We all want to create intense moods and evoke strong atmosphere in our work. This can range from subtle hints to Sturm und Drang, but either way, the intention is to captivate the reader.
What is Sturm und Drang? The English translation is literally, Storm and Stress.
Google defines it as: a literary and artistic movement in Germany in the late 18th century, influenced by Jean-Jacques Rousseau and characterized by the expression of emotional unrest and a rejection of neoclassical literary norms.
What does this mean in simpler terms?
Sturm und Drang as a literary form evolved during the time of the American Revolutionary War, which a period of global unrest and great hardship, especially in Europe. The main feature is the expression of high emotions, strong reactions to events, and often, rebellion against rationalism. It is characterized by violent individualism and complex reactions. Literature and music written in this style were aimed at shocking the audience and infusing them with extremes of emotion.
Classical literature in this style began in 1772 with "Prometheus," a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in which the character of the mythic Prometheus addresses God (as Zeus) in misotheistic accusation and defiance. Misotheism is the hatred of God or the Gods. In literature, it’s described as stemming from a moment in a person’s life where one feels the gods have abused and abandoned him. One can’t hate what one doesn’t believe in, so misotheism requires a firm belief in a God or Gods.
Again, Wikipedia tells us this: Prometheus is the creative and rebellious spirit which, rejected by God, angrily defies him and asserts itself; Ganymede is the boyish self which is adored and seduced by God. One is the lone defiant, the other the yielding acolyte. As the humanist poet, Goethe presents both identities as aspects or forms of the human condition.
A parallel movement in the visual arts occurred as artists began producing paintings of storms and shipwrecks, showing the terror and irrational destruction wrought by nature. These pre-romantic works were fashionable in Germany from the 1760s on through the 1780s. Additionally, disturbing visions and portrayals of nightmares were gaining an audience in Germany as evidenced by Goethe's possession and admiration of paintings by Fuseli capable of 'giving the viewer a good fright.'
The image for this post is by Philip James de Loutherbourg. It is called Coalbrookdale by Night and was painted 1801. It depicts a burning slag heap and shows the true conditions impoverished laborers and their families were forced to live with, in English coal and steel towns at the time of the Revolutionary War.
You may wonder why I’m discussing something as off topic as classical art.
The difference between classical Sturm und Drang and modern Cyberpunk is that technology and industry are the Gods whose knowledge the mortals desire, and whom they seek to replace. All aspects of classic Sturm und Drang can be found in Cyberpunk.
Wikipedia defines cyberpunk as: a subgenre of science fiction in a future setting that tends to focus on the society of the proverbial "high tech low life" featuring advanced technological and scientific achievements, such as information technology and cybernetics, juxtaposed with a degree of breakdown or radical change in the social order.
It features post-industrial dystopias that have wide divisions in the social order, with the largest class in extreme poverty, a small middle class, and at the top, a minority holds incredible wealth. These societies have fallen into extreme chaos.
The MacGyver effect is in sway here: Protagonists acquire and make use of technology in ways never anticipated by its original inventors. One common trope of this genre is "the street finds its own uses for things."
Much of the genre's atmosphere is heavily film noir and employs techniques and style reminiscent of detective fiction. It is fast-paced, atmospheric, and where alcohol is heavily abused in classic detective fiction, drugs are the recreational mood elevators of choice in many cyberpunk novels.
Cyberpunk began as a niche rebellion by authors like Phillip K. Dick, and is now mainstreamed and growing in popularity. Authors writing in the early days of speculative fiction were Indies who were finding success getting short stories published in popular sci-fi magazines, and who were fortunate enough to have some farsighted editors take chances with publishing their longer work. They formed publishing companies and became giants. That opportunity will always be out there.
We indie authors have a great deal of latitude in our choice of what to write, as we can write and publish edgy work that would be deemed too chancy by traditional publishers.
Authors always engage in artistic rebellion, and society always appreciates it—usually, years afterward.