So you've decided to write a Cyberpunk 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.
- Bittersweet Ending: Usually, a cyberpunk story, with its dark and depressing themes, usually doesn't have 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. There are a few exceptions to this, but not many.
- Darker and Edgier: Use with moderation and realism in mind. Oversaturating this can make a story look cheesy or filled with more drama or worse 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.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: A cyberpunk world is usually so messed up that it's almost impossible to change it for the better. However, if changing things for the better IS possible, then it will usually either be achieved at a high cost or require a lot of time, hard work and determination to get there.
- Gray-and-Gray Morality: Not surprising, considering that cyberpunk was quite influenced by the Film Noir style. Most cyberpunk stories tend to have anti-heroes as their protagonists or anti-villains as their antagonists. Of course, there are a few exceptions to this, like Sonic the Hedgehog (SatAM), for example.
- 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. Of course, if you also want to explore technology's benefits, then go ahead, but like we said, don't forget to explore its negative side-effects as well. It's necessary.
- Sliding Scale of Cynicism Versus Idealism: Mostly cynical or at least Earn Your Happy Ending. Cyberpunk stories tend to be set in a dark horrible world filled with injustice and crime. Bullets are usually the best way to solve problems, and people, good and bad, if those terms are applicable, tend to 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 Private Military Contractors, 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 Cyberpunk 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.
- Cyberpunk vs Post Cyber Punk: Is technology a tool of dystopian oppression or something that allows the people to fix problems?
- Working-Class Hero: A good consideration for cyberpunk stories since this character archetype fits in the stories showing Capitalism Is Bad. Generally a Farm Boy in most portrayals, but in science fiction works like this, scientists like Science Hero Gadgeteer Genius are quite a viable choice, as long as this character opposes the plutocracy of the upper-class people.
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.
- 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 your 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 avert them, then you just might be able to start a new trend....
- Bad Cop/Incompetent Cop: Remember that not all cyberpunk stories has authority as the enemy. Sometimes the police, or even the Secret Police, or even a Reasonable Authority Figure, are the heroes tasked with cleaning up the mess of the anarchists and hackers and criminals make. Blade Runner, Snatcher, Judge Dredd and Ghost in the Shell were all about government-employed heroes fighting off the Designated Villain.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: These are usually Big Bads, because of their access to money, secret research labs and mercenaries, but do they have to be? Maybe they're perfectly ordinary people, or even heroes? Surprise your readers if possible.
- Cybernetics Eat Your Soul: This was less of a problem before people had cybernetics note . Nowadays, we know that any implants short of rewiring your brains doesn't cause personality damage.
- Mad Scientist: As with above examples, not all scientists, even in cyberpunk stories, are portrayed as morally-insane people (Playful Hacker is one of the more-benign Mad Scientists). There might be more-positive alternatives like Reluctant Mad Scientist or even The Professor Science Hero to contrast them.
- 20 Minutes into the Future: You can try setting cyberpunk in the present day (like this) or maybe the distant Bad Future with humanity having long since abandoned a ruined Earth. Steampunk is partially a result of setting the concepts before cyber was a word.
- Over the Runet such things are sarcastically labelled as "Cyberpunk that we deserved", especially as the occasions turn from grim to idiotic.
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.
- Film Noir themes usually go well with cyberpunk too, since cyberpunk was quite inspired by it.
- A Benevolent Alien Invasion landed in a Dystopian nations where Humans Are the Real Monsters.
- A Red Scare story set in Bad Future if you want to get political. Since some cyberpunk stories advocate Capitalism Is Bad contrary to what Red Scare does, try to write in certain conflicts such as class struggles. Explore the contrast between the chaotic, dingy, drug-addled and murderous corporate hell that is a typical cyberpunk society and the squeaky clean, spit and polish governmental panopticon on the other side of the Iron Curtain. They are both authoritarian, make no mistakes, and none of them is good. But which is a better place to live? The commies may have bread lines, but they also have actual bread and not synthisoybread...
