Writing A Cyberpunk Story: Week 4

One of the main aspects of the cyberpunk genre is technology and its impact on society. As most cyberpunk stories are set in the not too distant future, plausible technology is a difficult thing to get right.

In the world of science-fiction, predicting future technology is often a case of two extremes. Some technology is far too advanced, while another piece of technology is simply too close to current capabilities to be plausible. A good example that comes to mind for both of these extremes is Blade Runner.

As stated on the Blade Runner Wiki, “The film depicts a dystopian Los Angeles in November 2019 in which genetically engineered replicants, which are visually indistinguishable from adult humans, are manufactured by the powerful Tyrell Corporation as well as by other “mega-corporations” around the world. Their use on Earth is banned and replicants are exclusively used for dangerous, menial, or leisure work on off-world colonies. Replicants who defy the ban and return to Earth are hunted down and “retired” by special police operatives known as “Blade Runners”. The plot focuses on a desperate group of recently escaped replicants hiding in Los Angeles and the burnt-out expert Blade Runner, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), who reluctantly agrees to take on one more assignment to hunt them down.”

Considering we are only five years from the year 2019, the possibility of full-functioning, life-like cyborgs could be a near impossibility by the year 2019. Despite a perceived rapid rate of technological change, massive advancements such as a world inhabited by cyborgs is beyond such a close time-frame. Even the off-world colonization concept is almost beyond prediction considering manned missions to mars are still an optimistic dream that may take longer than hoped.

On the other end of the scale, some of the technology seen in the film resembles hardware seen in the 1980s such as a machine seen in the following photo.
BladeRunner_Voigt-Kampff_machine
This kind of technology seems far too bulky and unsophisticated to be part of a high-tech world capable of interstellar colonization. It is more likely to be just a restriction associated with the film being made in 1982 when flat panel TV screens were still in development. In the medium of creative writing, the author is only restricted by their imagination. Despite the open capabilities of writing, it can be quite tricky to anticipate what the future might hold.

My story in development centres around characters in the year 2033. 2033 is a not too distant time frame in the scheme of things, but still far off enough that a lot of thought is necessary when thinking about technology.

As I am writing about an all controlling “corporatocracy”, technology is at the forefront of daily life for the characters, with the authorities displaying a clear dominance over the population. To balance this in a way that seems plausible, I have made the rebels to the authorities operate mostly with dated technology brought on the cheap, giving the authorities a strong advantage.

This balance is allowing me the luxury of taking current technology and anticipate where it might head in the next 10 to 20 years instead of just trying to overestimate concepts to be future proof.

CONCEPTS:

I have taken some inspiration from this rather cool design. The main character Vit will sport this piece of tech considered to be out of date for the time frame. It will be something that she is restricted to, given circumstance.

The authorities will be equipped with a similar interface housed entirely within their eye (imagine Google glass 20 years from now).

The authorities will also have advanced combat suits that will give them a clear advantage.

Whereas the resistance fighters will have to work with what they can get.

Overall I will be focusing on the future of smartphones, the Internet, the consequences of a digitally connected world, and military drones. I’m not planning on predicting the future or re-inventing the wheel, I just want to explore where these technologies could take us and the impact they will have on society in the right and wrong hands.

Writing A Cyberpunk Story: Week 3

Now that I’ve managed to get a concept locked down and underway, I’ve been able to complete the overall outline of my Cyberpunk project and am now working on the finer details of each act. Act I and Act III are complete, with only the finer details of Act II needing to be locked down. I find Act II the hardest section in terms of timing considering it is the majority of the story. It’s easy to think of the start and the ending, but filling everything in between can be a real struggle.

Something that helps me greatly is a character sheet template to fill out for all major characters involved in the story. One, such as the one you will find at the end of this post, is a great tool to get to know your characters better. After filling out details such as their physical appearance, history, childhood, relationships, etc. it becomes far easier to think of different avenues and problems for your characters to overcome or face. This line of questioning also allows me opportunities to ask myself what drives character X to do things the way they do, and how it might affect the people around them.

Process aside, I have a new story pitch to throw out into the world. Of course, there will be changes and alterations to this, but I am further along in the development stage now, so there should be less and less differences with each iteration.

The Pitch 2.0:
Vittoria Lerrella, better known as Vit, is a 17-year-old living with her 20-year-old brother, Issac. In the year 2033, Vit and Issac are forced to live alone, as their parents were deemed enemies of the state by the Corporatocracy known as The Collective. Fearing that their parents are dead, the pair have no choice but to live day-to-day in the overpopulated city of New Vista.

