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So You Want To / Write a Cyberpunk Story

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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.

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Necessary Tropes

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.
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  • 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.
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  • 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.

Choices, Choices

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.

Pitfalls

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.

Potential Subversions

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....

Writers' Lounge

Blog

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

Potential Motifs

  • 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.

Suggested Plots

  • 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.

Departments

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.

Props Department

  • Weapons. BFGs. Katanas. Go for cool as much as practical.

Costume Designer

  • 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.

Casting Director

Stunt Department

  • Fight scenes, though you can get away without them.

Extra Credit

Big Hits or Classics

Critical Flops


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