stories.

1) Have an idea ready the night before: One of the best ways to make sure that you aren’t stricken by writer’s block when you sit down to write your next short story is to have an idea (or at least a theme) prepared for it the night before.

Even if you only have a general theme (eg: “I’m going to write a story about…”), then knowing which direction to go in before you start writing can make the horror of the blank page significantly less of an issue than it might be if you have no idea whatsoever. The tricky part is, of course, finding a theme that’s interesting enough for you to want to write about.

And, yes, if you have an interesting enough theme/idea/mental image, then your story will pretty much write itself. For example, the best one of the first three stories I wrote last February happened because I remembered that I was fascinated by Youtube videos about abandoned shopping centres in September 2017. So, yes, thinking of a good idea the night before you write your story can help alleviate writer’s block.

2) Read!: Even though I prefer other horror authors, there’s a very famous quote from Stephen King where he talks about the importance of both reading and writing regularly. And, yes, reading is more important than I’d previously thought. After I got back into reading regularly, I knew that it was only a matter of time before I’d start writing again.

But, why? Simply put, reading novels that you enjoy shows you how amazing the written word can be and makes you think “I want to do this!“. It shows you what techniques do and don’t work. Seeing lots of different people’s narrative voices also helps you to refine your own one too. Plus, reading something gripping also helps you to practice the sustained focus that you need whilst writing.

However, and this is the cruel irony of all of this, time spent reading usually means less time spent writing (or vice versa). So, finding a way to balance both reading and writing can be a little bit of a challenge. Even so, it is worth at least attempting to do both because of the motivation that comes from reading regularly can really help your writing.

3) Opening sentences: It’s a good idea to develop an instinct for what a good opening sentence sounds like. This is because coming up with one of these sentences can make you want to write more of the story, which can be a good way to get past writer’s block.

For short stories, good opening sentences usually consist of intriguingly mysterious statements, first-person narration that makes the reader feel like they’re being let in on a secret, moments of dramatic action and/or slightly unusual descriptions. In short, your opening sentence needs to be something that grabs the readers attention and makes them want to read more (in addition to making you want to write more).

This, again, is one reason why reading is a useful activity to do if you’re writing short stories regularly. Because, when you’ve seen enough opening sentences in professionally-published books (the thriller genre is an especially good source of examples), you’ll start to develop an instinct for what a good opening sentence sounds like.

4) Minimalism:
If you’re writing short stories every day, then they’re probably going to be on the shorter side of things. The three stories I linked to earlier are all about 600-800 words in length. This is something that can be written in an hour or two. But, how do you tell a story that is this short?

Simply put, you focus on what is essential. In other words, you should only include 1-2 locations, 1-3 characters and one central event or theme. In a lot of ways, a short story is a little bit like a painting or a panel from a comic. In other words, it’s a depiction of a single well-chosen moment that hints at a larger story (through implication, visual elements etc..).

So, yes, part of writing a good short story is cutting away everything that isn’t essential and focusing entirely on a single location, a single moment, a couple of characters etc…

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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Three Clever Hidden Tricks That Writers Use

Well, I thought that I’d write about a few of the clever hidden tricks that writers use today (kind of like how game designers use hidden mechanics in videogames).

This article was initially inspired by a few of the books that I’ve read since I got back into reading regularly about a month and a half before I wrote this article. But, although I’ll be talking about some of these books, the cool hidden features I’ll be describing can be found in other books too. In fact, you might have seen a few of them without even realising it.

1) Internal recaps: At the time of writing, I’m binge-reading a ridiculously long 700+ page historical detective novel called “Lamentation” by C. J. Sansom. One of the interesting things about binge-reading a novel of this length is that it means that I was able to spot a really cool hidden feature that is designed to help out people who read it at a slightly slower pace.

In short, every once in a while (such as on page 201) there will be a recap of some of the previous events of the story. Either the narrator will briefly mention how some new clue connects to a previous clue that he has found, or there will be a scene where he spends a few paragraphs thinking about the earlier events of the investigation.

My initial reaction to all of this was “I know!!! I’ve been taking notes!” or “I worked that out on my own already!“. But then I realised that these short recaps are actually a really clever way to make sure that people who, say, only read thirty or fifty pages a day can still follow the complex events of the story. They’re kind of like the “previously..” segments at the beginning of TV show episodes – which are annoying if you’re binge-watching a boxset, but great if you’re watching one episode a week in the traditional manner.

