Freytag’s Technique of the Drama (and AutoBlurb, live)

This is such a great book I’ll squeeze it in here, sideways.

Gustav Freytag’s Technique of the Drama is a long, older book that’s available online. A very useful, insightful, and overlooked book.

Freytag says that the dramatic is not emotion and not action, but it is emotion conjoined with action; it is action that is undertaken for emotional reasons. (Shades of Foster-Harris, but with a different palette.) He says drama is composed of play and counter-play: the play is what the hero does and the counter-play is what is done that has an effect on his psyche. He argues that the tragic should be an essentially ethical force which the hero must fulfill (again the resonance with F-H).

He breaks drama into five parts, with three crises joining them. The five parts are the introduction, the rise, the climax, the fall, and the catastrophe. (He only deals in the tragic; no happy endings here.) The three crises are the exciting moment (or exciting force), the tragic moment (or force), and the moment (or force) of last suspense.

He goes through Romeo and Juliette to show how to use minor characters like chess pieces to push around the major characters and make things happen. Indeed, he steps through the process of making a germ of an idea into an entire work — not formulaically, but nevertheless with an eye to the practical and useful.

There’s a slightly typoed pdf of his book here. You can get image-only scans online quite easily.

(That link broke somehow.  It’s fixed now.  I guess I can’t link directly to the pdf.  But the pdf is available for free download on the newly-linked page.)

Meanwhile, AutoBlurb is live and online! You can get completely fresh, random plots generated by clicking these links: Here for classic Polti plots, or here for Polti plots souped up with sci-fi contexts taken from S. John Ross’s Big List of RPG Plots.

Note:  AutoBlurb online does all kinds of weird things with punctuation.  I don’t know why; I don’t have ready access to the online version to streamline the generator file.  These formatting troubles don’t show up if you use the desktop program.

Published in: on November 17, 2009 at 8:34 am  Comments (1)  
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Take the Foster-Harris Survey!

Although I haven’t written anything on Foster-Harris in a while, I see that I’m still getting traffic on his writing system.  If you’re interested in his emotion-based formula for building stories, you can take the survey here.

If you’d like to let others know of this survey, you’ll find the tinyurled link most convenient — it won’t break under cut+paste:

Published in: on November 5, 2009 at 8:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Emotion + Action Story Formula

This formula combines the Foster-Harris emotional formula with the Lester Dent action formula.  It aims at a story 6,000 words long.  If you’re just tuning in and don’t know about these guys, check out the tags on this blog for the background.

The goal here is to create a story with action and emotional conflict, where the emotional conflict motivates the action, and the action is emotionally significant.


1.) Use the F-H system to design an emotional conflict of interest to you.  We’re using the words “emotion” pretty loosely here; the conflict can be between any two values that get a rise out of people.  For example, the conflict between power and identity.

In general, you want these emotions to be similar to each other, or lay claim to similar domains of activity.  So Love v. Hate is not the way to go.  Love v. Lust is better.  Also popular, according to Foster-Harris, are Pride v. Honor (big with men) and Status v. Love (big with women). (more…)

Published in: on June 26, 2009 at 1:49 pm  Comments (3)  
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Q & A on Foster-Harris

Must emotions be about the future?

On the secret, hidden part of my blog, where I’ve posted my first story written to pulp formula, Wayne commented:

I’ve read Foster-Harris’ books and he’s excellent at explaining subjective POV.

His other notions are intriguing and I wish he had explained them more and gave more examples.

F-H says every fiction sentence should have an emotion looking forward and a fact looking back. Like “Angrily, he swirled.” Anger is an emotion but how is it looking forward? Anger is frustration at being stopped. How is swirling a fact looking back.

Well, there are different kinds of anger.  If the anger were about being stopped, then it would be “about the future” in the sense that the angry person didn’t want to be stuck on whatever had stuck them, but was already mentally trying to put themselves into the future situation, and stupid reality wasn’t keeping pace with them.

But your criticism is a very good one.  Emotions aren’t always about the future.  Foster-Harris is wrong on that point.

Some emotions are always about the future.  Fear, for example, doesn’t make sense if it’s not oriented toward the future.  You could image a situation where someone was fearful of something that technically had already happened — fearful of getting a bad grade on yesterday’s test.  They might know it had already been graded, but until it happens to them, until they get the grade, it’s in their future.

