Apparently there’s a formula to writing pulp fiction and fantasy. Michael Moorcock uses and recommends it. I’d never even heard of it before today. Having now heard of it, I’m not entirely sure I approve. Stories should be crafted with love, thought, and emotion, not produced on a factory line. Plus, I’d like to think readers are not that blind. Perhaps that’s naive of me. Well, I’ve been called worse things.
Anyway, this ‘Master Formula’ comes in two parts. See what you think.
PART ONE – Pick a basic quest plot and use at least one of the following:
1. A DIFFERENT MURDER METHOD FOR VILLAIN TO USE
2. A DIFFERENT THING FOR VILLAIN TO BE SEEKING
3. A DIFFERENT LOCALE
4. A MENACE WHICH IS TO HANG LIKE A CLOUD OVER HERO
PART TWO – Divide the story into quarters. Lester Dent went with a total length of 6000 words, which is a short story at best, but I guess the formula works for any length. Then write each quarter as follows:
- First line, introduce the hero and swat him with a fistful of trouble. Hint at a mystery, a menace or a problem to be solved–something the hero has to cope with.
- The hero pitches in to cope with his fistful of trouble.
- Introduce ALL the other characters as soon as possible. Bring them on in action.
- Hero’s endevours land him in an actual physical conflict near the end.
- Near the end, there is a complete surprise twist in
the plot development.
SO FAR: Does it have SUSPENSE?
Is there a MENACE to the hero?
Does everything happen logically?
- Shovel more grief onto the hero.
- Hero, being heroic, struggles, and his struggles lead up to:
- Another physical conflict.
- A surprising plot twist to end.
NOW: Does second part have SUSPENSE?
Does the MENACE grow like a black cloud?
Is the hero getting it in the neck?
Is the second part logical?
- Shovel the grief onto the hero.
- Hero makes some headway, and corners the villain or somebody in:
- A physical conflict.
- A surprising plot twist, in which the hero preferably gets it in the neck bad, to end.
DOES: It still have SUSPENSE?
Is the MENACE getting blacker?
The hero finds himself in a hell of a fix?
It all happens logically?
- Shovel the difficulties more thickly upon the hero.
- Get the hero almost buried in his troubles. (Figuratively, the villain has him prisoner and has him framed for a murder rap; the girl is presumably dead, everything is lost, and the DIFFERENT murder method is about to dispose of the suffering protagonist.)
- The hero extricates himself using HIS OWN SKILL, training or brawn.
- The mysteries remaining–one big one held over to this point will help grip interest–are cleared up in course of final conflict as hero takes the situation in hand.
- Final twist, a big surprise, (This can be the villain turning out to be the unexpected person, having the “Treasure” be a dud, etc.)
- The snapper, the punch line to end it.
HAS: The SUSPENSE held out to the last line?
The MENACE held out to the last?
Everything been explained?
It all happen logically?
Is the Punch Line enough to leave the reader with that WARM FEELING?
Did God kill the villain? Make SURE it was the hero.
Despite my propensity for occasional angst, and my love of crap action films, I am not a fan of this formula. It may just be that pulp fiction isn’t my thing, but Moorcock was pushing it for heroic fantasy as well, claiming Elric was written off this method. I confess that I haven’t read Elric, and also that I am now not inclined to. This isn’t storytelling, this is writing by cardboard cut-out. Treadmill writing.
EDIT: I’ve just been linked to a different formula. This isn’t about how to structure the story, but how to structure your writing. It’s pretty interesting – take a look – and I think I’ll try some of her tips. They’re so obvious that they’re easy to miss or not do. The one part I think I’d find really hard to change is the first part. One of the best highs of writing, for me at least, is when the characters do something completely unexpected that works beautifully, or when two bits that I’ve randomly put in just because, suddenly tie up. The serendipitous moment is a huge rush, and I’d really miss that. But the rest is good stuff and, since I’m starting to run up against my self-imposed deadline, maybe it’s time to change my writing approach.