So, if you’re telling a novel-length story, then it can be useful to occasionally include brief recaps of what has happened earlier in the story. Just like how novels in a series will sometimes quickly mention events from earlier novels in the series (to help both new readers and long-term readers), it can also be useful to briefly recap the earlier events of the story that you’re telling right now.

2) Hinting at a larger world/story: This is a technique that I noticed during both the final novel in Jocelynn Drake’s amazing “Dark Days” series and in Dashiell Hammett’s excellent “The Maltese Falcon“. Both stories will hint at a much larger story or “world” than is actually shown on the page – either through brief descriptions (that imply background stuff that isn’t directly explained or shown), through tantalisingly brief descriptions of really fascinating background events or through showing a dramatic event and then partially leaving what happens afterwards to the reader’s imagination.

When used well, this sneaky technique is useful because it helps to immerse the reader in the story. Although this might sound like it would annoy the reader, it has the opposite effect – it makes them curious. It makes them want to imagine what else happens in your story’s “world” and it makes them want more. It can also be a sneaky way to give your characters and/or story more depth than is shown on the page.

This technique is nothing new though and the most famous example of it can be seen in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” stories. Although most of Doyle’s stories will focus on just one of Sherlock Holmes’ cases, there will occasionally be ultra-brief references to some of Holmes’ previous cases. Some of these will be cases that appear in other stories but, in a stroke of genius, some of them aren’t.

This hints to the reader that they’re only seeing a few of the many intriguing mysteries that Holmes has solved. Not only does this make him seem like a character that exists independently of the events shown in the stories, but it also makes him seem like a more prolific detective too.

3) Easily- readable historical narration: One of the clever things that I’ve noticed in historical novels written in the 21st century, like Natasha Pulley’s “The Watchmaker Of Filigree Street” and C. J. Sansom’s “Lamentation”, is how they’re able to create an ‘authentic’ historical setting whilst still using first-person narration that is very readable to modern audiences.

The narration in both these novels still sounds a lot like something from Victorian London/Tudor England, but these novels are as easy and intuitive to read as a non-historical modern novel would be. And, if you’ve ever tried to read anything that is actually from Victorian or Tudor times, then you’ll know how… challenging… these things can be to read when compared to modern writing.

So, how do they do it? These writers look at the general linguistic features of writing from these times and then apply some of the underlying “rules” from this to more straightforward modern-style narration. The important thing is choosing which rules to follow and which ones to ignore. Basically, if a rule gets in the way of the story, then it has to go.

For example, the Victorian-style narration in Pulley’s “The Watchmaker Of Filigree Street” keeps the formal language and style used in 19th century fiction, but sticks to using words and sentence structures that modern readers will easily understand. On the other hand, the narration ditches the frequent references to classical mythology that are a common part of 19th century fiction (because modern readers will be confused by these).

Likewise, the 16th century-style narration in Sansom’s “Lamentation” is kept very readable because it uses a slightly modernised version of the more “matter of fact” tone used in non-fiction writing from this time (rather than, say, the elegant theatrical poetry of Shakespeare). In other words, it focuses on using the more “timeless” parts of the English language, but with modern spelling and grammar. This is then complimented by a few carefully-chosen historical words and phrases that usually make sense from the context that they’re used in.

So, yes, if you want to make historical fiction narration more readable, then look at the “rules” used by writers of the time you are studying and then try to find an unobtrusive way to apply some of them to more modern-style narration.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Four Better Alternatives To Rotating First-Person Narration

Well, I thought that I’d talk about rotating first-person narrators today – since, to my dismay, the book I’m reading at the moment uses (a thankfully rather mild) version of this modern narrative technique.

If you’ve never heard of this narrative technique before, it’s a style of first-person narration where there are several narrators and the story switches between them every chapter or two.

Yes, it’s a style that supposedly allows writers to use both the omniscient perspective of third-person narration and the intense immersive immediacy of first-person narration. However, rather than being the best of both worlds, it is the worst of both worlds.

This is mostly because it tends to ruin the immersive nature of the first-person narration due to jarring changes between narrators, and because it still limits what you can and can’t show (when compared to third-person narration).

So, here are some better alternatives to rotating first-person narration. Yes, most of these still involve multiple first-person narrators, but they’re more intuitive to read than standard modern “rotating narrator” narration is.