On Vit’s 17th birthday, everything goes from bad to worse when The Collective comes knocking at the door to their tiny apartment. Heavily armed brutes from The Collective Security Authority bash down the door and declare Vit and Issac to be resistance members to a potential uprising brewing within the city.

Instead of being arrested, Issac is forced to remain still while a tiny computer chip gets implanted into the back of his head. When Issac comes to after a few minutes, he is no longer the same person and looks upon Vit with a hatred she has never known.

Before the soldiers apply the same fate to Vit, she manages to escape thanks to a panic switch her father taught her to use in the event of an extreme emergency. During her wild flee through crowded streets, Vit is shot in the arm by her pursuers. Before she passes out from blood loss, a stranger helps Vit into a car to freedom.

When she wakes up a day later, Vit is surrounded by the hardened faces of the elusive resistance fighters that exist within New Vista. Upon waking up, Vit is told that her brother has what the resistance is calling a neural encoder implanted in the back of his head. Essentially his memories have been altered in such a way that he will think whatever The Collective want him to think. This new development is reserved for high-value resistance targets. Vit and Issac have been placed on that list.

Before Vit has a chance to react to this, she realizes her left arm feels bizarre. The doctor tries to explain to Vit that her wound was too severe. She discovers that her left arm has been replaced with a cybernetic implant from the elbow down.

Wounded with nowhere to go, with her brother lost to The Collective, Vit turns to the resistance for help, hoping there is still a chance that Issac can be recovered before his new memories become permanent.

End of pitch:
This is the long-winded pitch at the moment. I’m finding it hard to compress to a catchy blurb, even in my head, but that can wait.

Inspiration and Character Sheet Template:
With the pitch out of the way, please enjoy this week’s inspirational artwork from Pinterest. Below that, you will find the character sheet template I use. I found the template a long time ago from a source I can’t quite remember.

CHARACTER SHEET TEMPLATE:
The Basics
Assumed Name:
Full Name:
Nickname:
Race:
Gender:
Age:
Birthday:
Place of Birth:

Physical Appearance
Height:
Weight:
Body Type:
Skin:
Eyes:
Hair:
Scars:
Tattoos:
Any Other Physical Distinctions:

Family Relationships
Mother:
Relationship with Mother:
Father:
Relationship with Father:
Siblings:
Relationship with siblings:
Other Relatives:
Relationships with other relatives:
Almost family members:
Reason for closeness:

Social Relationships
Sexual Orientation:
Romantically Involved:
Martial Status:
Spouse:
Children:
Friends:
Allies:
Enemies:

Personal Characteristics
Physical Strengths:
Physical Weaknesses:
Mental Strengths:
Mental Weaknesses:
Skills
Fighting:
Magic:
Technology:
Stealth:
Secrecy:
Manipulation:
Thievery:
Piloting:
Persuasiveness:
History
Childhood:
Teenage Years:
Adulthood:

More Details
Life
How would you describe your life overall?
What is your most memorable moment?
What has been the most important event in your life?
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
What is your number one regret?
When were you the most afraid?
What is your greatest fear? Why?
What is the most honorable or “good” thing you’ve ever done?
What is the most “evil” thing you have ever done?
Have you ever been in love? If so, describe what happened.
Do you have a notorious or celebrated ancestor/relative? Does that affect you?
Do you have any secrets? If so, what are they?

Personality
What three words would you use to best describe your personality?
What three words would others probably use to describe you?
Why are you risking your life to adventure?
Do you tend to argue with people or avoid conflict?
Are you a listener or a talker?
How long does it take for you to trust others?
Do you hold grudges?
Do you tend to take on leadership roles in social situations?
Do you like interacting with large groups of people?
Are you generally introverted or extroverted?

Personal Emotions
What makes you sad? Happy? Mad? Why?
Do you have any biases or prejudices?
What do you think of love?
Do you believe in self-sacrifice for the greater good?
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Personal Relationships
Who is the most important person in your life and why?
Who is the person you respect the most? Despise the most? Why?

Goals
What are your goals?
What goal do you most want to accomplish in your lifetime?
Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten years? Twenty years?
If you could choose, how would you want to die?
What is the one thing you would like to be remembered for after your death?

The Writing Process: Inspirational Music

I try to write on a daily basis. Whether it’s planning, brainstorming or getting down to some actual writing, I try to get something achieved in the limited amount of spare time I have. If there is one thing that I can say helps move this process along each day it is listening to various soundtracks. Be it a science-fiction inspired score from my favorite movies or TV shows, or simply something that appeals to me, I find listening to music is the best way to concentrate on the task at hand.

