11 Tips H.P. Lovecraft Had for Novice Writers

H.P. Lovecraft, science fiction writer and creator of Cthulhu and the Necronomicon, often contributed to The United Amateur, the "Official Organ of the United Amateur Press Association." In a January 1920 article titled “Literary Composition,” Lovecraft laid out guidelines for beginning writers to keep in mind. Here are 11 of them.

1. Know Your Grammar.

“It is necessary … to caution the beginner to keep a reliable grammar and dictionary always beside him, that he may avoid in his compositions the frequent errors which imperceptibly corrupt even the purest ordinary speech,” Lovecraft writes. “The human memory is not to be trusted too far, and most minds harbor a considerable number of slight linguistic faults and inelegancies picked up from random discourse or from the pages of newspapers, magazines, and popular modern books.”

Lovecraft then lists 20 mistakes that young writers often make and should be avoided, since “almost no excuse exists for their persistent occurrence, [and] the sources of correction are so numerous and so available.” Here are a few:

(2) Barbarous compound nouns, as viewpoint or upkeep.
(5) Erroneous case of pronouns, as whom for who, and vice versa, or phrases like “between you and I,” or “Let we who are loyal, act promptly.”
(8) Use of nouns for verbs, as “he motored to Boston,” or “he voiced a protest.”
(18) Use of false or unauthorized words, as burglarize or supremest.
(19) Errors of taste, including vulgarisms, pompousness, repetition, vagueness, ambiguousness, colloquialism, bathos, bombast, pleonasm, tautology, harshness, mixed metaphor, and every sort of rhetorical awkwardness.

Also, don’t confuse “its” with “it’s.” Lovecraft hated that.

2. Read This …

Mastering technical rules is not enough for the beginning writer. He must also read as much as he can. “All attempts at gaining literary polish must begin with judicious reading, and the learner must never cease to hold this phase uppermost,” Lovecraft writes. “A page of Addison or Irving will teach more of style than a whole manual of rules, whilst a story of Poe’s will impress upon the mind a more vivid notion of powerful and correct description and narration than will ten dry chapters of a bulky textbook.”

3. … Not That.

“Popular magazines inculcate a careless and deplorable style which is hard to unlearn, and which impedes the acquisition of a purer style,” Lovecraft says. “If such things must be read, let them be skimmed over as lightly as possible.” (We can’t help but disagree with you on this point, H.P.)

4. Look to the Bible for Help.

Analyzing the King James Bible, as Dunsany and Boyd did, is “an excellent habit to cultivate,” Lovecraft says. “For simple yet rich and forceful English, this masterly production is hard to equal; and even though its Saxon vocabulary and poetic rhythm be unsuited to general composition, it is an invaluable model for writers on quaint or imaginative themes.”

5. Grow Your Vocabulary …

“The average student is gravely impeded by the narrow range of words from which he must choose, and he soon discovers that in long compositions he cannot avoid monotony,” Lovecraft says. The way around this, then, is to note how good authors express themselves and to be aware of that while writing. Also, look things up. “Never should an unfamiliar word be passed over without elucidation; for with a little conscientious research we may each day add to our conquests in the realm of philology, and become more and more ready for graceful independent expression.”

6. … But Be Careful How You Use it!

“[I]n enlarging our vocabulary, we must beware lest we misuse our new possessions,” Lovecraft writes. “We must remember that there are fine distinctions betwixt apparently similar words, and that language must ever be selected with intelligent care.” (This seems like advice E.L. James could have used.)

7. Be Descriptive …

“Description, in order to be effective, calls upon two mental qualities; observation and discrimination,” Lovecraft says. “One cannot be too careful in the selection of adjectives for descriptions. Words or compounds which describe precisely, and which convey exactly the right suggestions to the mind of the reader, are essential.”

Lovecraft goes into detail about how to describe nature (“how beheld—at dawn, noon … Sounds—of water; forest; leaves…”), objects (“history and traditional associations”), and animals (“species and size … parts”), with eight to 10 suggested descriptors for each.

Descriptions of people, he says, “can be infinitely varied … Suggestion is very powerful in this field, especially when mental qualities are to be delineated. Treatment should vary with the author’s object.” Fodder for a writer are a person’s appearance, stature, complexion, and most conspicuous feature; expression; grace or ugliness; attire; habits; and character, among other things.

8. … But Not Too Descriptive.