1) Letters, Journals etc..: One way to introduce other narrators without breaking the immersion and narrative flow that comes from using just one narrator is to include the other narrated segments as letters, journal entries etc… This way, they’re something that the main character could still theoretically see or read, but they don’t involve any jarring jumps between perspective characters. After all, when you’re reading a letter, you’re still you. And the same is true for your narrator too.

The only thing that I would say about using this style of multiple narration is to make sure that you clearly signpost when your story’s letters, journal entries etc… begin. Ideally, you should differentiate them from the main story through the use of italic text, or a different font or something like that too.

And, yes, this is a very old narrative technique. If you don’t believe me, then read Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” – this novel mostly consists of letters, journals etc… by different characters, and the multiple narrators work really well because you get the sense of reading a collection of documents, rather than eerily jumping between different people’s consciousnesses.

2) In-depth third-person narration: If you want to show lots of things happening in different places in an in-depth way, then using third-person narration that focuses heavily on what a particular character is thinking or feeling is a much more “ergonomic” way of doing this. This also has the bonus of allowing you to use a single, consistent narrative voice- which means that it is easier for the reader to follow the story.

If you want a good example of this, then read G.R.R Martin’s “A Song Of Ice And Fire” novels. Each chapter usually focuses on a particular character but, because Martin uses third-person narration instead of first-person narration, the jumps between characters and locations feel a lot more natural and organic than they would do if he’d used first-person narrators instead.

3) Don’t repeat your narrators: If you absolutely must use multiple first-person narrators, then use the format to full advantage!

In other words, don’t repeat your narrators. This might sound like it would make the inherent problems with rotating narrators even worse, but – surprisingly – it doesn’t. This is mostly because using a totally new narrator for each chapter or segment of the story means that your novel reads a lot more like a short story collection, rather than 2-3 novellas that have been awkwardly grafted together.

A great example of this narrative style is Max Brooks’ “World War Z”. It’s been quite a few years since I’ve read it, but it’s a novel that follows a UN official in the future who interviews the survivors of a zombie apocalypse. Because there’s a new narrator for each chapter/interview, the novel feels like a really cool short story collection. Seriously, if you want to know how to use multiple first-person narrators in a good way, then read this book!

4) Framing story: One way to avoid breaking immersion whilst including multiple narrators is simply to include an old-fashioned framing story. In other words, your narrator listens to another character narrate the main story. This way, you get all of the benefits of multiple narrators, whilst also having a single consistent “main” narrator too.

This technique also feels more “natural” than modern-style rotating narrators because it mirrors the traditional experience of sitting down and listening to someone tell a story.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

The Practical Advantages And Disadvantages Of Risque Cover Art

First of all, I should start by saying that this article will be focusing entirely on practical matters. So, if you’re expecting a call for censorship, then you’re going to be disappointed. On the other hand, if you’re actually expecting to see any risque cover art in this article, you’ll also be disappointed. That said, let’s get on with the article….

Anyway, I ended up thinking about the paradoxical subject of risque cover art recently after finding two creative works that use this type of cover art.

In addition to the horror/thriller novel that I reviewed yesterday, I also ended up buying a MP3 of “Future Club” by Perturbator a while before writing this article ( a song that comes from a record with fairly “Not safe for work” cover art). Naturally, this made me think about both the practical advantages and disadvantages of this style of cover art.

I’ll start by listing the advantages, then I’ll talk about the disadvantages. So, let’s get started…

The Advantages:
First of all, risque cover art is attention-grabbing. Even if the cover art isn’t your kind of “thing”, then it still stands out from the crowd and gets your attention.

After all, this style of cover art usually breaks some kind of social taboo about nudity or whatever, so it is going to be something that people will notice. Yet, it’s usually just mild or suggestive enough not to fall foul of any rules that might restrict it’s display. It’s a similar principle to the famous “French Connection UK” marketing campaign from the 1990s. So, when done well, this can also make a creative work more memorable too.

Secondly, risque cover art can make prospective readers, viewers, players or listeners feel like they’re doing something a little bit “rebellious” by looking at something with this style of cover art. Needless to say, making your audience feel like rebels is a good way of building a fanbase.

