An Idealisation of the Average

In fictional narration, verisimilitude is absolutely essential. 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. In real life, odd and erratic things do occasionally happen; but they are out of place in an ordinary story, since fiction is a sort of idealisation of the average. Development should be as life-like as possible, and a weak, trickling conclusion should be assiduously avoided. The end of a story must be stronger rather than weaker than the beginning; since it is the end which contains the denouement or culmination, and which will leave the strongest impression upon the reader. It would not be amiss for the novice to write the last paragraph of his story first, once a synopsis of the plot has been carefully prepared—as it always should be. In this way he will be able to concentrate his freshest mental vigour upon the most important part of his narrative; and if any changes are later found needful, they can easily be made. In no part of a narrative should a grand or emphatic thought or passage be followed by one of tame or prosaic quality. This is anticlimax, and exposes a writer to much ridicule.

DESCRIPTION: In his essay “Literary Composition,” which Lovecraft wrote at the beginning of his career as a writer, he describes his approach to writing fiction.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Literary Composition.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 2, Hippocampus Press, 2004, pp. 39-45.



The one form of literary appeal which I consider absolutely unsound, charlatanic, and valueless—frivolous, insincere, irrelevant, and meaningless—is that mode of handling human events and values and motivations known as romanticism. Dumas, Scott, Stevenson—my gawd! Here is sheer puerility—the concoction of false glamours and enthusiasms and events out of an addled and distorted background which has no relation to anything in the genuine thoughts, feelings, and experiences of evolved and adult mankind. Its very essence is that one unforgivable disparity which forms the supreme crux of all cheapness and commonness—the investing of things and events with wholly disproportioned and inappropriate emotions. Heroic tales are not unsound so long as they adhere to the actual essentials of life and the human spirit; but when some sentimental poseur adopts their tone for artificial and trivial unrealities, the result is too nauseating and wearisome for words.

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to fellow writer Clark Ashton Smith, Lovecraft derides romanticism, claiming that it is inherently unrealistic and inauthentic.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Clark Ashton Smith.” 17 Oct. 1930. Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Ohio University Press, 2000, pp. 210-13.