Saturday, October 22, 2016

Writing for the Pulp Houses: Detective Classics

While writing advice is a dime-a-dozen, advice from the pulp editors on their house styles may prove more useful for a writer seeking to incorporate elements of the pulps into their stories.  These editors molded the styles with an eye for what sold their magazines - and what did not.

Today's advice comes from John Byrne and Jack Kelly of Detective Classics, an early crime pulp published by Fiction House.  It was found in the introduction to The Crimes of the Scarlet Ace: The Complete Stories of Major Lacy and Amusement, Inc.  Pulp historian and writer Will Murray described the Detective Classics house style as "fast writing, and no fat."

From John Byrne:
"Action is one of the main essentials.  Modern setting, city or general locale with a good strong central character of the lone-wolf, gentleman-adventurer, solder-of-fortune type acing the odds and beating them.  Make him the type that would have series possibilities, put him in any field where the big money is  He may be working outside the law, or even against the established law, but his intent must be the securing of justice.  We want to 'see' this character clearly.  He must be a man who will arouse and hold reader sympathy.
"The theme could run along action-detective lines or perhaps you could use the Raffles angle.  The yarn should open fast and keep going at that pace throughout."
"We must have a good, fast opening," he insisted.  "Smack us within the first paragraph.  Get our interest aroused.  Don't tell us about the general geographic situation or the atmospheric conditions.  Don't describe the hero's physique, or the kind of pants he wears.  Start something!"
"It may help you if you think of your plot as a movie director would visualize it if he were making a six-reeler.  Ask yourself what scene he would use as an opening to get immediate attention and interest - what continuity would he follow - from what angle would be shoot various scenes to get his best effects?"
From Jack Kelly:
"If you want to describe a sunset, O.K.  Describe it.  But we'll shove it at the end of a story as a footnote, and just put a star in the yarn so the reader can refer to it later after the story has been read."


  1. So what you're saying is...starting my latest novella with a wizard deep un a meditative trance was a mistake?

    Ruh-roh, Raggy.

    1. Think violent thoughts?

      More seriously, there are "nine and sixty ways to construct tribal lays."