In general, I will try to listen to music that has no words (or at least no decipherable ones) to help me concentrate on what I am trying to get onto the page. My favorite way to do this is by using Google Music. Google Music is a subscription-based music streaming service like Spotify that has one of the biggest collections around. Not only can you stream music but you can also upload your music library for safe keeps and access it at any time. The service can also be used on multiple devices at the same time via your smartphone, tablet, PC, etc.

With this in mind I thought I’d list off a few albums and songs that I’ve possibly listened to 1000 times on repeat during a writing session.

VIDEO GAMES
I’ll start off the list with I will list my favorite video game soundtrack to listen to, Deus Ex: Human Revolution
deus-ex
Deus Ex: Human Revolution-Michael McCann
Not only was this a fantastic game but it featured a beautiful instrumental soundtrack taken directly from the game itself. You can feel each of the game’s various settings through the soundtrack, and I particularly love the main theme track title Icarus.

fc3
Far Cry 3 (Original Game Soundtrack)-Brian Tyler
“Did I ever tell you what the definition of insanity is?” – Vaas Montenegro
What an amazing game Far Cry 3 was. I can’t even tell you how excited I am for Far Cry 4. Another game who’s soundtrack was a major component of the experience. The Far Cry 3 soundtrack is another instrumental mix of classical, techno, and sometimes hard to define music that fits perfectly into the insane theme of Far Cry 3.

me2
Mass Effect 2-EA Games Soundtrack
me3
Mass Effect 3-Various Artists
Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 are a strange, yet compelling blend of 1980s Sci-fi and a traditional movie score. This blend serves both games well, and I can often remember great moments from the games when listening. If I had to pick one over the other, it would be Mass Effect 2 due to its massive 80s Sci-Fi influence.

TV SHOWS
bg3
Battlestar Galactica: Season Three-Original Soundtrack
Moving away from video games, the next big one on my list would have to be the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica TV series from 2004-2009. In particular Season 3 (my favorite season of this amazing show) really speaks to me. When I was first writing The Bastion, I had a lot of battles scenes in mind. The intense percussion blended with a classical score was the perfect motivator to get down to some action based writing. There is also an array of emotional tracks used during the show’s many somber episodes.

the-knick
The Knick (Original Series Soundtrack)-Cliff Martinez
A recent addition to my list is from a hauntingly realistic show called The Knick. Never has a soundtrack seemed so out of place, yet so fitting to the show’s dark and twisted themes. The Kick is a medical drama (if you can even classify it like that) set in New York in 1900 showing the brutal process that modern medicine had to go through in order to get where it is today. The seemingly out-of-place music heard throughout the show is primarily used during surreal scenes or dark moments in the show. While listening to this soundtrack all I can imagine is some 80s synth-pop laced cyberpunk film (great for what I’m currently working on), which one of the main reasons I love listening to it.

MOVIES
elysium
Elysium-Ryan Amon
Probably one of my favorite sci-fi/cyberpunk films of recent times. Elysium ticked all the boxes for Cyberpunk. Advanced technology, extreme poverty and unemployment, overpopulated cities, class division, massive corporations running the world, advanced exo-skeleton fighting suits, bittersweet ending, anti-hero, and a strong political message. The soundtrack truly matched the oppressive run-down world and is a great blend of a Cyberpunk and orchestral film score.

oblivion
Oblivion – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack-M83
Another favorite film of mine backed up by an amazing score. What’s great about the Oblivion soundtrack is the impact M83 had on all of the tracks. M83’s influence shaped the soundtrack into something truly unique and powerful. It’s the kind of soundtrack that I can listen to on repeat for hours and hours.

JUST A SAMPLE
The above was just a taste of the many soundtracks I love to listen to when writing. Every one of them has helped me at some point to stay on track and keep motivated. I’m always on the lookout for something new and inspirational to add to my collection, so feel free to suggest any albums/artist that inspire you, or that are just great to listen to in general.

Writing A Cyberpunk Story: Week 2

This week has been a week of change. After pitching my idea to my wife, she very cleverly pointed out some pending problems that may come up throughout the story. As I realized she was right, I began altering the story-line by creating different offshoots of the existing rough outline. After many changes, I began recreating the story from scratch instead of trying to make things work.

By the time Friday came around I had created five different stories. All of them had similar themes but were nothing alike. After re-pitching the idea I settled upon, my wife managed to point out a few more issues that were haunting me. She then managed to suggest a few quick additions that got my brain flowing in the right direction. This is the beauty of bouncing ideas off another person. A concept might sound good when I pitch it to myself, but within a day I start to hate the idea and want to abandon it completely. Having someone else chip in a few suggestions helps to get you out of a creative rut.

So without revealing too much about the new pitch, I can say that essentially I am writing a Young Adult / New Adult Cyberpunk novel. Right now it is leaning toward Young Adult with characters on the upper end of age (18-21).

