Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Writing and Michael Moorcock: What I've learned...

Michael Moorcock (Photo by
White Wolf Publishing)
In the last couple of days I've spent considerable time on the Georgia Tech campus in Atlanta, Georgia.

To my delight, I discovered that their library has the most thorough collection of Michael Moorcock's books that I've ever seen in a public library. And these aren't the omnibuses that got published in the 1990s (I own and have read all 15); these are the smaller paperbacks. It's then I realized something--many of his stories were not meant to read all together. They were supposed to be episodic, linked with an overall story, but each could stand alone. Each book started with summary of what had happened before.

I've been a fan of Moorcock for over 20 years and yet I've learned something new.

No doubt Moorcock has influenced me as a writer and gamer. (Just take a look at this blog, for example. No happy little hobbits here, are there?)

At early age I knew I wanted to be a writer. During my teens I knew I wanted to write fantasy fiction. There is much to be learned by reading and studying works by a well-known author. So I turned to Moorcock. Here are the top five things I've learned from him:

1. Don't read and write only in one genre. Moorcock advised aspiring fantasy and science fiction writers to read broady, almost anything but science fiction and fantasy.

I read fantasy and science fiction, but only in moderate doses. There's so much to learned from other genres. Even more telling, my Master of Arts is in History, not English or Creative Writing. I feel that studying history gives a better grounding for creative writing.

If you stick to one genre, you eventually start writing in a vacuum. Even Stephen King, in On Writing, said that many fantasy authors are still trying to bring Bilbo back from the Grey Havens.

2. Be prolific. My goal is to someday write 15,000 words a day, for several days straight. Right now I average around 2,000 (not counting this blog). Part of Moorcock's success is that he wrote a lot. Some might argue that he might just be throwing stuff at the wall and hope it sticks. Sure, that could be. I thought some of the stories in those omnibuses were terrible, like Kane of Old Mars. And yet, there were many I enjoyed. You won't please all of your fans all of the time, so keep writing. Even more so, nobody likes a potential one-hit wonder. If they like the story they want more from the author. Give it to them by being prolific. If they don't like one book, well, here's another, and another.

3. Establish an archetype. Moorcock created Elric in direct contrast to Conan and the Hobbits. It worked, more or less. Yet unfortunately Elric isn't has wholesome as the hobbits nor as simplistic as Conan. Still, Elric has endured over the years. Though someday I hope to see Elric to become popular enough on the big screen so I can seem him shout "Arioch! Arioch! Blood and souls my lord Arioch!"

Establishing an archetype is hard. You do have know what has come before. And it also involves getting out of the shadow of previous archetypes (that's why you read outside of genres). It's best not to fall into it in the first place-- how many young adult Harry Potter knock-offs are there? Books about young women falling involve with monsters? And erotic-novels similar to Fifty Shades of Grey?

4. Master a formula, and then experiment. Critics of Moorcock have accused of Moorcock for being a hack for essentially sticking to master plot formulas. Yet Moorcock has broadened out from this with books like Mother London. Many stories cannot be told with just a simple plot formula. All writers have to begin somewhere, but must move on to grow and develop.

5. Plan before you write. This ties into #4. Many authors don't write notes about their novels before they write, they let their story grow organically. Stephen King is one of those writers, and this seems to work him. But there are times in his books when I swear he's just throwing out neat ideas and then has no idea how to resolve them without, say, a big explosion (The Stand, and Under the Dome).

Part of Moorcock's master plot formula and a high daily word count requires planning. Other authors advocate the same, have at a least a rough outline before you write. Ken Follet has said he spends on average six months to a year outlining a book.

While I don't advocate spending a year outlining a book, I know that preparation has helped me.

I'd been flailing with finishing the first draft of Anne Greyhawk and the Valkyrie's Vow since last August. I had gotten to a certain point and then just didn't know where to take the story. So I started outlining, planning where certain scene should go. I even wrote the ending before finishing the last half of the story. I finished the draft on December 11, 2012.

Maybe the ending will change with editing. Who knows. But what I should have done was start with end in mind.

Even Moorcock began the Elric Saga near its end.


If you've haven't been to Georgia Tech's campus, I suggest that you visit. It is a beautiful campus even though it is so close to the downtown area. The university bookstore doubles as a Barnes & Noble with a Starbucks. It, too, has collection of sci-fi and fantasy books that surpasses most other bookstores.

That is all for now. The countdown to the 100th post continues...


  1. Wow, when was Moorcock taken over by Mr. Beasley?

    1. That picture of Moorcock was taken in the early 1990s.

      I'm assuming you're talking about the guy on Bob the Builder?

      I don't really see the resemblance, except for maybe a Mr. Beasley with a dark side...

  2. What the hell is Bob the Builder? I'm talking about the TV show with Brian Keith.


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