Thirdly, risque cover art traditionally served as a kind of content warning/critic filter. In other words, people who disliked the cover art would just try to ignore the thing in question (although, as I’ll explain later, this also has disadvantages). This was a way for things with risque cover art to ensure that they were only experienced by people who actually wanted to experience them. This traditionally resulted in these things having a more devoted and loyal fanbase. Of course, in this age of social media and instant controversy, this technique doesn’t really work any more.

And, yes, although controversy has traditionally served as a form of free advertising in pre-social media times, it isn’t a wise strategy to use these days. Not only is controversy seen as more of a “bad” thing than it used to be, it’s increased frequency these days means it has less “shock value” than it once did and – of course- due to the invention of social media, responses from people who dislike controversial things have also gone from strongly-worded, but polite, letters to the local paper to more vitriolic, threatening etc… online messages.

So, in short, the practical advantages of risque cover art are that it grabs the audience’s attention, it makes a creative work more memorable, it makes the audience feel like rebels and it used to lead to a more devoted fanbase whilst also serving as a form of free advertising, via controversy. Now, let’s talk about….

The Disadvantages: The first disadvantage is that audiences are more cynical, and this can work against you. Because risque cover art is such a well-known way of getting attention, most of your potential audience will be wise to it. As such, they’ll probably think that you’re trying to make a low-quality creative work look more appealing. Of course, if your creative work is actually good, then this expectation can work against you.

For example, the two creative works I mentioned at the beginning of this article are really brilliant. Even if they didn’t have risque cover art, they would still be brilliant. But, because they use this type of cover art, they don’t seem as sophisticated (at first glance) as they actually are.

If it wasn’t for the fact that I’d enjoyed other books by the same author and had previously heard the song on Youtube, I’d have probably just rolled my eyes and thought “If they need to use nudity to sell this, then it probably isn’t very good” if I saw them on a shop shelf. So, risque cover art can lose as many sales as it gains.

Secondly, whilst risque cover art might make your audience feel like rebels, it also limits where and when they can enjoy the things you create. Simply put, it’s frowned upon to read, carry, watch etc.. these kinds of things in public. Likewise, it may put less extroverted members of your audience (who might really love the thing you’ve made) off of buying the thing in question, because of the embarrassment or nervousness involved.

For example, although I wasn’t impressed by the quality of the sample chapters I’ve read there’s a very good reason why the UK paperback cover art for E. L. James’ “Fifty Shades Of Grey” is a deliberately bland picture of a grey necktie. If it was a more graphic picture, then it probably wouldn’t be a bestseller because many people would be too embarrassed to buy it or read it in public.

Finally, risque cover art limits your audience and can shut out some potential fans. Different types of risque images appeal to different people. So, you’re limiting your audience.

So, yes, there are also some fairly hefty disadvantages to using this style of cover art too. In short, there is no “right” or “wrong” answer to the question of whether you should use this style of cover art. In some contexts, it can work really well. In other contexts, it can be a terrible idea. So, use your own judgement.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Basic Tips For Writing Vampire Stories

Well, I thought that I’d talk about vampire fiction today. Although I’ve had relatively little experience with writing stories in this genre (this short story, this short story, this short story, this other short story and this comic are the only ones that spring to mind), I’ve been reading a fair amount of vampire fiction over the past three or four weeks. Plus, I’ve seen, played and read quite a few things in this genre over the years too.

So, I thought that I’d offer a few basic tips.

1) Do your research: This one is really obvious, but it’s worth doing as much research into the genre (eg: novels, films, games etc..) as possible before you try writing a story.

Not only will this tell you a lot about the different “types” of vampire stories out there, but it’ll also help you to see what they have in common and how they set themselves apart from each other. It’ll also give you a sense of what audiences expect from a vampire story (and you can either follow this or subvert it).

And, yes, it’s a surprisingly varied genre. For example, there are “scientific” horror-based vampire thriller stories like Shaun Hutson’s “Erebus“, Richard Matheson’s “I Am Legend”, a Channel 4 (UK) TV series called “Ultraviolet”, the first “Blade” film and a sci-fi/horror movie called “Daybreakers”.

In these stories, there is more of a focus on gory horror, there’s more of a focus on human vampire hunters/survivors and the existence of vampires is often explained or explored through scientific means. Because vampires are seen “from the outside”, these stories also tend to have a little bit in common with the zombie/monster genre too.

