Howard Phillips Lovecraft is now regarded as one of the pre-eminent figures of twentieth century horror literature. Born in
Here are five writing lessons I’ve learned from H.P. Lovecraft:
1. Be polite to editors.
In March, 1923,
“If the tale cannot be printed as it is written, down to the very last semicolon and comma, it must gracefully accept rejection. Excision by editors is probably the one reason why no living American author has any real prose style…”
To his credit, Baird didn’t tell Lovecraft to take a flying leap. Despite his bizarre sense of salesmanship, Lovecraft sold five stories to “Weird Tales” with that submission.
Kids, don’t try this at home…
2. Sometimes tone and mood are the most important elements of a story.
I defy anyone to read “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” my favorite Lovecraft tale, and not be creeped out by it. The prose is clunky, the characters stereotypical, the premise queasily racist. But Lovecraft puts you right in the middle of that haunted, decaying seaport and makes you believe that hideously devolved fish-men are going to rise up from the depths if you don’t watch out.
Although frequently overwritten and often repetitive, Lovecraft’s stories are unique in their ability to convey a sense of cosmic horror, that the universe is inhabited by beings whose enormity could crush the human mind. And that’s a good thing.
3. You really ought to learn how to write realistic dialogue.
Lovecraft’s attempts at dialogue are sometimes laughable. It’s almost certain that no one has ever spoken like Zadok Allen, “the half-crazed liquorish nonagenarian” who tells tales of old Innsmouth. A tiny sample:
“Them things liked human sacrifices. Had had ‘em ages afore, but lost track o’ the upper world arter a time. What they done to the victims it ain’t fer me to say, an’ I guess Obed wan’t none too sharp abaout askin.”
4. A solid social network is crucial.
Although reclusive by nature, Lovecraft maintained elaborate correspondences with mentors and protégés alike, including Robert E. “Conan the Barbarian” Howard, Robert “Psycho” Bloch and Fritz “Fafhrd and Gray Mouser” Leiber. During his career, Lovecraft wrote more than 100,000 letters. Think of what he might have accomplished with Twitter.
5. You never know how you’ll be viewed by posterity.
It’s likely that Lovecraft held no hope at the time of his death that his work would be remembered by a general readership. But his friends August Derleth and Donald Wandrei formed Arkham House and published “The Outsider and Others” in hardcover in 1939. Other editions followed, and eventually Lovecraft’s work was reprinted in paperback and circulated around the globe. Many of the modern masters of horror, from Stephen King and Peter Straub to Clive Barker and Ramsey Campbell, have paid homage to him, and the Cthulhu Mythos continues to inspire novels, comics, movies and plush figures.