Master Plot 1—Here’s How it Starts

This is the first stage of The Lester Dent Pulp Paper Master Fiction Plot, a template which I urge you to read before reading this post. It’s a real delight, both as a writers’ guideline and as a historical document (one that calls stories “yarns” and writers “pulpateers”).

The first stage seems pretty simple. Just pick four “different things”: a different murder method, a different goal for the villain, a different setting, and a “menace which is to hang like a cloud over the hero” (see? delightful!). Mr. Dent would like you to know that having these four things “fully in mind before tackling the rest” will be helpful.

I admit that I’m cheating here: I already have my setting and characters ready to go. I’ve got the second draft of a sci-fi novel waiting for final edits, and I’m going to use the world-building I already have for this story yarn.

The main characters of that novel, Yates and Liz, are the stars of a sort of reality-TV private detective series, making them pretty good characters for my first go at a pulp story. Part of the challenge here will be packing in all of this stuff I know about these people and this world without sinking the story.

My selections, and some of my thought processes, for Dent’s four different things are below. I admit now to some concern that I’m trying to shove too much into a mere 6000 words, but this is an experiment, right? Tune in next week (hopefully…) for the first 1500 word section of the story.

1. A DIFFERENT MURDER METHOD FOR VILLAIN TO USE1
Hallucinogenic music — it gets into your brain and convinces you to tear your own guts out??? But why? I’ll come back to this one.

2. A DIFFERENT THING FOR VILLAIN TO BE SEEKING
What do people seek? Wealth, fame, acceptance, love, power, happiness? Ah, but Mr. Dent suggests “The different thing for the villain to be after might be something other than jewels, the stolen bank loot, the pearls, or some other old ones.” Perhaps wealth is the assumed thing, then (and this does hold up in my reading of his stories) and the “different” comes from the type of riches. I wonder if ol’ Dent would have considered SFnal “access to identities” different enough? I think so. But how does that work? Perhaps the music basically hypnotizes you, convinces you to send your passwords and identity documents to the villains. But sometimes it messes up! See item 1.: sometimes it messes up and causes you to hurt yourself.

3. A DIFFERENT LOCALE
Cheating! The setting will be their cool future city on Earth. I think trying to get too creative here will do more harm than good. This is where I’ll lean heaviest on my understanding of the world I’ve already built.

4. A MENACE WHICH IS TO HANG LIKE A CLOUD OVER HERO
I think Liz2 is our real hero here, rather than Yates (who this time around will be delegated to the sidekick role). What menace hangs over her? Ah — ratings. The people who are dying were fan of the stream, perhaps? And as people start dropping off… oh, but can I really explain all of this in 6000 words? Suddenly 6000 words is beginning to seem awfully short. No, though, I think this is good. It might be worth the challenge, perhaps, and if I fail, well, I’ve learned something. So, the only thing the murdered people have in common is that they’re premium subscribers, so there must be a connection there, and people are starting to talk: did the producers set this up to drum up ratings? Liz’s honour is on the line, here!


  1. I had a very long string of thoughts here, with different ideas pulled from various notebooks and notes-to-self. You should all feel grateful that I cut everything but the thing I decided to use.

  2. Liz is the more outgoing and personable of the two. She’s also the one who cares more about the job of being a celebrity more than the job of being a detective. She plays a smaller role in the previously-written MS, but seems better suited to this sort of story.

5 thoughts on “Master Plot 1—Here’s How it Starts”

  1. Paging Luke to tell the Spider Robinson story… You know the one I’m talking about, the word count one that you’ve told me at least four times. It might be useful here given Amanda’s focus on getting all those ideas into 6000 words!

    1. Luke! Come back and tell the story, Luke!

      It’s something Robinson having written a story and then being told to halve the word count, then halve it again? I feel like I’m ruining the tale here, but Luke’s only told me the story three times. Clearly it’s the fourth that really cements it. 😉

      1. You know what? I’m going to tell the story again. You two have brought this upon yourself:

        Spider Robinson, well known for his beloved ‘Callahan’s Place’ series, tells this story (either in ‘The Crazy Years’, a collection of his columns from the Globe & Mail, or in the Foreward, Afterward, Sideward, or Ward of Wards in one of his books; it being SR, there’s also a good chance it’s in both) about one of his first stories and going through the editing process.

        See, he had this great (in his mind) story that was about 20,000 words long. He took it in to (place I have forgotten) and showed it to Ben Bova. Ben thought it was great, but came to Spider with a request.

        “Cut it down to 5,000 words,” he said.

        Spider was shocked! That’s a 15,000 word change! But he agreed to try—this was Ben Bova suggesting it, after all—so he went back to ye ‘olde computer and started hacking away. He realized quickly he did have a fair amount of fluff throughout the piece, and successfully cut it down to 17,000 words, upon which he took it back to Ben.

        “You were right,” he said, “it did need a good cleaning. It’s down to 17,000 words.”

        “Awesome,” Ben said. “Keep going and get it down to 5,000.”

        Spider, grumbling slightly, when back to his work-space and started cutting again. He learned a valuable lesson that day, about murder and the art of killing your Art, but he managed to get it down to 10,000 words. He returned to Ben.

        “My good sir,” he said, “You’ve have asked me to commit a foul most murder, but it has been done. The story is at 10,000 words, and some really great stuff has been left to rot on the editing room floor.”

        “Great!” Ben said. “Keep going. Get it down to 5,000 words.”

        Spider’s jaw hung loose, not quite to the floor, but only because he was hovering a foot off the ground. “Ben!” he said. “That’s another 5,000 words! I’ve already cut 10,000! There’s some really good stuff, gone. I don’t know if I can do it again.”

        “I know,” Ben said, a parently softness to his voice. “Do it anyways.”

        So Spider went home and through mighty tears started tearing his literary baby to pieces. Cut, hack, delete; slash, backspace, save…

        “Oh woe! What dastardly request has been thrust upon me so! What shall become of my story now that I have removed not one, nor twice, but thrice-times it’s word count! Woe and sadness to that which it has lost. What possible form will my story be!?”

        And when the count finally read 5,000, Spider let out a great sigh and hit print, ready to taken the broken monstrosity back to Ben one last time. Settling into the floor to read it, another great sigh fell upon Spider, and he looked up into the heavens for an answer.

        You see, upon reading the 5,000 words, he could only surmise that his story, was in fact, better.

        1. Well, I’ve just finished my first 1500 word section — and it’s 3000 words long. I will be using this story as inspiration to mercilessly cut 50% of those words.

  2. Amanda, I’ve been reading over what you’ve put up so far, and I’m really, *really* excited to give this process a kick at the can myself. Thank you so much for introducing it to AiS!

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