Saturday, August 6, 2011

Moorcock on how to write

I read a lot of Michael Moorcock in my teens.  Many of his books had similar plots, but he explained as a quirk of his hero's place in every frame of his multiverse.  I don't know if I would enjoy those books now but that is true of a lot of what I read as a teen.  And, I might: I've had a craving lately for pulp.

I didn't notice how formulaic his novels were at the time, but I did notice the wild imagery and ideas.  Elric and others lived in worlds far more brightly hued than our own.

At Wetasphalt, via Boingboing, comes "How to write a book in three days" - lessons from Moorcock.

From wet asphalt:

In 1992, [Moorcock] published a collection of interviews conducted by Colin Greenwood called Michael Moorcock: Death is No Obstacle, in which he discusses his writing method. In the first chapter, "Six Days to Save the World", he says those early novels were written in about "three to ten days" each, and outlines exactly how one accomplishes such fast writing.
This is not the best way to write every novel, or even most novels. Moorcock used it specifically to write sword-and-sorcery action-adventure, but I think it could be applied more-or-less to any kind of potboiler. ...
So all of the quotes below are from just the first chapter of the book. I cannot recommend enough for fiction writers to hunt themselves down a copy (it's sadly out of print) and studying it, especially if you want to understand the purpose of form and structure in fiction. If you want to think of this post as a naked advertisement for this brilliant book, I'm okay with that.
To be clear: This is not my advice. This is Michael Moorcock's advice. I have never written a book in three days. I am planning on making the attempt, however, on the weekend of September 18th, which is Jewish New Years (Rosh Hashanah), and the next time in my calendar when I'll have three days straight with nothing else to do.

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Part of Moorcock's advice:

  • "If you're going to do a piece of work in three days, you have to have everything properly prepared."
  • "[The formula is] The Maltese Falcon. Or the Holy Grail. You use the quest theme, basically. In The Maltese Falcon it's a lot of people after the same thing, which is the Black Bird. In Mort D'Arthur it's also a lot of people after the same thing, which is the Holy Grail. That's the formula for Westerns too: everybody's after the gold of El Dorado or whatever." (Cf the MacGuffin.)
  • "The formula depends on that sense of a human being up against superhuman forces, whether it's Big Business, or politics, or supernatural Evil, or whatever. The hero is fallible in their terms, and doesn't really want to be mixed up with them. He's always just about to walk out when something else comes along that involves him on a personal level." (An example of this is when Elric's wife gets kidnapped.)
  • "There is an event every four pages, for example -- and notes. Lists of things you're going to use. Lists of coherent images; coherent to you or generically coherent. You think: 'Right, Stormbringer [a novel in theElric series]: swords; shields; horns", and so on."
  • "[I prepared] A complete structure. Not a plot, exactly, but a structure where the demands were clear. I knew what narrative problems I had to solve at every point. I then wrote them at white heat; and a lot of it was inspiration: the image I needed would come immediately [when] I needed it. Really, it's just looking around the room, looking at ordinary objects and turning them into what you need. A mirror: a mirror that absorbs the souls of the damned."

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The post also links to a wikipedia article about the Doc Savage series, also very 'pulpy'.  There, I found this asserted quote:  [For Dent] the Doc Savage series was simply a job, a way to earn a living by "churning out reams and reams of sellable crap", never dreaming how his series would catch on.

Forget 'nanowrimo', we need a nation novel writing long weekend - NANOWRILOWE.

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