Other emotions are always about the past.  Regret, for example. (more…)

Published in: on June 25, 2009 at 6:51 pm  Comments (1)  
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Doc Savage online e-text

(I get the impression from search terms that people are looking for examples of pulp fiction.  This is a longer work, so it doesn’t strictly adhere to Lester Dent’s formula; on the other hand, you can see how the author does things like switching viewpoint, and so on.)



A Doc Savage Adventure by Kenneth Robeson


Chapter One:  The Kidnappers

THE car was long, low and built for speed. Its driver was not.

He was about as wide as he was tall—if he had been standing up—and he took up most of the front seat. The dapper, well-dressed man seated beside him was practically jammed against the right-hand door.

The car came out of a side street, swung left into Fifth Avenue, and almost took the fenders off a car parked near the corner.

Then a broad grin hit the face of the homely-looking driver. He was squinting ahead, down the wide avenue.

“Wow!” he said. “Fifth Avenue deserted. Watch this!” (more…)

Published in: on June 23, 2009 at 1:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Pulp Report – First Story Progress

I’ve finished the first part of this four-part short story.  The goal is to write a short story according to the F-H system, and in combination with the Doc Savage formula. (more…)

Published in: on June 20, 2009 at 11:17 am  Comments (1)  
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Pulp Exercise – Rewrite for Emotion

The goal here is to rewrite the following passage to conform to the F-H “wheel of now” cycle:  lead with future-oriented emotion, follow with intellectual, factual information.

The rule is:

There must be movement in two directions, a fact (looking and rolling backward) and a feeling (looking and rolling forward) in virtually every sentence of your story (Formulas, 50).

The goal here is not to create a good piece of writing, but an emotionally powerful piece of writing – even inappropriately powerful for the content. (more…)

Published in: on June 18, 2009 at 10:13 pm  Comments (2)  
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Pulp Report

I’m following up my recent series on pulp fiction by writing a pulp short-story.  The idea is to let my writing standard go and just pound out a story according to formula — and this is really tough!

The ideas I’m coming up with for the different pieces — the F-H emotion + emotion = ?, the plot segmentation, the character tags — they all fall within the rough parameters of the systems I’ve outlined, but putting it all together into a strongly emotive narrative is not coming easily.  I’ve been writing 500 words a day — page and a half.

I write faster without the formula.

But, I will persever.  It’s this story or me.  Especially no excuse because I’m not holding myself to any standard whatever.

I’m kind-of taking the opportunity to go systematically through the 20 plots in Tobias’s 20 Master Plots and How to Build Them, but the reality is that the first one, the Quest, has been so un-questlike from the beginning I don’t think it’ll be recognizable as such.

Ah, well.  I’ll post a quick F-H-inspired exercise and get back to work.

Published in: on June 18, 2009 at 9:45 pm  Comments (1)  
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The “Doc Savage” Pulp Story Formula – by Lester Dent

This is a formula, a master plot, for any 6000 word pulp story. It has worked on adventure, detective, western and war-air. It tells exactly where to put everything. It shows definitely just what must happen in each successive thousand words.

No yarn of mine written to the formula has yet failed to sell.

The business of building stories seems not much different from the business of building anything else.

Here’s how it starts:


One of these DIFFERENT things would be nice, two better, three swell. It may help if they are fully in mind before tackling the rest. (more…)

Published in: on June 16, 2009 at 7:32 am  Comments (5)  
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Deeper IF Characters with the F-H System

We’ve considered the F-H system of characterization, with one blog post on theory and strategies, and one on techniques and implementation.  The goal now will be to re-work these techniques for IF, making them suitable for the existing technology, and not reliant on tricky AI.  I’m all for tricky AI, but I can’t do it myself.

The broader purpose in doing this is to see how we can make NPCs that live up to at least the minimal standards set by pulp literature.  Since we know that much of pulp is pretty bad, and yet many people do consume it and, like fast-food, find it satisfying, we can infer there’s something in the pulp formula which over-rides the frequent overall badness of the writing.  By including this element in our games, along with good writing and game design, we can enrich our player’s game experience.

The F-H principles of characterization are:  create characters through emotional conflict; maximize that conflict by making the hero 49% evil, and the villian 49% good; portray characters with conflicting qualities, such as strength and weakness, or wisdom and folly; and write characters with physical and behavioral tags for those qualities, as a way of keeping on-message.  The overall idea is to foster inner emotional conflict about future events in the narrative.  Now let’s apply this to IF. (more…)