Formula Writing – Lester Dent

“Criminals who went against Doc seldom wound up in prison. They either learned a lesson that made them law-abiding men the rest of their lives–or they became dead criminals. Doc never did the job halfway.”
Lester Dent


Formula Writing – Lester Dent

I have always been excited to learn about how formula can work in story-telling. I’ve written here at the Profound Bartender on the Hero Saga, the formula for Romantic Comedy and the Detective story.


Years ago I read a science fiction story that tackled the question of why super humans rose up in society during the early 1900s. Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan and Doc Savage were three that I remember now. The answer in the book was a secret ancient cult. It was a fun read.

Having been a long-time fan of Tarzan and Sherlock, I had to learn more about Doc Savage.

He was a pulp-fiction character authored by Lester Dent. Doc Savage was raised to be a hero by a group of men, he was super strong, super smart, super noble. He was before Superman and had a Fortress of Solitude in the Artic. If you have read and enjoyed the Superman comics, know that the inspiration was from Doc Savage.

These books were page-turning action stories and Lester Dent wrote a lot. They were very successful; they made him rich. He wrote 159 novels in 16 years. He could spin these pulp fiction stories very quickly.

The reason he could be so successful and prolific is that he had a formula.

From Mystery Scene Magazine:
“In a famous how-to article published in the 1936 edition of Writers Digest Yearbook, Dent championed the use of formula, declaring: “Most editors who say they don’t want formula don’t know what they’re talking about.” He broke down the requirements for plotting a saleable story, point by point, so successfully that he later claimed more than 750 fledgling writers had contacted him to say they had broken into publication by following his format.”

And, here it is, The Lester Dent Formula.

Give the pulp fiction formula a read, it is smart and funny.

We’d not expect anything less.

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