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(LibriVox)

(LibriVox)

H.P. Lovecraft was the Stephen King of his day, if King had been a depressive type with a thing for turning horror fiction into fantasies of existential dread. He’s remembered these days almost exclusively for his Cthulhu mythos, in which unlucky humans occasionally run afoul of the ancient deities whose foul existence predates known history and any sense of modern morality.

But Lovecraft was also a student of the form, and not just horror (though his writings on “weird” and supernatural fiction are excellent in themselves). In his essay “Literary Composition,” the master of eldritch horrors from beyond the ken of mere mortals opines on the proper way to turn a sentence. Here’s a few snippets of still-applicable advice on what to avoid:

  • Barbarous compound nouns, as viewpoint or upkeep.
  • Use of like for as, as “I strive to write like Pope wrote.”
  • Errors of taste, including vulgarisms, pompousness, repetition, vagueness, ambiguousness, colloquialism, bathos, bombast, pleonasm, tautology, harshness, mixed metaphor, and every sort of rhetorical awkwardness.

Keep an eye on that last one in particular, no matter how tempting the market may be for work filled with vulgarisms and bombast.

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