How to Write Like Philip K. Dick: 3 Quick and Easy Tips to Writing Mind-Blowing Science Fiction
- Location – Many of PKD’s stories take place in a world that is very close to our current reality. Unlike many traditional science fiction stories, which portray fantastic journeys to faraway planets or earth decades into the future, most PKD stories resemble our own actuality with futuristic technologies added in. Similarly, Dick also used locations from where he lived in his work. One great example is Scanner Darkly. Perhaps his most prolific novel, this story takes place almost solely in Orange County, California, where Phil lived during the latter years of his life.
PKD demonstrates that writers can use their own backyard, even in science fiction, to write great work. In fact, one might even recommend this location oriented focus because it supplies the writer with a bountiful descriptive voice and thus ability to give readers a third eye into the writer’s world.
2. Paranoia – In order to write a full-blown PKD-like story, writers need to add elements of paranoia into their work. In Scanner Darkly, the main character begins to lose touch with the real world and his identity within this space. Is he Bob Arctor, the infamous drug addict under surveillance by authorities, or is he Fred, the law enforcement agent tasked with taking down Bob?
Phil Dick makes the reader question the very fabric of reality itself by asking, “Maybe it’s you fuckers…who’re seeing the universe backward, like in a mirror. Maybe I see it right” (1). Are we constructs of society or of ourselves? Are there perhaps multiple people living within each of us? PKD himself was incredibly paranoid. He even believed that the CIA broke into his house and went through his files (2). So, if you want to write a PKD related story, include your own version of paranoia. A writer might use the government and its control over our individualism or the idea of identity and surveillance (Scanner Darkly). Whatever you do, try to think about your own experiences or fears and use them in your narrative to drive home the sense of an instable reality.
- No One is as They Seem – In most of Phil’s stories, characters are often not as they appear to be. In Scanner Darkly, undercover agents wear scrambler suits, which turn their image into a blur to whoever looks at them – “It could be somebody other than Fred inside, or another Fred, and they’d never know, not even when Fred opened his mouth and talked” (28). Similarly, Dick is also one of the forerunners of using cyborgs as human imitations. In “Second Variety,” America and Russia are still battling in a Cold War landscape. Except in PKD’s world, artificial intelligence (AI) assume the shape of normal humans until they can get close enough to murder their biological enemy. The reader quickly finds out that humans are no longer in control, and instead, the AI arises as the new dominating force in this battle-weary world (3).
As you can see, in order to write a PKD story, a writer needs to include an element of character deception. Perhaps your main character’s best friend is actually a murderous cyborg. Maybe your story includes a mind-altering psychic cat or a scrambler overcoat. Whatever you decide on, remember to have fun with it and enjoy the ride.
(1) Dick, Philip K. A Scanner Darkly. New York: Mariner Books, 2011. Print.
(3) Dick, Philip K. “Second Variety.” Science Fiction: Stories and Contexts. Ed. Heather Masri. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2015. 155-190. Print.