My friend Marella Sands introduced me to Lovecraft when we were in junior high.
I love reading writing advice from classic authors so when I saw a link to H.P. Lovecraft’s essay, “Notes on Writing Weird Fiction,” I had to pop over and take a look.
What does Lovecraft mean by weird fiction? The best way to understand that is to read his explanation about why he wrote his particular stories.
“I choose weird stories because they suit my inclination best—one of my strongest and most persistent wishes being to achieve, momentarily, the illusion of some strange suspension or violation of the galling limitations of time, space, and natural law which for ever imprison us and frustrate our curiosity about the infinite cosmic spaces beyond the radius of our sight and analysis. These stories frequently emphasise the element of horror because fear is our deepest and strongest emotion, and the one which best lends itself to the creation of nature-defying illusions.”
Nature-defying illusions. I’m not sure why, but that phrase grabs my attention, but back to his writing tips. Although he gives these tips for those who want to write weird fiction, they are solid tips for writing in general.
1.“Prepare a synopsis or scenario of events in the order of their absolute occurrence —not the order of their narration.” This is something that I’ve heard as advice for mystery writers especially. List the events in your plot in order of occurance. Once you’ve done this, you can move on to point #2.
2. “Prepare a second synopsis or scenario of events—this one in order of narration (not actual occurrence), with ample fulness and detail, and with notes as to changing perspective, stresses, and climax.” Sometimes we want to reveal scenes to our readers out of order. Why? Because it makes things more dramatic. You reveal in chapter one that someone died. Then chapter 2 is a scene that takes place much earlier, leading us up to the moment of the murder, a moment that we then anticipate.
3. “Write out the story—rapidly, fluently, and not too critically—following the second or narrative-order synopsis. Change incidents and plot whenever the developing process seems to suggest such change, never being bound by any previous design. If the development suddenly reveals new opportunities for dramatic effect or vivid storytelling, add whatever is thought advantageous—going back and reconciling the early parts to the new plan. Insert and delete whole sections if necessary or desirable, trying different beginnings and endings until the best arrangement is found. But be sure that all references throughout the story are thoroughly reconciled with the final design. Remove all possible superfluities—words, sentences, paragraphs, or whole episodes or elements—observing the usual precautions about the reconciling of all references.”
I have to admit that I’m curious. Did Lovecraft do this all as one step? Because, for me, this would be something like 3 steps.
- Speedy first draft.
- Rewrite reconciling earlier scenes to changes made to the outline as the story developed.
- Cutting anything not needed.
4. “Revise the entire text, paying attention to vocabulary, syntax, rhythm of prose, proportioning of parts, niceties of tone, grace and convincingness or transitions (scene to scene, slow and detailed action to rapid and sketchy time-covering action and vice versa. . . . etc., etc., etc.), effectiveness of beginning, ending, climaxes, etc., dramatic suspense and interest, plausibility and atmosphere, and various other elements.”
Again. Wow. Is this all one step or multiple?
5. “Prepare a neatly typed copy—not hesitating to add final revisory touches where they seem in order.”
I’m wondering if Lovecraft worked his earlier drafts on the typewriter or wrote by hand?
Definitely good writing advice and not just for “weird stories.” Are these the steps that you follow when you write? I have to admit, that I often shirk steps 1 and 2. But this makes me wonder if I could do all of #3 as one step if I did these synopsis.
What about you? Do you follow all of these steps?