So now that I am back on track, I am aiming to have a rough outline completed by the end of the next week, and to know all of the characters inside-out. Hopefully, I will be able to put up a new pitch for all to see, therefore, re-committing myself to the plan.

Next week I will also be discussing one of my favorite things to do when writing: listening to sci-fi soundtracks.

In the meantime, please enjoy the some inspirational artwork below representing some high-tech, low-life Cyberpunk settings.



Writing A Cyberpunk Story: Week 1

In a recent post I declared my desire to take a stab at writing a cyberpunk story. As a result, I have spent this week brainstorming and developing an idea into a loose outline, while creating an extensive back-story for the main character. At this stage I am still not ready to reveal the plot in full detail, but I can divulge somewhat of a pitch.

The pitch so far:
Vittoria Lerrella, better known as Vit, is the 19 year old daughter of corporate tycoon Eldridge Lerrella. When Vit was just 16 years old, she witnessed her older brother Issac be violently kidnapped from her family by a gang of heavily armed criminals. In a moment of panic, one of the kidnappers opens fire on the rest of the family, wounding Vit and her father.

In the year 2033, Vit is left with a cybernetic arm, a crippled father, and several years of depression. After getting her life back on track, Vit’s only thoughts are of vengeance for her lost brother. Desperately hoping the trail hasn’t gone cold, she uses her father’s wealth and connections to hire three contractors to help hunt down the gang and bring them to justice.

After a blood soaked investigation, she discovers that the kidnapping was merely a cover for something more sinister, taking Vit on a violent path that will transform her life forever.

This pitch may change a lot over the course of the next few weeks, but I’m aiming to write a story around this premise.

About Vit:
As it stands, I see Vit as a fragile young girl who is somewhat sheltered and insecure. While a deep anger broods within, it is going to take a lot for her anger to boil to the surface in the form of vengeance. Her strong connection to her brother Issac will be the driving force being this.

I envision Vit as being a short, slender, dark-haired young women that looks slightly younger than her age. If I had to define her exactly, it would be a combination of the below artworks:



I really love the broken look on their faces that somehow conveys a fragile yet determined individual. These artworks really make it easy to focus on a particular character direction such as the one I’m hoping to achieve.

Goal for next week:
Write up the rest of the main character sheets and further refine the loose outline.

High Tech, Low Life: Writing A Cyberpunk Story

Having just wrapped up my latest project, I have spent the last week or so searching for inspiration on what to write next. Although I already have a few other titles waiting to be written, I feet a strong desire to move away from existing projects and write something new.

After a few dozen brainstorming sessions, I’ve narrowed the list down to a few different ideas and finally settled on one; making the decision to begin developing a Cyberpunk story.

What is Cyberpunk?
cyberpunk-dues-ex-hr-001_8065
Deus Ex Human Revolutions: “I never asked for this…”

If you are unfamiliar with the genre TV Tropes defines Cyberpunk in the following way:

Cyberpunk is a Speculative Fiction genre centered around the transformative effects of advanced science, information technology, computers and networks (“cyber”) coupled with a breakdown or radical change in the social order (“punk”). A genre that is dark and cynical in tone, it borrows elements from Film Noir, hard-boiled Detective Fiction and postmodern deconstruction to describe the Dystopian side of an electronic society.

Beyond this description, Cyberpunk covers many different genres; taking slices from many different sub-sections of science fiction and blending them together to create something else. Genres aside, another aspect of Cyberpunk is theme. Often dark and nihilistic in nature, the overall tone of a Cyberpunk tale will often convey a strong social or philosophical message. Questions of morality and the human condition will often be pushed to their limits.

Inspiration:
Currently I am still developing my core concept, and have a million kinks to work out. I can, however, reveal that my idea so far centers around a young, 19 something female lead. More to come on that note.

When trying to source inspiration, there are many ways to spark something within. I personally love going onto Pinterest to browse through hundreds and hundreds of fantastic digital artworks made by talented individuals from across the globe. You can see some of the works that have really stuck out to me below.





So from here the long, long process begins as I make all the difficult decisions needed to get this project underway. First stop, though, is a loose outline, followed by a detailed character sheet for each of the main players. What I love about this part of the process is how quickly you can explore different pathways and possibilities. Outline wise, I personally enjoy having a concept for each scene/chapter that isn’t too strict or finalised, allowing me the freedom to come up with new ideas on the fly.

I have also decided that I am going to stop being lazy and document this process from start to finish. This will help to get the concept out there, and also allow me to view my ideas from another angle. It will be interesting to see how this goes. Let the fun begin!

- Josh