So You Want To / Write a Cyberpunk Story
So you've decided to write a Cyber Punk
story. You love to read about man's fight against injustice, invasive technology and corruption, so you've decided to give your interpretation of it.
First, be sure to check out Write a Story
for basic advice that holds across all
genres. Then, come back here for some extra advice.
All examples here are, well, examples. Do not
try to wrap your head around a story using all of the examples.
The very nature of the genre dictates that your material will
fall under any of these tropes. Learn to use them well. See also Cyberpunk Tropes
for additional tropes.
- Anti-Hero: Inspired by Film Noir, the rough, dark, and brooding hero is usually chosen for this setting.
- Bittersweet Ending: Usually, a cyberpunk story, with its dark and depressing themes, rarely has an ending where the hero wins. Or maybe he does but something is left awry. In Blade Runner, Deckard gets the girl and defeats the "villain" but has to run for his life.
- Darker and Edgier: Use with moderation and realism in mind. Oversaturating this can make a story look cheesy or filled with more drama than the audience can handle.
- Dystopia: A cyberpunk setting is usually a gritty, depressing world with crime and despair running rampant. It's not a nice place to live.
- Film Noir: A primary inspiration for the genre. Lots of its visuals and sounds come from noir.
- Rule of Cool: Style is everything. If the hero can't do it with panache, it's not worth doing (Unless it is). Use in extreme moderation.
- Science Is Bad: To a certain degree. The negative effects of technology feature heavily in cyberpunk fiction, but it is often not technology itself that is explored, but rather the possibilities for abuse.
- Sliding Scale of Cynicism Versus Idealism: Cynical, or at least Earn Your Happy Ending. The world is dark and horrible, filled with injustice and crime. Bullets are the best way to solve problems, and people, good and bad, if those terms are applicable, die. Painfully.
These tropes cover a wide spectrum of choices regarding a certain element of your story, and you're going to have to pick a spot somewhere on that spectrum. Unless we've forgotten to include something, and you can spot it, because in that case you might actually surprise us after all.
- Police State vs. Anarchy: Is the government an all-powerful organization that enforces the law through SWAT teams, Secret Police and Sinister Surveillance, or is the lack of government and control that leads to the state of the world?
- The Gunslinger vs. Playful Hacker: Your protagonist is going to have to solve their problems one way or another, it's not going to be easy. Does he or she solve her problems through the careful (or not so careful) application of projectiles, or are they solved through the use of viruses, trojans, denial-of-service attacks and forced intrusion?
- Cybernetics Eat Your Soul: How do people who have cybernetic implants act? Do they run around and kill everyone because their implants makes them go crazy, or are they perfectly well adjusted beings?
- Do Androids Dream?: If your story centers around the existence of Artificial Humans, how are they treated? Are they on par with humans, or are they treated as slaves? What makes it possible to discern an android or an AI from a human? Do android have emotions, desires, feelings?
- The Singularity: Want a big finale and/or an over-arching theme to tie together the actions of the characters? It's also a natural extension of the Cyber Punk theme of disorienting rapid cultural and technological change. A technological singularity has featured in the works of the greats. Of course this last point might be a reason to avoid it, too.
- Cyber Punk vs Post Cyber Punk: Is technology a tool of dystopian oppression or something that allows the people to fix problems?
Watch out for these tropes! They're bad news - or, well, at least they're tropes you generally want to avoid - and they're particularly common in your chosen genre.
- Black and White Morality: Nothing is what it seems like in a cyberpunk world.
- Cluster F-Bomb: People swear, it happens. However, having a character constantly swear will not make them look cool or gritty.
- Recycled Script: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?-type plots have been done millions of times before (Bubblegum Crisis, Armitage III, Blade Runner...). This is not to say it can't be done again, but you should make sure you story is not a cliché Blade Runner knockoff. If your trenchcoat-clad hero fights runaway robots and doubts his own humanity... you'd better be a damn fine writer, son!
- Summer Blockbuster: Consider this: In the entirety of Blade Runner, only about a dozen shots were fired. Action-Adventure tales these ain't.
- Tomato in the Mirror: People who are interested in cyberpunk are usually not the least Genre Savvy in the world, and will usually spot this from miles away. That is not to say it can be done, but you readers will expect your main character to be an Artificial Human, or at least a clone even before they've read the first paragraph. Surprise them.
These tropes are in common use throughout the genre, so we'll forgive you if you use them - but if you can think of a good way to subvert, invert, or just plain a
vert them, then you just might be able to start a new trend
What is Cyberpunk
by the author of the The United Federation of Charles
is a good explanation as to what the "mood" and major tropes of the genre are.
Suggested Themes and Aesops
- What makes us human? Feeling, understanding, comprehension, self-awareness, etc.
- How do people treat non-Homo Sapiens Sapiens? Fantastic Racism, treatment of robots, androids, clones, etc.
- What is reality?
- Romanticism Versus Enlightenment: Is human individuality superior to advanced tech, or is it the opposite?
- Individualism vs. Collectivism: Should the rights of the individual be compromised for the better of the group?
- Authoritarianism vs. Liberalism: Should people be seen by CCTV cameras at all times, have their phone lines tapped and their daily lives monitored for safety, or should they have privacy, even if that interferes with police work?
- Transhumanism vs. Human Conservatism: Should people be allowed to augment themselves, or will that bring about social downfall?
- Bread and Circuses: The potential for human apathy and hedonism as key to the success of evil.
- Anything goes, but especially ancient literature and art. The Birth of Venus goes extremely well together with People Jars, and images of gods and the divine fit extremely well with the creation of artificial lifeforms.
Set Designer / Location Scout
- Cities. Big, dark cities. Loads of neon lights and dull surfaces. Glass, urbanism, downtrodden undergrounds and shady pubs. Small apartments. Everywhere looks like central Tokyo. Maybe a space station or an abandoned genetic factory.
- Weapons. BFGs. Katanas. Go for cool as much as practical.
- Trenchcoats, sunglasses, leather jackets, and the alike. Everything is in black or other dull colours, with small amounts of bright colours for emphasis, especially neon-green, neon-blue, neon-red, fluorescent orange and neon-purple.
- Fight scenes, though you can get away without them.
Big Hits or Classics