Doc Savage, Lester Dent, and Formula Writing

When I was young, I read every Doc Savage book I could get, and reread the ones I had several times. I learned later that the writer, Lester Dent, had turned out one 50,000-word Doc Savage book a month for over 14 years. Not only that, but Doc Savage accounted for about a quarter of his output.

Just the other day I stumbled across an article he wrote about the “formula” he used to write so much material.

Note 2015 May 20: Since the Lester Dent Master Fiction plot keeps vanishing, I added it to one of my blog posts:
http://dynamiclethargyfilms.ca/the-lester-dent-master-fiction-plot-test-drive/

Since I aspire to be a writer, I cogitated on what he wrote. I wanted to avoid formula writing and I know many writers are critical of formulas. But, as I read more on writing, I start to see the value of a formula. Ultimately, I don’t want to be a formula writer, but I realized that it takes time to develop your writing skills, and a formula can help you develop those skills.

I also have a new view of what a formula is. Since my background is in the sciences, I tended to think of a formula as something very mechanical in nature. The writing formulas I’ve heard about are not really like that. I would describe them as structures. When people talk about formula writing, I think they have in mind the few standard structures that get used. Many other structures exist, but most writers rarely use them.

Note 2015 May 20: I removed a reference to a website that no longer has the information I referenced.

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