Again, this section on description comes with a caveat: “The reader must remember that they are only suggestions, and not for literal use. The extent of any description is to be determined by its place in the composition; by taste and fitness. … [I]n fiction, description must not be carried to excess. A plethora of it leads to dullness, so that it must ever be balanced by a brisk flow of narration.”

9. On Narration.

For narration to be successful, "it demands an intelligent exercise of taste and discrimination; salient points must be selected, and the order of time and of circumstances must be well maintained," Lovecraft says. "It is deemed wisest in most cases to give narratives a climactic form; leading from lesser to greater events, and culminating in that chief incident upon which the story is primarily founded, or which makes the other parts important through its own importance.”

10. On Plot.

“Plots may be simple or complex; but suspense, and climactic progress from one incident to another, are essential,” Lovecraft writes. “Every incident in a fictional work should have some bearing on the climax or denouement, and any denouement which is not the inevitable result of the preceding incidents is awkward and unliterary.” Better than taking a formal course in fiction writing, according to Lovecraft, is reading Poe—“ an absolute master of the mechanics of his craft”—and Ambrose Bierce, who “can attain the most stirring denouements from a few simple happenings; denouements which develop purely from these preceding circumstances.”

Furthermore, though odd events happen in the course of real life, they are out of place in a fictional story. “In fictional narration, verisimilitude is absolutely essential,” he says. “A story must be consistent and must contain no event glaringly removed from the usual order of things, unless that event is the main incident, and is approached with the most careful preparation.”

The novice writer can avoid a “weak, trickling conclusion” by writing “the last paragraph of his story first, once a synopsis of the plot has been carefully prepared—as it always should be,” Lovecraft says.

Avoid following a grand thought with a tame one; this is anticlimax, which “exposes the writer to much ridicule.”

11. Experiment With Form.

Few writers are equally proficient in all forms of literature, but for the novice writer, experimentation is key. “It is well, in the interests of breadth and discipline, for the beginner to exercise himself to some degree in every form of literary art,” Lovecraft says. “He may thus discover that which best fits his mind, and develop hitherto unsuspected potentialities.”

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Recall Alert: Swiss Rolls And Bread Sold at Walmart and Food Lion Linked to Salmonella
Evan-Amos, Wikimedia Commons // CC 1.0

New items have been added to the list of foods being recalled due to possible salmonella contamination. According to Fox Carolina, snack cakes and bread products produced by Flowers Foods, Inc. have been pulled from stores in Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

The baked goods company, based in Georgia, has reason to believe the whey powder it buys from a third-party supplier is tainted with salmonella. The ingredient is added to its Swiss rolls, which are sold under various brands, as well as its Captain John Derst’s Old Fashioned Bread. Popular chains that normally sell Flowers Foods products include Walmart and Food Lion.

The U.S. is in the middle of a salmonella outbreak. In June, Kellogg's recalled Honey Smacks due to contamination and the CDC is still urging consumers to avoid the brand. The cereal has sickened dozens of people since early March. So far, there have been no reported illnesses connected to the potential Flower Foods contamination.

You can find the full list of recalled items below. If you have one of these products in your kitchen, throw it out immediately or return it to the store where you bought it to be reimbursed.

  • Mrs. Freshley's Swiss Rolls
  • Mrs. Freshley's Swiss Rolls
  • Food Lion Swiss Rolls
  • Baker's Treat Swiss Rolls
  • Market Square Swiss Rolls
  • Great Value Swiss Rolls
  • Captain John Derst's Old Fashioned Bread

[h/t Fox Carolina]

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Marvel Entertainment
10 Facts About Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian
Marvel Entertainment
Marvel Entertainment

Nearly every sword-wielding fantasy hero from the 20th century owes a tip of their horned helmet to Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian. Set in the fictional Hyborian Age, after the destruction of Atlantis but before our general recorded history, Conan's stories have depicted him as everything from a cunning thief to a noble king and all types of scoundrel in between. But beneath that blood-soaked sword and shield is a character that struck a nerve with generations of fantasy fans, spawning adaptations in comics, video games, movies, TV shows, and cartoons in the eight decades since he first appeared in the December 1932 issue of Weird Tales. So thank Crom, because here are 10 facts about Conan the Barbarian.