Then, there are gothic vampire stories. These tend to have a darker, bloodier (rather than gory), more complex, more poetic, more romantic/sensual/decadent and tragic atmosphere, often including elements from the thrillier genre too.

They also usually feature vampire protagonists too. These include games like “Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines“, TV shows like “Angel”, films like “Underworld” and “Interview With The Vampire” (I could never get into the book it’s based on though), novels like “Lost Souls” by Poppy Z. Brite and Jocelynn Drake’s amazing “Dark Days” series (which I’m reading at the moment).

Of course, there are many other types of vampire stories too, such as comedy vampire films like the Tim Burton adaptation of “Dark Shadows” or an absolutely hilarious 1990s film I saw on VHS during my childhood called “Dracula: Dead And Loving It”, which seems to be very difficult to find on DVD.

And, of course, I’ve got to talk about Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” too. Although it’s been over a decade since I read it, it’s a very different novel to what films (such as the gloriously gothic 1992 film adaptation, or the inventive 2013 TV adaptation) would have you believe. So, read it! Seriously, the whole thing about vampires not being able to survive in sunlight was invented after “Dracula” was written – in the novel, Dracula can walk around during the day, but his powers are weaker.

Likewise, although I’ve only read the first few chapters of it, another good “traditional” 19th century vampire story is one called “Varney The Vampire, or The Feast Of Blood“. The first chapter of this story reads almost exactly like a scene from a traditional vampire movie (although it does contain a somewhat disturbing, to modern readers, emphasis on how young the vampire’s victim is).

2) Horror!: Again, this is obvious, but vampire stories are horror stories. Although I haven’t read or watched “Twilight”, one of the things that put me off it was the fact that it apparently didn’t contain much horror. I mean, even comedy vampire films will still include some traditional horror elements (even if it is just to parody them).

And, yes, the vampire genre is fertile ground for many different types of horror. And the best vampire stories will often use multiple types of horror.

The main types of horror that work well in the vampire genre include… suspenseful horror (think vampires creeping in the shadows), tragic/gothic horror (think about the downsides of immortality, and the limitations of being a vampire), gory horror (this tends to work best in stories where the protagonists are vampire hunters, and the vampires are monsters), moral horror (think about how often vampires have to break the law), biological horror (when vampirism is presented like a disease), bloody horror (in stories where vampires are the main characters), paranormal horror (fairly self-explanatory) and psychological horror (eg: a vampire’s need for blood, a character’s reactions to becoming a vampire etc..).

In short, there are lots of different ways that the vampire genre can be eerie, disturbing, creepy or frightening. But, regardless of which types of horror you choose to use, your vampire story should include some horror.

3) Rules: Finally, your vampire story should follow some rules. The good news is that you get to make these rules. The bad news is that you have to follow them.

The only common rule that all vampire stories follow is that vampires need to drink blood. Other than this, you get to set the rules. But, think carefully about them. The best vampire stories will often put their characters in situations where the “rules” are applied in creative ways or present some kind of obstacle to the main characters.

For example, in the TV show “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” (and the spin-off “Angel”), the handsome vampire love interest – Angel – has been cursed to keep his soul. What this means is that, unlike many of the series’ other vampires, he isn’t a sociopath and he feels intense guilt about biting and killing people. So, he has to find a creative solution – which is to drink animal blood.

Likewise, the only way he can lose his soul is to experience a moment of pure happiness. Once this rule has been established, it is the impetus for a short story arc when Angel and Buffy finally spend the night together (which causes him to, you guessed it, experience a moment of pure happiness). Of course, once he accidentally loses his soul, he turns evil. So, of course, this leads to a rather dramatic little story arc.

So, yes, you get to set the “rules” in your vampire story, but you not only need to follow them – you also have to find ways to make these rules drive the story in interesting directions.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

How Straightforward Should Your Narration Be?

Ever since I got back into reading regularly a little over a month ago, I’ve noticed something that I hadn’t really thought about before. Namely, the difference between the narration in more modern 21st century novels and in novels from the 20th century. Obviously, this is a major generalisation and there will be many exceptions to this rule, but I have noticed a vague difference between 20th and 21st century narration.

In short, modern narration is often a bit more straightforward. It’s a bit more matter-of-fact. It is designed for quick and efficient readability. And, in a lot of ways, this is a good thing. After all, narration shouldn’t get between the reader and the story. By making the narration reasonably effortless to read, a writer can easily immerse the reader in the story. And, when this works, it works really well.