- For a change of pace, consider letting your antiheroes leave the Big Noir City for a while and see what is outside. This will allow you to dip your story into other genres like post apocalypse or dieselpunk. If all the money is in Big Noir City and all the food for Big Noir City comes from corporate soy farm/factories, the rest of the world is economically on its own. Explore the societies that could arise there: neoprimitives, neofeudalists or solid small communities that live on scraps left over from megaacorps and macgyver their own low tech machines from junk.
- Another spin on that "what is beyond Big City Noir" question is the highway setting. Imagine driverless eighteen wheelers that haul cargo between corporate strongholds such as factories, data centers or power plants that tower over the forgotten countryside like medieval castles over peasant fields. Imagine "utinni" raiders that waylay these robotrucks with crude EMP devices to steal the cargo, and small fleets of kill drones that protect freights from these scavengers. Add local traffic between smaller and poorer communities, in the form of old timey human piloted trucks, always with someone riding shotgun and wielding an actual shotgun, and armed hitchhikers earnin their buck as freight guards. Characters who are on the run from Big Bad Inc, and wanted in Big City Noir may find refuge on the road.
- A Shiny New Australia (and perhaps New Zealand) where unfettered capitalism still exist in the dystopian future. The Australian Wildlife are under corporate threat, and Australian Aborigines still face racial prejudice and still under slavery by the Sociopathic Soldiers in favor of One Nation Under Copyright run by Peace & Love, Incorporated.
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.
- 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.
- Femmes Fatales, Private Investigator, Corrupt Corporate Executive, and other Film Noir types.
- Androids, Transhumans, Super Soldiers, aliens and other Science Fiction types
- Fight scenes, though you can get away without them.
Big Hits or Classics
- Blade Runner (Also check out its progenitor: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick.) Ironically lacks most of the features, but the Trope Codifier in terms of scenery and atmosphere.
- Neuromancer: The other trope codifier.
- Ghost in the Shell: One of the classic examples and trope makers of the genre. Except that strictly speaking it's a defining title of post-cyberpunk.note
- Bubblegum Crisis: A defining example and trope codifier for the whole anime industry. Drawing on the classics (even then) like Blade Runner and adding a counter-culture note from the likes of Streets of Fire and a jumpy hard-rock soundrack, it sets the example to most of the followers like one above (except it replaces lively glam rock with a droning ambient).
- Battle Angel Alita: Another Long Runner classic, the story still continues, exploring a lot of abovementioned themes to the point that "Seinfeld" Is Unfunny which it tries to fight with introduction of High Concepts like cyborg martial arts tournaments and switching to a Political Thriller genre.
- Deus Ex: A Conspiracy Kitchen Sink in a cyberpunk setting.
- Snow Crash: Both a send-up as well as a straight example of the genre.
- A Clockwork Orange for a Pre-Cyberpunk movie/book about society run amuck.
- Transmetropolitan: Intrepid reporter exploring the in's and out's of a future world gone mad.
- The Matrix: While straying from its cyberpunk roots, it brings up numerous interesting cyberpunk themes if you can spot them.
- Isaac Asimov's robot series, for additional reading on robot behavior.
- A Scanner Darkly, a very dark book/movie on people and the negative effects of drug use and ubiquitous surveillance.
- Inception, a much more subtle take on cyberpunk. Compare to Neuromancer, contrast with The Matrix.
- Videodrome and eXistenZ: Combining the Cyberpunk with heavy doses of Bio Punk, these films question the Science Is Bad assumptions common to the genre, the fear of mass culture, and the very nature of ideology.
- Takeshi Kovacs by Richard K. Morgan for a far future example of the genre.
- Johnny Mnemonic: The Movie has a lot of Narm Charm but plot holes large enough to drive a truck through.
- New Rose Hotel: The Movie is a subdued version of Gibson's story but with many good points.
- I, Robot: The Movie is notable for making Isaac Asimov's work cyberpunk.