Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The 2000 Word Master Formula

Lester Dent's Master Formula has been making its way around the pulp and superversive corners of the internet. And, like any storytelling technique, it has undergone its share of criticism. While most focused on how it might be used for longer works, Tom Simon rightly pointed out that there isn't enough room in a 3,000 word short story to get all the twists and confrontations in. Since most short stories have word counts of less that Lester Dent's proposed 6,000 words, Mr. Simon's criticism must be addressed by those who would attempt to use Dent's structure. Fortunately, Manly Wade Wellman's short story "Up Under The Roof" shows one way to use the formula: eliminate the middle twists.

Therefore, for quick works of 1,500-2,000 words, I propose this version of Lester Dent's structure, using his own words:
1–First line, or as near thereto as possible, introduce the hero and swat him with a fistful of trouble. Hint at a mystery, a menace or a problem to be solved–something the hero has to cope with. 
2–The hero pitches in to cope with his fistful of trouble. (He tries to fathom the mystery, defeat the menace, or solve the problem.) 
3–Get the hero almost buried in his troubles. (Figuratively, the villain has him prisoner and has him framed for a murder rap; the girl is presumably dead, everything is lost, and the DIFFERENT murder method is about to dispose of the suffering protagonist.) 
4–The hero extricates himself using HIS OWN SKILL, training or brawn. 
5–The mysteries remaining–one big one held over to this point will help grip interest–are cleared up in course of final conflict as hero takes the situation in hand. 
6–Final twist, a big surprise, (This can be the villain turning out to be the unexpected person, having the “Treasure” be a dud, etc.) 
7–The snapper, the punch line to end it.  (It is common for the final twist and the punchline to be combined in the last sentence.)

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