For example, when I went through a phase of reading Clive Cussler novels a while back, it was striking to see the difference in narration between Cussler’s older thriller novels from the 1970s-90s and the more modern novels that have been co-written by other thriller writers. The differences in sentence length, descriptions and linguistic complexity are fairly noticeable. Yet, the more modern ones tend to grab your attention a bit more strongly and tend to be more effortlessly readable.

Or, to give a more nuanced example, I’m currently reading the third novel (“Dawnbreaker” – from 2009) in Jocelynn Drake’s excellent ‘Dark Days’ series and, after I got used to the narration in the first novel (which is slightly more descriptive than the average thriller novel), reading the subsequent novels has felt as effortless as watching a gripping TV show. The narration is still reasonably descriptive, but it is also written in a fairly direct and matter-of-fact way too (which is helped by the use of a first-person perspective).

To give an even more nuanced example, take a look at Natasha Pulley’s “The Watchmaker Of Filigree Street” (2015). Although the descriptive narration in this novel is meant to evoke 19th century narration, it is still designed to be very readable through things like the careful use of formal language that will be easily understood by modern readers, few to no references to classical mythology and slightly more straightforward sentence structures (that will be familiar to modern readers). And this works really well 🙂

But, I’ve also been reading some slightly older novels too and it always surprises me how slower and more descriptive the narration can be. Even in a thrilling action-horror novel like Shaun Hutson’s “Erebus” (1984), the narration will often be a little bit slower, more formal and more descriptive. Plus, of course, there are novels like Neal Stephenson’s “The Diamond Age” (1995) that deliberately use dense, formal, ultra-descriptive narration.

Yet, I’ve found myself reading a mixture of older and newer books. This is because, although more formal and descriptive narration can be slower to read, it does have benefits. In short, it allows for a greater sense of richness and depth, at the cost of speed and ease of reading. It is something that requires a little bit of extra skill and effort to read, but you get more of a sense of accomplishment and a deeper story in return.

It’s kind of like the graphics settings in a computer game. If you set the graphics to “ultra-high”, then the game will look really good, but it will run more slowly. If you set the graphics to “low”, then the game won’t look as detailed, but it’ll be a lot smoother and more intuitive to play. Of course, there’s also a “medium” setting too…

After all, as I mentioned earlier, this is a massive generalisation. It’s also a bit of a simplification too.

Because, even more “readable” modern novels still need to use descriptions. Likewise, even more descriptive older novels still need to tell a compelling story. So, it isn’t a question of one extreme or the other, but more of a question of balance. And, if you’re telling a story, you need to think about this balance.

Whilst more straightforward modern-style narration will make it easier for people to pick up your story and keep reading it (and it means your story can compete better with TV, videogames etc.. for people’s attention), it also means that you have to be a lot more economical with your descriptions. You need to edit ruthlessly and efficiently.

Likewise, you’ll also have very slightly less room for using a unique narrative style too – so, you have to place extra emphasis on making your story unique in other ways (eg: characters, plot, settings etc..).

On the other hand, more complex, descriptive and “slower” narration can put off potential readers, but it means that your story will have a greater sense of richness to it. It means that your readers will be able to better picture the scenes you describe. It also means that your narrative style can be a little bit more unique (and memorable) too. Finally, it means that you can also do even more things (eg: literary techniques etc..) that no other storytelling medium can do.

As I said earlier, this isn’t an “either/or” thing. All stories, modern and old, fall somewhere between these two extremes. But, working out exactly where you want your story to fall is a decision that is well worth thinking about carefully.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Tips For Writing 1990s-Style Cyberpunk Fiction

Well, for today, I thought that I’d talk about 1990s-style cyberpunk science fiction. This is mostly because I’m reading a cyberpunk (or, technically, post-cyberpunk) novel from 1995 called “The Diamond Age” by Neal Stephenson at the time of writing.

This novel is surprisingly different from traditional 1980s-style cyberpunk (Neuromancer“, “Blade Runner” etc..) and it also reminded me a bit of other 1990s cyberpunk works like Warren Ellis’ “Transmetropolitan” comics and the original 1995 “Ghost In The Shell” anime film.

So, since 1990s cyberpunk is kind of it’s own distinctive “thing”, I thought that I’d offer a few tips about writing this style of cyberpunk.

