Isn't one of the main advices to read and try to learn about fiction, about what can be done and what is best avoided through someone's already published work? I know that another rule says that you should never try to copy, but still as a writer you read to grow. It's why I'm starting the semi-regular feature [the feature with no schedule] Learn from the Great Ones. Whenever I pick a book written by a household name or a name that rings all the right bells given a genre or movement, I will list in short the lessons I learned during my reading.
Last week, I focused on Lovecraft as part of my research for a Lovecraftian horror short. I went to the source to test the waters. Here are the things I learned from this master of the horror genre.
~ Lovecraft understands the psychology of human fear, possibly because he had felt afraid most of his time. It all bowls down to the unknown. Not knowing can mean that whatever is threatening you be it human, animal or something organic, yet not from our world can be anything. Not knowing means that you can't figure out an exit strategy. Not knowing is translated to being helpless, a victim, prey. This is useful in times, when I want to recreate genuine fear.
~ Lovecraft knows how to enhance the unknown by smearing out all details except those he deems essential. In "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward" Lovecraft is focused on the evil that is the character James Curwin, so he simply states how horrific the chimeras he built are rather than giving descriptions. In "Shadow over Innsmouth" he gives descriptions of the unnatural Innsmouth look as well as the depth-dwellers, because this race is central to the story's development. This is a technique to use in combination with the previous lesson.
~ Lovecraft can't write dialog and that's it. Period. In "The Colour out of Space" a dying farmer spends an entire paragraph in chaining senseless words separated with ellipses. I've yet to read someone's death bed speech delivered in this manner. The closest Lovecraft has come to writing direct speech is in "Shadow over Innsmouth", where the drunkard of Innsmouth engages in a drunken monologue.
~ Lovecraft's paragraphs are monolithic. He places blocks of text atop other blocks and I made miserable progress. It's a lesson in how to structure my work so that it is engaging and not a chore to read, because the less there is on a page, the less clogged the mind is during the act of reading. King said that, I think I can trust Stephen King on that, especially when I tried and tested it.
What are the lessons you learned from the big names in your genre?