Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

H.P. Lovecraft on the weird art of outlining

with 5 comments

H.P. Lovecraft

1. Prepare a synopsis or scenario of events in the order of their absolute occurrence—not the order of their narration. Describe with enough fulness to cover all vital points and motivate all incidents planned. Details, comments, and estimates of consequences are sometimes desirable in this temporary framework.

2. Prepare a second synopsis or scenario of events—this one in order of narration (not actual occurrence), with ample fulness and detail, and with notes as to changing perspective, stresses, and climax. Change the original synopsis to fit if such a change will increase the dramatic force or general effectiveness of the story. Interpolate or delete incidents at will—never being bound by the original conception even if the ultimate result be a tale wholly different from that first planned. Let additions and alterations be made whenever suggested by anything in the formulating process.

3. Write out the story—rapidly, fluently, and not too critically—following the second or narrative-order synopsis. Change incidents and plot whenever the developing process seems to suggest such change, never being bound by any previous design. If the development suddenly reveals new opportunities for dramatic effect or vivid storytelling, add whatever is thought advantageous—going back and reconciling the early parts to the new plan. Insert and delete whole sections if necessary or desirable, trying different beginnings and endings until the best arrangement is found…

4. Revise the entire text, paying attention to vocabulary, syntax, rhythm of prose, proportioning of parts, niceties of tone, grace and convincingness or transitions (scene to scene, slow and detailed action to rapid and sketchy time-covering action and vice versa…etc., etc., etc.), effectiveness of beginning, ending, climaxes, etc., dramatic suspense and interest, plausibility and atmosphere, and various other elements.

5. Prepare a neatly typed copy—not hesitating to add final revisory touches where they seem in order.

H.P. Lovecraft, “Notes on Writing Weird Fiction”

Written by nevalalee

July 20, 2013 at 9:50 am

Posted in Quote of the Day, Writing

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5 Responses

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  1. Very interesting, thorough and helpful to this novelist…thanks so much.

    Jet Eliot

    July 20, 2013 at 10:19 am

  2. Earlier today I was thinking about writing a post about this – how t build a synopsis and the use of Index Cards. Now I don’t have to, you made it pretty much perfect. Thanks for the read.

    Alaska Frank

    July 20, 2013 at 12:28 pm

  3. Also, the outline should be non-Euclidean in its strucure and strike madness in the minds of all who behold it.

    Alex Varanese

    July 20, 2013 at 12:41 pm

  4. @Jet Eliot and Alaska: You’re welcome!

    @Alex: You’ve just described most of my outlines…


    July 20, 2013 at 2:53 pm

  5. I’ve always had trouble with the details he outlines in step four. I’ve also found this playlist of Lovecraft audio books. I imagine reading aloud is really the only way to know if you’ve been successful in smoothing our MS out.


    July 20, 2013 at 6:55 pm

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