June 29th, 2009
Punk me this! Writing a “punk” genre….

Steampunk style ad board

I write both steampunk and cyberpunk in addition to my paranormal and erotic romance stories but when I tell people that, even other authors, I’m often met with a confused look and a request to explain just what those genres are.

So, here’s my own personal attempt to explain what they are in my own eyes. Keep in mind that there is no one true definition and some people may agree with me while others may not. So Your Mileage May Vary.

What are the “punk” genres?
The “punk” genres share a few things in common. One of these is that they are based on a technology or aspect of a technology that has been developed beyond where it ever was in the past or is currently. In steampunk, this means steam technology. In cyberpunk, it’s computer and nano technology.

Steampunk is the most commonly found example so I tend to use it. In a steampunk world, the internal combustion engine may or may not have been developed. If it was developed, it wouldn’t have taken over technologically. Instead steam engines would have been further developed, perhaps miniturized, etc.

The “punk” worlds also have in common the idea that form is as important of function. This is, in essence, the opposite of the common “beige box” computer. The aesthetics of the technology are important.

In steampunk, this often takes the form of fantastical machines or ones where the functionality of the machine is exposed to view. This can go as far as an almost Rube Goldberg contraption but can also be as simple as elegant finishing and engraving on a boot jack.

In cyberpunk, the aesthetics often take the opposite form. Instead of big fantastical machines that demonstrate their function, it tends to have disguised function. So think of a cybernetic arm where much of the function is hidden to look like a flesh and blood arm.

The other aspect is the richness of detail that makes or breaks the “punk” story. The charm and draw of the world is its minutia. Things are often described in detail and because it’s a genre where you are writing about a world the reader doesn’t know, it requires description in detail.

These really are the three basic ideas of a “punk” genre. There are things that are typically done with them like steampunk is often written as a historical. Cyberpunk is often written as a futuristic or science fiction. But I don’t believe that is actually what makes the genre and it isn’t a rule.

What does it take to write a “punk” genre?
Research. Really. If you hate to do research or don’t want to do it, please reconsider taking on this type of story. Because the world depends on detail and if you cannot create a world where the reader believes in the technology or at least believes it might be possible, you will fail right out of the gate.

A richness of world building. If you hate to create big worlds with lots of detail, don’t take up a “punk” genre. A good amount of success is that “punk” world.

Any “punk” genre also requires a descriptive voice. That same detail that makes the story a “punk” story has to be conveyed to the reader to draw them into the richness of the world. This can be quite difficult to balance with the other story aspects but shorting the reader on it will make the vibrant world go bland and flat.

A really good “punk” story requires a willingness to take chances. Chances with your world, your plot and even your characters. Don’t just do what has gone before and has been labeled steampunk, cyberpunk, etc. Take the rules and play with them.

So that’s my personal take on the various “punk” genres and writing them.

One comment to “Punk me this! Writing a “punk” genre….”

  1. Thanks Maura. That is a simple and helpful way of explaining it.