6 Things Writers Should Learn from ‘Neuromancer’ by William Gibson

“The sky above the port was the colour of television, tuned to a dead channel.”

Written in 1984 by William Gibson, ‘Neuromancer‘ is a cyberpunk sci-fi novel about a hacker recruited to infiltrate one of the world’s largest mega corps. The novel invented the idea of the ‘Matrix,’ created the term ‘cyberspace,’ and won the Hugo, Nebula and Phillip K. Dick Awards. You get the picture – it’s a big deal.

The book lives up to the hype. I went in with huge expectations, but also thought ‘hey, this book was written 33 years ago – it won’t really understand technology. They didn’t even have the internet then!’

I was wrong. The story feels like it could’ve been published this year. With his presentation of virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and the corporation-dominated society of the novel, Gibson’s prediction of the future is spot-on.

I love this novel. This masterwork creates suspense from the first sentence, and keeps it up all the way through.

My rating:

9/10 – an excellent novel!

If you haven’t read ‘Neuromancer,’ read it! Not only will you get a great read, but you’ll learn a bunch about the writing craft. Here are 6 things writers should learn from ‘Neuromancer’:

  1. If you use a 1-word title, make it unique

90% of the time, one-word titles suck. ‘Room,’ and ‘Gone’ are both great books, but they have horrible titles that:

  • Don’t create interest
  • Don’t show the author’s creativity
  • Don’t make readers intrigued.

‘Neuromancer,’ on the other hand, is a great title. That’s because it combines two existing words (Neuro -> as in relating to the brain; Mancer -> as coming from ‘Necromancer’) to create something poetic, genre-appropriate, and interesting.

  1. You don’t need a prologue to explain complex settings

There’s so much complexity in Gibson’s story world. There’s artificial intelligence, simulated reality, and a whole host of concepts that are still mind-boggling today, let alone when the novel was published in 1984!

A lesser author would’ve used a prologue to bring readers up to speed via an info-dump. This would’ve sucked!

(Want to know why I hate prologues? Read my rant here)

Instead, Gibson skilfully drip-feeds information throughout the story. We learn, gradually, about the technology of the world, and then about the societal structures, the backstories of main characters. This slow-release of information creates intrigue throughout the story, ramping up tension and delighting readers with fun reveals.

  1. Use chapter one to make readers care

The goal of your story’s opening is to make readers want to keep reading. You can do this by creating suspense, or by showing an interesting story world. However, the best method is to make readers care about your characters.

‘Neuromancer’ makes readers care about the protagonist, Case, by showing him as a down-and-out, struggling, unfulfilled man who sleeps in a coffin-sized hotel and has to deal drugs to survive. If Case was a wealthy, happy, and satisfied man, we’d find it hard to sympathise. By instead presenting us with a struggling character, Gibson creates instant empathy for Case.

  1. Make your characters flawed

Following on from my last point, if you want readers to empathise with your characters, you need those characters to be flawed. Flaws – undesirable traits – make characters realistic. They also make readers sympathise with your characters.

In Neuromancer, the protagonist – Case – starts of as hugely flawed. He’s a drug dealer, drug addict, and barely has enough money to support himself. Plus, he can’t do the one thing he’s good at (using the Matrix to hack companies) because of neurological damage.

These flaws may not make us want to be like Case, but they do make us want to see his life improve.

  1. Name things to enhance realism 

As I’ve discussed before, realism is crucial to crafting great stories. An easy way to increase realism is to assign names to key things, events, and concepts in your story.

For example, instead of calling something ‘the virus,’ it’s way better to call it ‘Kuang Grade Mark Eleven,’ as Gibson does in ‘Neuromancer.’

In the real world, important things are named after important people. Doing the same for your story will make it more realistic.

  1. Give characters a Ghost

No, I’m not suggesting you write another Ghostbusters reboot.

According to K. M. Weiland, a Ghost is something in the past that haunts a character. For instance, if your protagonist is an university student who came second in the state shotput finals, his Ghost is the fact that he failed to win the finals.

Ghosts’ serve to motivate characters. For example, that shot-put-obsessed student’s Ghost might motivate him to train relentlessly to do better next time.

In Neuromancer, every major character has at least one Ghost. I’m not going to spoil them here, but if you’ve read the book you’ll know what events I’m talking about. (As a side note, the reveals of these Ghosts are some of the best scenes in the novel – another reason why you should include Ghosts in your story!) Each character’s Ghost becomes the kernel that motivates them and create sizzling conflict as different characters’ goals collide.

This is the first post in a new series, where I use published novels (some good, some bad) to extract key lessons for writers of all skill levels. Let me know if you liked it!

What are your thoughts on Neuromancer? Have you read it? Do you think it’s good? What other things should writers learn from the novel? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Image Credits: ‘Neuromancer’ by Josan Gonzalez. Link.


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