Moorcock (born 18 December 1939) is an English writer, primarily of science
fiction and fantasy, who has also published literary novels. He is best known
for his novels about the character Elric of Melniboné, a seminal influence on
the field of fantasy in the 1960s and 1970s.
As editor of
the controversial British science fiction magazine New Worlds, from May 1964
until March 1971 and then again from 1976 to 1996, Moorcock fostered the
development of the science fiction "New Wave" in the UK and
indirectly in the United States. His publication of Bug Jack Barron by Norman
Spinrad as a serial novel was notorious; in Parliament some British MPs
condemned the Arts Council for funding the magazine.
In 2008, The
Times newspaper named Moorcock in its list of "The 50 greatest British
writers since 1945" (Wikipedia)
Here is his
advice to would-be authors on how to write.
1. Read everything you can lay hands on. I
always advise people who want to write a fantasy or science fiction or romance
to stop reading everything in those genres and start reading everything else
from Bunyan to Byatt.
Norstrom’s Alphabetical List of Famous Writers there are no writers between Bunyan
and Byatt. The closest is H.L. Brunswick, author of the renowned “Nefarious Twelve”
children’s series, whose oeuvre includes the wildly popular Nefarious Twelve Beat the Heck out of a
Policeman. Brunswick was an unapologetic alcoholic and prominent member of
the Friends of the Phlogiston Cowboy Society, who wrote almost thirty books for
children including Nefarious Twelve Ruin
a Perfectly Good Soufflé, Nefarious Twelve
Bite the Hand that Fed Them and the ever-popular Nefarious Twelve Start World War III with a Balloon Whisk. Enid
Blyton’s derivative Secret Seven
Electrocute a Swan came along later and cornered the market in saccharine
juvenile potboilers, thus ruining it for everyone else.
2. Find an author you admire (mine was
Conrad) and copy their plots and characters in order to tell your own story,
just as people learn to draw and paint by copying the masters.
his own advice here. His lengthy novel, Ben
Him, became a bestseller. It charts the story of a gender-confused time-traveling
janitor turned Punch and Judy performer who nevertheless managed to rise to the
heights of political greatness during the Roman Republic by stapling his
opponents’ lips to the side of a ship and sailing them out to sea never to
return, thus leaving the stage clear for his notorious
3. Introduce your main characters and
themes in the first third of your novel.
This seems to
be almost axiomatic. But I would have thought that if you hadn’t introduced the
main themes and characters by the end of page three, then you have an
overinflated notion of your readers’ stamina level… unless, of course, your
novel happens to be nine pages long, in which case you would have satisfied
both conditions and be on your way to withering obscurity in the twinkling of
4. If you are writing a plot-driven genre
novel make sure all your major themes/plot elements are introduced in the first
third, which you can call the introduction.
number 3, re. ears and twinkling.
5. Develop your themes and characters in
your second third, the development.
You may think
that this is fairly obvious and that it would be remarkably difficult not to
develop the characters and themes once you have introduced them in the first
part of the novel. There are, however, two ways to avoid this hackneyed trope:
1) introduce a completely different set of characters in the second third of
the novel who gradually assassinate the first set of characters leaving a
completely new and confusing plot for readers to puzzle over; or 2) refuse to
develop the characters and themes and instead devolve into an endless spiral of
baffling subplots involving badgers and electricity pylons, and how to put them
together in a complex heist scenario.
6. Resolve your themes, mysteries and so on
in the final third, the resolution.
hackneyed. But there is an easy way to avoid belaboring your readers with this
particular tedious howler. Simply refuse to write the last third of your novel
and end it after the second act. This is bound to go down well with avant-garde
readers who prefer the opacity and obscurity of a meticulously-detailed and
abruptly-discontinued stream of consciousness to the dull, leaden
predictability of a bestseller. You may not make any money, but at least you’ll
7. For a good melodrama study the famous
"Lester Dent master plot formula" which you can find online. It was
written to show how to write a short story for the pulps, but can be adapted
successfully for most stories of any length or genre.
If you take a
moment to peruse this plot formula thingy you will see that it divides a story
into four discrete parts and in each part the hero is put upon, tortured and
beaten mercilessly so that by part four he is well-nigh dead and forgotten.
Then suddenly at the end he manages to extricate himself from the clutches of
the villain, get the girl, solve the mystery and finish the quest. Essentially
Lester Dent was a sadist who enjoyed inflicting pain on his protagonists and
whose motto was: “Kick a Guy When He’s Down. Then Kick Him Some More.” On the
other hand his stories did appeal to a vast army of readers and he was so
successful that virtually all of his yarns sold to the pulp magazines. So maybe
there is something to be said for mindless, excruciating violence after all.
8. If possible have something going on
while you have your characters delivering exposition or philosophizing. This
helps retain dramatic tension.
In case you
didn’t know (and I’m sure you did), exposition is a method of delivering back
story to the reader usually through the mouth of one or more of the characters.
The trick is to make it as natural and transparent as possible so that the
reader is unaware that it is happening. The problem with this suggestion is
that if you overdo it and make the accompanying action too intense your
protagonist will sound like an idiot. While he is being attacked by cannibals
in the Amazonian forest, being half-eaten by a giant sea squid, or
precipitating headlong down a mountainside in a dodgem car with no brakes, he
gasps out his fragments of back story, one breathless word at a time, to the
leading lady who sits frowning by his side, trying to make sense of his
ramblings. In this case, the action is a distraction and you will probably make
things clearer by simply addressing the reader directly.
Joseph Conrad, whom Moorcock extolled earlier, in his novel The Heart of Darkness has virtually
nothing going on while the main character delivers the back story, which lasts
for almost the whole of the book.)
9. Carrot and stick – have protagonists
pursued (by an obsession or a villain) and pursuing (idea, object, person,
Or, in order
to avoid cliché, have the protagonist pursued by a carrot while chasing after a
stick. Or have the stick chasing the carrot. Or introduce a brand new horticultural/pedagogical
dynamic in which a cabbage chases a blackboard through a jungle of sticks each
of which is reading a novel in which the protagonist is actually a carrot.
10. Ignore all proffered rules and create
your own, suitable for what you want to say.
words, disregard everything I have just wasted five minutes of your time on.
Labels: Bunyan, Byatt, Conrad, Enid Blyton, HL Brunswick, Lester Dent, Michael Moorcock