Crack Angel

Crack Angel was written for the bsfa Celebration book to commemorate fifty years of British science fiction, and now here it is recorded by the mavens at Dark Fiction Magazine and read brilliantly by David Moore. I based on Lester Dent's classic template for writing pulp fiction that sells, right down to using Eloise the monkey (read the template below) and referencing Lester and his Doc Savage alter ego.

The kid in the flat below is on the drums. Windows rattle, as he hammers his way from snare to hi-hat, ending in a crescendo of pedal work that shakes my windows. He’s had three girlfriends in five months; two of them fashion models.
     The new one sings with a band.
     I want to ask what he’s doing right that I’m doing wrong, but I know the answer, it’s been years since I had cheekbones like his.
     We’re off Wardour Street. Opposite Doc Savage’s Walk In Medical Clinic and next to Lester’s Comic Shop. William Hogarth drank in our local, Jeffrey Barnard used to piss in the doorway, and Karl Marx bought his cigars in a shop round the corner.
     Using Engels’ money, obviously.
click on *this* to get the mp3 download and hear the rest of the story

Now for the Template:



1—FIRST LINE, or as near thereto as possible, introduce the hero and swat him with a fistful of trouble. Hint at a mystery, a menace or a problem to be solved—something the hero has to cope with.

2—The hero pitches in to cope with his fistful of trouble. (He tries to fathom the mystery, defeat the menace, or solve the problem.)

3—Introduce ALL the other characters as soon as possible. Bring them on in Action.

4—Hero’s endeavors land him in an actual physical conflict near the end of first 1500 words.

5—Near end of first 1500 words, there is a complete surprise twist in the plot development.

SO FAR: Does it have SUSPENSE?

Is there a MENACE to the hero?

Does everything happen logically?

At this point, it might help to recall that action should do something besides advance the hero over the scenery. Suppose hero has learned the dastards of villains have seized somebody named Eloise, who can explain secret of what is behind all these sinister events. The hero corners villains, they fight, and villains get away. Not so hot.

Hero should accomplish something with his tearing around, if only to rescue Eloise, and—surprise! Eloise is a ring-tailed monkey. The hero counts the rings on Eloise’s tail, if nothing better comes to mind. They’re not real. The rings are painted there. Why?


1—Shovel more grief onto the hero.

2—Hero, being heroic, struggles, and his struggles lead up to:

3—Another physical conflict.

4—A surprising plot twist to end the 1500 words.

NOW: Does second part have SUSPENSE?

Does the MENACE grow like a black cloud?

Is the hero getting it in the neck plenty?



1—Shovel the grief onto the hero, who continues to fight back, most heroically.

2—Hero makes some headway, and corners the villains or somebody in:

3—A physical conflict.

4—A surprising plot twist, in which the hero preferably gets it in the neck bad, to end the 1500 words.

DOES: It still have suspense?

The MENACE get blacker?

The hero find himself in a hell of a fix?

It all happen logically?

If so, fine. These outlines or master formulas are only something to make you certain of inserting some physical conflict, and some genuine plot twists, with a little suspense and menace thrown in. Without them, there is no pulp story.

These physical conflicts in each part might be DIFFERENT, too. If one fight is with fists, that can take care of the pugilism until the next yarn. Same for poison gas and swords. There may, naturally, be exceptions. A hero with a peculiar punch, or a trick draw, might use it more than once.

The idea is to avoid monotony.

When writing, it helps to get at least one minor surprise to a printed page.

It’s reasonable to expect these minor surprises to sort of inveigle the reader into keeping on. They need not be such profound efforts. One method of accomplishing one now and then is to be gently misleading. Hero is examining the murder room. The door behind him begins slowly to open. He does not see it. He conducts his examination blissfully. Door eases open wider and wider, until—surprise! The glass pane falls out of the big window across the room. It must have fallen slowly, and air blowing into the room caused the door to open. Then what the heck made the pane fall so slowly? More mystery.

Suspense must be the sugar which draws the flies. And possibly it’s coupled up with the MENACE, a slightly intangible thing at first glance. Menace shouldn’t be hard to recognize in a story. It’s that feel of terrible things to happen to the hero and every other decent person. It might be built up by repeated references, a word dropped now and then, and by making the villain particularly bad.

Villians don’t necessarily have to be inhuman, though.

Here’s the tail end of the master plot. It finishes up the 6000-word short pulp.


1—Shovel the difficulties more thickly upon the hero.

2—Get the hero almost buried in his troubles. (Figuratively, the villain has him prisoner and has him framed for a murder rap; the girl is presumably dead, everything is lost, and the DIFFERENT murder method is about to dispose of the suffering protagonist).

3—The hero extricates himself, using HIS OWN skill, training or brawn.

4—The mysteries remaining—one big one held over to this point will help grip interest—are cleared up in course of final conflict as hero takes the situation in hand.

5—Final twist, a big surprise. (This one can be the villain turning out to be the unexpected person, having the “treasure” a dud, etc.)

6—The snapper, the punch line, to end it.

HAS: The SUSPENSE held to the last line?

The MENACE held out to the last?

Everything been explained?

It all been logical?

Is the punch line enough to leave the reader with that warm feeling?

Did God kill the villain? Or the hero?

There it is. Take it, do what you can with it, while I go on deck, put on the diving hood, and have another try at that galleon, with the wife up the mast to keep an eye on the reefs for sharks and barracuda.

You can find Lester Dent's full article here

© joncg