Thursday, January 17, 2013

H.P. Lovecraft Has Some Writing Advice for You

This week, I was delighted to discover a link to H.P. Lovecraft’s advice for young writers, initially published in 1920 by The United Amateur. Shoutout to Grey Matter Press for the link. (I was perusing their facebook page to see if they had an update on response to submissions for the anthology I submitted to, and they do – lovely people!  ::tries not to obsessively check email::)

There's a lot of good stuff in there. I particularly like his advice on story structure: 
In developing a theme, whether descriptive or narrative, it is necessary that three structural qualities be present: Unity, Mass, and Coherence. Unity is that principle whereby every part of a composition must have some bearing on the central theme. It is the principle which excludes all extraneous matter, and demands that all threads converge toward the climax. 
Mass is that principle which requires the more important parts of a composition to occupy correspondingly important places in the whole composition, the paragraph, and the sentence…. According to this law, the end of a composition is its most important part, with the beginning next in importance.
Coherence is that principle which groups related parts together and keeps unrelated parts removed from one another.... It demands that kindred events be narrated without interruption, effect following cause in a steady flow.
Of course, not all the advice is current. See, for example, this line: “As a general rule, it is well to give close critical scrutiny to all colloquial phrases and expressions of doubtful parsing, as well as to all words and usages which have a strained or unfamiliar sound.”

Yes, Mr. Lovecraft, it is indeed "well" to give such scrutiny.

My other favorite part of that above quote is the mention of strained usages of words, which seems to be a constant in some modern writers of fantasy. (And yes, I am looking in the mirror as I say that. Must control urge to use all fancy words available!)

Other gems from the article:

On description:
Descriptions may be of objects, of places, of animals, and of persons. The complete description of an object may be said to consist of the following elements:1. When, where, and how seen; when made or found; how affected by time.2. History and traditional associations.3. Substance and manner of origin.4. Size, shape, and appearance.5. Analogies with similar objects.6. Sensations produced by contemplating it.7. Its purpose or function.8. Its effects—the results of its existence.
More on structure: 
In fictional narration, verisimilitude is absolutely essential. A story must be consistent and must contain no event glaringly removed from the usual order of things, unless that event is the main incident, and is approached with the most careful preparation. In real life, odd and erratic things do occasionally happen; but they are out of place in an ordinary story, since fiction is a sort of idealization of the average.
 On inspiration: 
“In many cases, the usage of good authors will be found a more effective guide than any amount of precept. A page of Addison or of Irving will teach more of style than a whole manual of rules, whilst a story of Poe’s will impress upon the mind a more vivid notion of powerful and correct description and narration than will ten dry chapters of a bulky textbook”
 I know that if I've been reading a lot of a particular author, it seems like I'll start to mirror some aspects of their writing even in my own thoughts. Anyone else do that?  And whose writing style would you like most to emulate? I'd like to be more like Patricia McKillip or Joseph Conrad, lyrical but not nonsensical.


  1. Excellent advice all around. I especially like the passage on how "verisimilitude is absolutely essential." So true. Also the first one talking about Unity, Mass, and Coherence. I've never thought of it that way before, but it makes perfect sense.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. How cool is that, to see writing advice from H. P. Lovecraft?! Awesome post. I'm so glad you shared this.

    I think I tend to pick up a little bit of an author's style if I read them too much, too. I have to save authors like Bronte and Austen for my writing down time, or all of a sudden my fantasy story becomes way too literary. Glad to hear its not just me. :)

  3. Fascinating!

    I, too, tend to pick up the writing style of the person I'm reading. Sometimes I have to go back and read something else closer to what I'm writing just to get the other author's 'tone' out of my head.


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