1) The technology isn’t everything: If 1980s cyberpunk focused on amazing the audience with what the internet, virtual reality etc… could be like in the future, 1990s cyberpunk takes a step back from this. Although futuristic technology is obviously still a major part of 1990s cyberpunk, it’s a little bit more of a background element. In short, there’s more of a focus on “functional” everyday technology than on things like virtual reality etc…

In 1990s-style cyberpunk, the technology tends to be a lot more subtle and insidious. For example, nanotechnology features heavily in “The Diamond Age” and “Transmetropolitan” – where it is used for purposes like surveillance, weather control, weapons, motion tracking, compact computing etc.. But, in both stories, it is just shown to be an “ordinary” thing to the characters.

Likewise, whilst 1995’s “Ghost In The Shell” focuses on robotics and cybernetics (like 1982’s “Blade Runner”), these mostly aren’t presented with quite the same level of emphasis and fascination as they are in “Blade Runner”. They’re just an ordinary, mundane part of everyday life. The main character has a cybernetic body, ordinary people sometimes have them and sometimes the antagonists do too. They’re just ordinary. However, this is a lot more obvious in the spin-off “Stand Alone Complex” TV series made during the 2000s.

In other words, in 1990s cyberpunk, the futuristic technology usually isn’t everything. It’s an important part of the story, but it’s also – realistically – just a mundane background element, rather than the central focus of the story.

2) Protagonists: There’s a brilliant scene in the earlier parts of Neal Stephenson’s “The Diamond Age” (spoilers ahoy!) which shows the difference between 1980s and 1990s-style cyberpunk protagonists absolutely perfectly.

Basically, the story starts with a typical 1980s-style cyberpunk character called Bud, who is getting a powerful weapons system implanted in his skull. He wears very cyberpunk-like leather clothes and he’s a freelance street criminal too. These scenes are also narrated in a typical 1980s cyberpunk style too. Initially, Bud seems like he’s going to be the main character.

But, he is then shown to be more of an unsympathetic character (eg: he’s shown to hold racist attitudes, he shoots defenceless people etc..). Almost as if he’s a…scary violent criminal (who would have thought it?). Then, before we even reach page fifty, he has been arrested and sentenced to death. This is both a perfect parody of 1980s cyberpunk and a great example of how 1990s cyberpunk differs from 1980s cyberpunk.

By contrast, the rest of “The Diamond Age” focuses on ordinary people within the story’s futuristic world. The main characters include people like a judge, an actress, two impoverished children and a prestigious engineer. In short, not the typical “anti-hero” characters of the 1980s. In fact, one of the story’s philosophical discussions briefly features a character mentioning how computer hackers were used as “trickster” archetypes in late 20th century stories.

You can see the same things in other 1990s cyberpunk works too. In Warren Ellis’ “Transmetropolitan”, the main character is a drug-addled journalist (inspired by the one and only Hunter S. Thompson). In “Ghost In The Shell”, the main character is a member of a military police unit (who are shown to be the good guys, rather than the dystopian villains they would be if it was 1980s cyberpunk).

In other words, 1990s-style cyberpunk is more about ordinary people living in futuristic cyberpunk worlds than about “cool” anti-hero computer hackers or anything like that.

3) Narration and tone: Simply put, 1990s-style cyberpunk fiction will often ditch the traditional “Neuromancer”-like narration and do something a bit different.

For example, although the scenes involving Bud in “The Diamond Age” do use 1980s-style cyberpunk narration, this quickly gives way to a highly-descriptive and slightly formal narrative style that is more like something from a 19th century novel (Dickens, Conan Doyle etc..) than a 1980s cyberpunk novel.

Likewise, the general tone of the stories tends to be a lot more varied too. For example, whilst “Transmetropolitan”, “Ghost In The Shell” and “The Diamond Age” might have a few scenes set at night in the dystopian, rainy, neon-lit streets of a mega-city, they also feature much brighter scenes set during the day too. Kind of like pretty much every other story, comic or film would probably do.

In short, like with the other examples, 1990s cyberpunk (or “post-cyberpunk”) focuses more on what ordinary life in a futuristic cyberpunk world would be like. It focuses less on dazzling the audience with a unique version of the future, but uses it as a backdrop for a much wider variety of drama, science fiction etc… instead.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