1. THE FIRST OFFICIAL CONAN STORY WAS A KULL REWRITE.

Conan wasn’t the only barbarian on Robert E. Howard’s resume. In 1929, the writer created Kull the Conqueror, a more “introspective” brand of savage that gained enough interest to eventually find his way onto the big screen in 1997. The two characters share more than just a common creator and a general disdain for shirts, though: the first Conan story to get published, “The Phoenix on the Sword,” was actually a rewrite of an earlier rejected Kull tale titled “By This Axe I Rule!” For this new take on the plot, Howard introduced supernatural elements and more action. The end result was more suited to what Weird Tales wanted, and it became the foundation for future Conan tales.

2. BUT A “PROTO-CONAN” STORY PRECEDED IT.

A few months before Conan made his debut in Weird Tales, Howard wrote a story called "People of the Dark" for Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror about a man named John O’Brien who seemed to relive his past life as a brutish, black-haired warrior named … Conan of the reavers. Reave is a word from Old English meaning to raid or plunder, which is obviously in the same ballpark as barbarian. And in the story, there is also a reference to Crom, the fictional god of the Hyborian age that later became a staple of the Conan mythology. This isn't the barbarian as we know him, and it's certainly not an official Conan tale, but the early ideas were there.

3. ROBERT E. HOWARD NEVER INTENDED TO WRITE THESE STORIES IN ORDER.

Howard was meticulous in his world-building for Conan, which was highlighted by his 8600-word history on the Hyborian Age the character lived in. But the one area the creator had no interest in was linearity. Conan’s first story depicted him already as a king; subsequent stories, though, would shift back and forth, chronicling his early days as both a thief and a youthful adventurer.

There’s good reason for that, as Howard himself once explained: “In writing these yarns I've always felt less as creating them than as if I were simply chronicling his adventures as he told them to me. That's why they skip about so much, without following a regular order. The average adventurer, telling tales of a wild life at random, seldom follows any ordered plan, but narrates episodes widely separated by space and years, as they occur to him.”

4. THERE ARE NUMEROUS CONNECTIONS TO THE H.P. LOVECRAFT MYTHOS.

For fans of the pulp magazines of the early 20th century, one of the only names bigger than Robert E. Howard was H.P. Lovecraft. The two weren’t competitors, though—rather, they were close friends and correspondents. They’d often mail each other drafts of their stories, discuss the themes of their work, and generally talk shop. And as Lovecraft’s own mythology was growing, it seems like their work began to bleed together.

In “The Phoenix on the Sword,” Howard made reference to “vast shadowy outlines of the Nameless Old Ones,” which could be seen as a reference to the ancient, godlike “Old Ones” from the Lovecraft mythos. In the book The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, editor Patrice Louinet even wrote that Howard’s earlier draft for the story name-dropped Lovecraft’s actual Old Ones, most notably Cthulhu.

In Lovecraft’s “The Shadow of Time,” he describes a character named Crom-Ya as a “Cimmerian chieftain,” which is a reference to Conan's homeland and god. These examples just scratch the surface of names, places, and concepts that the duo’s work share. Whether you want to read it all as a fun homage or an early attempt at a shared universe is up to you.

5. SEVERAL OF HOWARD’S STORIES WERE REWRITTEN AS CONAN STORIES POSTHUMOUSLY.

Howard was only 30 when he died, so there aren’t as many completed Conan stories out in the world as you’d imagine—and there are even less that were finished and officially printed. Despite that, the character’s popularity has only grown since the 1930s, and publishers looked for a way to print more of Howard’s Conan decades after his death. Over the years, writers and editors have gone back into Howard’s manuscripts for unfinished tales to doctor up and rewrite for publication, like "The Snout in the Dark," which was a fragment that was reworked by writers Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp. There were also times when Howard’s non-Conan drafts were repurposed as Conan stories by publishers, including all of the stories in 1955's Tales of Conan collection from Gnome Press.

6. FRANK FRAZETTA’S CONAN PAINTINGS REGULARLY SELL FOR SEVEN FIGURES.

Chances are, the image of Conan you have in your head right now owes a lot to artist Frank Frazetta: His version of the famous barbarian—complete with rippling muscles, pulsating veins, and copious amounts of sword swinging—would come to define the character for generations. But the look that people most associate with Conan didn’t come about until the character’s stories were reprinted decades after Robert E. Howard’s death.

