Well, for the next article in my series about writing cyberpunk fiction, I’ll be looking at how to write “flash fiction” stories in this genre.
Opinion varies about how short a story has to be to be considered flash fiction. Personally, from a writing perspective, I’d say “under 1200 words” but many defintions include things like “under 750 words” or “under 500 words”.
Like with any “unrealistic” genre, writing flash fiction in the cyberpunk genre might seem fairly challenging for the simple reason that you have to create a fictional world and include a story within a tiny number of words. But it isn’t quite as difficult to write as you might think.
1) Dialogue: One of the easiest ways to write a very short cyberpunk story is to make sure that it mostly consists of dialogue between two characters. Not only does a dialogue-heavy story allow you to include subtle characterisation (eg: the way your characters speak etc..) but it also allows you to cram a lot more storytelling into a small space too.
Why? Because, when people talk, they often tell stories. And, like in real conversation, these stories tend to be short and unvarnished. They’re usually summaries of larger stories, with enough clues hidden in them so that the listener can figure out what’s going on.
For example, here’s a piece of dialogue from this short cyberpunk story of mine. It’s about 32 words long, split into three sentences: ‘You were right, the security routines wouldn’t even detect this old clunker. But, the processor almost burnt out when I tried to run a cutter algorithm. It’s the frigging paradox of obsolescence.‘
These 32 words describe a series of events that probably took hours. They could easily be stretched out into an entire chapter of detailed descriptions. But, since it’s relayed through dialogue, it can be compressed into just 32 words. Because that’s probably about the number of words someone would use to describe something like that in real life.
2) Basics: One approach to take when writing cyberpunk flash fiction is to take things back to basics. In other words, your readers are probably going to expect your story to take place in a futuristic mega-city and to feature immersive virtual reality worlds. So, you don’t have to spend too long describing these things.
Likewise, if you want to appeal to a wider audience, then just tell a story about virtual reality, the internet, cyborgs etc… that mostly uses a ‘normal’ narrative voice. If it’s done well, it’ll have all the atmosphere of a cyberpunk story but it’ll be the sort of thing that anyone can jump into right away.
For example, this slightly long “flash fiction” cyberpunk story of mine takes place entirely in a virtual reality world. This is indicated by both the events of the story itself, and a few lines of dialogue which contain terminology that anyone who is familiar with computer games will recognise (eg: ‘Yeah, but the early access upgraded VIP version of the “1980s Americana” DLC. I thought that it was still in beta.’ ). However, the narrative style used in most of the story is a fairly “normal” one.
3) Traditions: Traditional-style cyberpunk narration is a thing of beauty. It often relies on “information overload” (eg: lots of quick descriptions and futuristic jargon) to make the reader feel like they’re immersed in a futuristic world.
Because of this, you can learn a lot about cramming lots of storytelling, characterisation and description into a very small space just by reading some traditional cyberpunk fiction.
For example, here’s the opening paragraph of “Count Zero” by William Gibson: “They set a slamhound on Turner’s trail in New Dehli, slotted it to his pheremones and the colour of his hair. It caught up with him on a street called Chandni Chauk and came scrambling for his rented BMW through a forest of bare brown legs and pedicab tyres. It’s core was a kilogramme of recrystallised hexogene and flaked TNT.”
This paragraph is just sixty words long. Sixty. Yet, in those sixty words, we get a very clear mental image of the location (eg: a bustling street in India), of the fact that it’s set in the future (eg: the descriptions of the robotic dog, the scientific terminology etc..), of the fact that the main character is on the run from someone (eg: which gives us a tantalising hint that he has a rather eventful past) and the fact that something dramatic is going to happen in the next paragraph. All of this is compressed into just sixty words.
So, yes, read some traditional style cyberpunk fiction (eg: William Gibson’s “Sprawl Trilogy“) if you want to learn more about compact storytelling in the cyberpunk genre.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