I’ve been looking at the Pulp Revolution lately, as well as hanging out here, with the Superversive crowd. Recently, I have been pondering if A Pius Man: A Holy Thriller fits into either of these movements. Mostly because 1) I have no idea, and 2) it might help me understand these movements better if I see what can and can’t match up.Well, as Pulp is mentioned first, I should probably see if I check any boxes. Yes, I HAVE READ APPENDIX N. I’ve even reviewed it. It was awesome. It was also sprawling, and if I used that as the basis for a definition, I’m going to have to do a bullet point for each chapter, since each chapter has a point to it.
Huh. Okay. I guess what I’m going to have to do is go down and break this down as I read along. Basically, I’m going to write the post as I read the blog, like I do with Fisking posts that are so painful, I can only read through it by breaking it apart.
So what I’ll do is break down the Burnett post, and then use the add-ons by Castalia.
With my luck, I’ll make no one happy.
Action: The focus of the storytelling is on what happens. We know who people are by what they do. This does not mean that every scene has to involve a knife fight on the top of a speeding train. Ordinary every day actions can also inform—Raymond Chandler could describe a couple’s relationship by showing us the man lighting the woman’s cigarette. We don’t want the writer to tells us that a scientist is an unconventional genius, we want to see him tearing a rival’s paper to shreds and throwing the pieces out the window when asked to critique it.
Huh. I thought this was called “show don’t tell.” It’s basic story telling. I don’t see how that’s particularly pulpy. I make sure to do that as often as possible.
As for the knife fight on top of a moving train…. [Makes a note to include that in the next book]
Anyway, I do have an action sequence every once in a while. I open with an assassination, then a bombing, and I wait thirty pages before I have a fight scene with a commando priest, who has another fight a few pages later involving throwing scalpels, then there’s running gun battle with the RPGs…
So I have a little action. Here and there.
Impact: These actions have consequences. While a character’s actions do inform us of that character’s personality, significant actions should never be only character studies. They have lasting real world consequences. You don’t go into a pulp story with an expectation of a happy ending. Pulp heroes are fallible heroes, and when they fail, bad things happen. Neither, though, is worse coming to worst a forgone conclusion. Up until the very end a pulp character has the power to change his or her fate. They can always do something.
Oh, trust me, these actions are going to have consequences. Over the course of the Trilogy, when they fail, train wreck to follow. Sometimes when they succeed, a train wreck will follow.
Moral Peril: Consequences are more than just material. In Pulp stories there is not simply the risk that that the hero may fail to defeat the villain, there is also the greater risk that the hero may become the villain. A hero should have a code to follow, and lines that he or she is resolved not to cross. That line should be close enough that the temptation to cross is real—maybe not constantly, but from time to time. There is almost always a really good reason to break one’s moral code, particularly to protect a loved one in danger.
I was actually about to say that A Pius Man[/easyazon_link] fails this part of the test. I figured there was no one and nothing in the entire book that really threatened the heroes. There may have been the temptation just to get out of the cross fire, but that was it.
Then I realized that I quite literally looked past the white elephant in my story. It’s basically the primary subplot, and I didn’t even consider it.
Romance: Pulp heroes are motivated by love. Not always romance in the modern sense of a relationship involving physical attraction, but a relationship that obligates the pulp hero to take risks on behalf of another. An old military buddy, a long lost friend, even a client who paid in advance. The consequences, both physical and moral, effect more than just the hero, and those affected should be given a human face. When the hero is working to thwart a villain’s plan we want to see the potential victims not in the abstract, but in the concrete. “Saving Humanity” is a vague, bumper sticker kind of motivation, saving the fair maiden with the sparkling eyes and plucky wit, or the ragged waif with a mewling kitten is much more satisfying.
Huh. I’m getting the feeling that this is going to be far, far too easy. Then again, I did grow up with Die Hard as my Christmas movie, so maybe I was wired for the Pulpy people.
But, yes, suffice it to say, there is romance. I’ve even done a post or two on this over time. But I’ve got someone there fore love. I’ve got several people who go there because of their jobs, but the reasons they stay … is spoilery in nature.
Mystery: I am using the word here not in the genre sense of a plot concerned with discovering the identity of a criminal, but in the broader sense of the unknown. There are many potential unknowns—the setting, the true identities of other characters, the events that led up to the current crises. Something is going on and neither the protagonists nor the reader should be quite sure what. Things are never quite what they seem which, of course, also serves to increase the tension. A pulp hero is playing a very dangerous game for high stakes, and no one knows all of the rules…
MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHA. Wow, have I got this one covered six ways from Sunday. The long version is over in this blog. I didn’t even know that this was going to be here when I wrote that one. Heh.
Let’s see what else is mentioned …. “More traditional boy-girl romances.” Okay, check. I don’t even have a gay character, to my knowledge (there is a character who I haven’t “asked” yet, so I don’t know. She could just be apathetic).
“More action-oriented fiction.” Check.
“No real distinction between sci-fi and fantasy – those genres should blend more. Into a new genre…pulp” …. well, I understand what JD Cowan meant with I blurred genre lines. Sadly, this has limited SFF qualities here.
But yeah, it looks like I’ve hit a lot of these boxes. Yes. I might even be considered pulpy by nature! Yes!
Anyway, so I talked to the guy who WROTE the article. I hang out with him as part of the Superversive Crowd. Jeffro, in the comments, disagreed with him vehemently.
So I then did something I never do, and I dug through the comments….
Apparently, Pulp really does boil down to “I know it when I see it.
According to THAT post, we can keep action, romance, moral peril isn’t needed, but it can stay…. And “Impact” includes “consequences,” all actions are final. No take backs. Okay. Still qualifies.
detective pulps “heart interest and human emotion are the special requirements. Stories should be strongly melodramatic, the characters should be very real and appealing, and situations should deal with the poignant phases of crime.” (2) To accomplish this, pulp writers avoided the Cloud Strife ciphers used today as reader surrogates. Instead, they took likable characters with personality and ratcheted up the stakes, creating tension that built an unease and concern in the reader
Likable characters with personality.
Heh. Yeah. You could say my characters have personality.
Okay. Reading down… mystery can stay, good.
Then there’s story structure…
Sigh. Someone else will have to tell me if I’ve done enough with that. I don’t outline, I don’t really use structure. I have–“Attack! What did this encounter tell us? Move forward. More action. Repeat.” So, it’s a structure.
So, Nathan’s bullet points are
- Action — Check
- Romance — Check
- Moral peril — Check
- Consequence — Check with smoking bullet holes.
- Emotion — God, I hope so.
- Mortal peril — This is an understatement.
- Exploration of the unknown: We got that. It’s in archives, but we’ve got that.
- Love for the unknown: [Coin Toss]. Read Sean AP Ryan, get back to me.
- Story structure: Check. I hope.
Okay. I guess it passes the Pulp Test.
I think I’ll do Superversive in the next post. This was a long one.