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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Lester Dent's Master Fiction Plot (Essential Reading)

Lester Dent's pen name was Kenneth Robeson.  He invented Doc Savage.  There is a decent Bio of Lester Dent at the Altus Press site, as well as here, here and here(An essential site for Dent/Doc Savage is Doc Savage Organized.) He often claimed to have cranked out around 200,000 words a month and remains a highly imaginative, effective and influential author, above and beyond his trailblazing work in establishing and developing the Pulps in their prime/Golden Age to this very day.  Lester Dent's Master Plot Formula has been in circulation for decades and is still recommended to up-and-coming writers by many, many established authors--including Michael Moorcock.  (A copy of Lester Dent's Formula is available at the Multiverse Forums here.) This Formula of Dent's is clear, concise and to-the-point just like the man himself, and it worked beautifully for him throughout his career and still offers a very good jumping-off-point for writers seeking to produce riveting yarns, rip roaring adventure, or modern re-tellings of the classic Pulps.  The Formula also will serve as a very effective skeleton for stringing together adventures for Role Playing Games as well.  It's pure gold and you should get a copy ASAP.  You can find a version of Lester Dent's Master Plot Formula hereherehere, here and here.  The very best place to ge tthe most authentic version of Lester Dent's Master Plot Formula is very probably the Lester Dent Properties site since they seem to be Dent's literary executors.  Likewise you can find a wealth of Doc Savage links at ThePulp website and over at the Homepage for Popular Culture's Doc Savage page.  PulpGen is also useful as a resource for learning about the Pulps such as The Shadow, Black Mask or Avenger, all contemporaries of Doc Savage.

A Quick Two-Minute Bio of Lester Dent:


One Observation in Regards to Mister Dent's Formula

Lester Dent says:
This is one opinion. It is opinion of one who believes in formula and mechanical construction, for a pulp yarn.  It is opinion of one believing:
1—Majority of pulps are formula.
2—Most editors who say don’t want formula don’t know what they are talking about.
3—Some eds won’t buy anything but formula
Stating that Pulp fiction is inherently formulaic is about as radical and unexpected as admitting that poop Pop music is formulaic.  Yawn.  No kidding.  But the cool thing is that Lester Dent then goes on from this bald-faced admission and spells it all out in no uncertain terms just what to do, and how to do it.  He shows how to make a formula really work.  In point of fact all writing is inherently derived from formulas, this is the role of grammar and plotting.  It's not a bad thing.  It is something to be aware of and to turn to your advantage.  Mister Dent's observation regarding editors who say that they don't want formula and won't buy formula not knowing what they are talking about is a bit harsh at first, but is essentially true, as far as it goes.  All forms of story obey some form of convention and ultimately can be boiled down to a formula.  Some formulas are like Elmer's Glue, others are like the Colonel's Secret Recipe or the formula for Original Coke.  Some we all know in the most general forms, quite a few are heavily used, abused and over-used.  Others are magical things that only a few have figured out for themselves.  It's not enough to bow to Formula, one must come up with their own approach, their own secret recipe for what makes the stories you're doing unique, sexy, engaging, and intrinsically Yours.

Formulas are tools.  Not excuses.  No one wants to see the scaffolding Michelangelo used in painting the Sistine Chapel, they want to see the final product of the process.  Same with your writing, your adventure design, whatever.  Dent gives you a marvellous structure/scaffolding with which to paint your own stories using tried and true techniques that he knew to work and work very well.  Why not give it a shot?

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