Well, since I was busy with last year’s cyberpunk short stories at the time of writing (I finished this one just before writing this article), I thought that I’d talk some more about writing cyberpunk fiction.
In particular, I thought that I’d look at some of the techniques that you can use to come up with interesting cyberpunk storylines. This article will be about writing shorter stories, but you can probably use these techniques for longer stories too.
1) The unseen: One of the best ways to come up with an interesting cyberpunk storyline is to look at the types of locations that often go unseen in the cyberpunk genre. In other words, it can be interesting to set some or all of your story somewhere like outside of cyberspace (like in “Blade Runner“), or possibly even in a rural area (like in “eXistenZ“). The only limit is your imagination.
Of course, when you’ve found your rarely-used setting, then you’ve got to work out how to use it in a story. Generally speaking, one easy way to get a short story out of an unusual location is to use it as a backdrop for part of a larger story (which is only hinted at during your story).
For example, the short story I linked to earlier takes place in an abandoned shopping centre. Whilst this location is an important part of the story, a few descriptions imply that the story is merely a few moments from a larger story (eg: the story mentions why the characters are in the shopping centre, and it’s hinted that they are trying to find somewhere better to stay).
2) Research: One of the best ways to learn how to tell cyberpunk stories is to read, watch and/or play as many of them as you can. Seeing all of the different types of stories that people can tell within the cyberpunk genre will open your mind to the possibilites that the genre has to offer. For example, not every cyberpunk storyline has to be about computer hackers or even about cyberspace. There’s more to the cyberpunk genre than just three novels by William Gibson.
For example, the films “Blade Runner” and “Ghost In The Shell (1995)” are about robotics, and about what makes us human. Computer games like “Deus Ex” and “Technobablyon” look at subjects such as political conspiracies and the role technology has in politics. Warren Ellis’ “Transmetropolitan” comics look at the role of the press in society (and what a Hunter S. Thompson -style journalist would be like if he lived in the future).
A film like Satoshi Kon’s “Paprika” adds dream-like surrealism to the cyberpunk genre (and is worth watching for the opening credits montage alone). The anime series “Cowboy Bebop” focuses on a group of space-travelling bounty hunters living in a cyberpunk future. The classic computer game “System Shock” takes place entirely on an abandoned space station that has been taken over by an evil Artificial Intelligence.
Computer games like “The Longest Journey”, “Dreamfall: The Longest Journey” and “Shadowrun: Dragonfall” blend elements of the fantasy genre with the cyberpunk genre. A short computer game like “The Last Night” or a webcomic like Winston Rowntree’s “Captain Estar Goes To Heaven” follow the grim lives of hired assassins in lawless cyberpunk-style futures.
So, do some research, and it’ll show you that the cyberpunk genre is about more than just nihilistic computer hackers talking in technobabble (although this is fun to write though).
3) Technology effects: This is one of the classic pieces of advice for writing science fiction, and it’s just as relavent to the cyberpunk genre as anything else. In order to come up with an interesting story, just look at a “futuristic” piece of developing technology and ask what effect it would have on the world if it’s use was more widespread.
In fact, the entire cyberpunk genre itself was invented because the idea of the internet took hold of people’s imaginations. The very first cyberpunk story (“Cyberpunk” by Bruce Bethke) was written in the very early 1980s, when the internet was known about – but nowhere near as widespread or popular as it was today.
So, one way to come up with interesting cyberpunk storylines is to look at pieces of technology that are being developed today (eg: 3D printing, drone technology, AI-driven cars, Virtual Reality, augmented reality, wearable tech etc….) and to ask yourself how it might affect everyday life in the future. Let your imagination go wild.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