“In 1966, Lancer Books published new paperbacks of Robert E. Howard's Conan series and hired my grandfather to do the cover art,” Sara Frazetta, Frazetta's granddaughter owner and operator of Frazetta Girls, tells Mental Floss. You could argue that Frazetta’s powerful covers were what drew most people to Conan during the '60s and '70s, and in recent years the collector’s market seems to validate that opinion. In 2012, the original painting for his Lancer version of Conan the Conqueror sold at auction for $1,000,000. Later, his Conan the Destroyer went for $1.5 million.

Still, despite all of Frazetta’s accomplishments, his granddaughter said there was one thing he always wanted: “His only regret was that he wished Robert E. Howard was alive so he could have seen what he did with his character.”

7. CONAN’S FIRST MARVEL COMIC WAS ALMOST CANCELED AFTER SEVEN ISSUES.

The cover to Marvel's Conan the Barbarian #21
Marvel Entertainment

Conan’s origins as a pulp magazine hero made him a natural fit for the medium’s logical evolution: the comic book. And in 1970, the character got his first high-profile comic launch when Marvel’s Conan The Barbarian hit shelves, courtesy of writer Roy Thomas and artist Barry Windsor-Smith.

Though now it’s hailed as one of the company’s highlights from the ‘70s, the book was nearly canceled after a mere seven issues. The problem is that while the debut issue sold well, each of the next six dropped in sales, leading Marvel’s then editor-in-chief, Stan Lee, to pull the book from production after the seventh issue hit stands.

Thomas pled his case, and Lee agreed to give Conan one last shot. But this time instead of the book coming out every month, it would be every two months. The plan worked, and soon sales were again on the rise and the book would stay in publication until 1993, again as a monthly. This success gave way to the Savage Sword of Conan, an oversized black-and-white spinoff magazine from Marvel that was aimed at adult audiences. It, too, was met with immense success, lasting from 1974 to 1995.

8. OLIVER STONE WROTE A FOUR-HOUR, POST-APOCALYPTIC CONAN MOVIE.

John Milius’s 1982 Conan movie is a classic of the sword and sorcery genre, but its original script from Oliver Stone didn’t resemble the final product at all. In fact, it barely resembled anything related to Conan. Stone’s Conan would have been set on a post-apocalyptic Earth, where the barbarian would do battle against a host of mutant pigs, insects, and hyenas. Not only that, but it would have also been just one part of a 12-film saga that would be modeled on the release schedule of the James Bond series.

The original producers were set to move ahead with Stone’s script with Stone co-directing alongside an up-and-coming special effects expert named Ridley Scott, but they were turned down by all of their prospects. With no co-director and a movie that would likely be too ambitious to ever actually get finished, they sold the rights to producer Dino De Laurentiis, who helped bring in Milius.

9. BARACK OBAMA IS A FAN (AND WAS TURNED INTO A BARBARIAN HIMSELF).

When President Barack Obama sent out a mass email in 2015 to the members of Organizing for Action, he was looking to get people to offer up stories about how they got involved within their community—their origin stories, if you will. In this mass email, the former Commander-in-Chief detailed his own origin, with a shout out to a certain barbarian:

“I grew up loving comic books. Back in the day, I was pretty into Conan the Barbarian and Spiderman.

Anyone who reads comics can tell you, every main character has an origin story—the fateful and usually unexpected sequence of events that made them who they are.”

This bit of trivia was first made public in 2008 in a Daily Telegraph article on 50 facts about the president. That led to Devil’s Due Publishing immortalizing the POTUS in the 2009 comic series Barack the Barbarian, which had him decked out in his signature loincloth doing battle against everyone from Sarah Palin to Dick Cheney.

10. J.R.R. TOLKIEN WAS ALSO A CONAN DEVOTEE.

The father of 20th century fantasy may always be J.R.R. Tolkien, but Howard is a close second in many fans' eyes. Though Tolkien’s work has found its way into more scholarly literary circles, Howard’s can sometimes get categorized as low-brow. Quality recognizes quality, however, and during a conversation with Tolkien, writer L. Sprague de Camp—who himself edited and touched-up numerous Conan stories—said The Lord of the Rings author admitted that he “rather liked” Howard’s Conan stories during a conversation with him. He didn’t expand upon it, nor was de Camp sure which Conan tale he actually read (though it was likely “Shadows in the Moonlight”), but the seal of approval from Tolkien himself goes a long way toward validation.

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