H.P. Lovecraft Highlights the 20 “Types of Mistakes” Young Writers Make

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Image by Lucius B. Trues­dell, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

H.P. Love­craft is remem­bered as a bril­liant fan­ta­sist, a cre­ator of a com­plete­ly unique uni­verse of hor­ror. He’s also remem­bered, unfor­tu­nate­ly, as a big­ot. But the author whose head—to the cha­grin of some—provided the mod­el for the World Fan­ta­sy Award is not often remem­bered as a par­tic­u­lar­ly good writer. Or rather, I should say, a par­tic­u­lar­ly good styl­ist. His writ­ing can sound sti­fling­ly archa­ic, over­stuffed with Vic­to­ri­anisms. “His prose, “writes Scott Malt­house, “can be turgid and adjec­tives suf­fo­cat­ing,” and “his char­ac­ters tend to be as thin as the paper they’re print­ed on.”

Writ­ers love him, Malt­house argues, because he was such an orig­i­nal “world builder,” not because he was a fine artist. Eliz­a­beth Bear at Tor echoes the sen­ti­ment, writ­ing that Love­craft’s work is “crit­i­cized for its style, for its pur­ple­ness and den­si­ty and fail­ures of struc­ture,” yet still evokes such a potent response that “the Love­craft­ian uni­verse must be con­sid­ered a col­lab­o­ra­tive effort at this point,” since so many writ­ers have fur­thered his “appeal­ing­ly bleak” vision. You can down­load a good part of his col­lect­ed works in ebook and audio­book for­mats here.

So per­haps he isn’t such a bad writer after all? In any case, he’s cer­tain­ly a very dis­tinc­tive one whose style, like Joseph Conrad’s, say, or even William Faulkner’s, endears read­ers pre­cise­ly for its fever­ish excess­es. Love­craft him­self was very self-con­scious about his craft and took writ­ing very seriously—enough to have pub­lished a lengthy, high­ly detailed essay called “Lit­er­ary Com­po­si­tion” which tack­les in sev­er­al para­graphs a host of issues the writer must con­tend with: gram­mar, “read­ing,” vocab­u­lary, “ele­men­tal phras­es,” descrip­tion, nar­ra­tion, “fic­tion­al nar­ra­tion,” “uni­ty, mass, coher­ence,” and “forms of com­po­si­tion.” We won’t recite the whole of his advice here—you can read the whole thing for your­self. But to give you some of the fla­vor of Lovecraft’s ped­a­gogy, we bring you his list of twen­ty “types of mis­takes” young writ­ers make.

See his com­plete list below.

  1. Erro­neous plu­rals of nouns, as val­lies or echos.
  2. Bar­barous com­pound nouns, as view­point or upkeep.
  3. Want of cor­re­spon­dence in num­ber between noun and verb where the two are wide­ly sep­a­rat­ed or the con­struc­tion involved
  4. Ambigu­ous use of pro­nouns.
  5. Erro­neous case of pro­nouns, as whom for who, and vice ver­sa, or phras­es like “between you and I,” or “Let we who are loy­al, act prompt­ly.”
  6. Erro­neous use of shall and will, and of oth­er aux­il­iary verbs.
  7. Use of intran­si­tive for tran­si­tive verbs, as “he was grad­u­at­ed from col­lege,” or vice ver­sa, as “he ingra­ti­at­ed with the tyrant.”
  8. Use of nouns for verbs, as “he motored to Boston,” or “he voiced a protest,”
  9. Errors in moods and tens­es of verbs, as “If I was he, I should do oth­er­wise”, or “He said the earth was
  10. The split infini­tive, as “to calm­ly ”
  11. The erro­neous per­fect infini­tive, as “Last week I expect­ed to have met
  12. False verb-forms, as “I pled with him.”
  13. Use of like for as, as “I strive to write like Pope wrote.”
  14. Mis­use of prepo­si­tions, as “The gift was bestowed to an unwor­thy object,” or “The gold was divid­ed between the five men.”
  15. The super­flu­ous con­junc­tion, as “I wish for you to do this.”
  16. Use of words in wrong sens­es, as “The book great­ly intrigued me”, “Leave me take this”, “He was obsessed with the idea”, or “He is a metic­u­lous
  17. Erro­neous use of non-Angli­cised for­eign forms, as “a strange phe­nom­e­na”, or “two stratas of clouds”.
  18. Use of false or unau­tho­rised words, as bur­glarise or supremest.
  19. Errors of taste, includ­ing vul­garisms, pompous­ness, rep­e­ti­tion, vague­ness, ambigu­ous­ness, col­lo­qui­al­ism, bathos, bom­bast, pleonasm, tau­tol­ogy, harsh­ness, mixed metaphor, and every sort of rhetor­i­cal awk­ward­ness.
  20. Errors of spelling and punc­tu­a­tion, and con­fu­sion of forms such as that which leads many to place an apos­tro­phe in the pos­ses­sive pro­noun its.

Most of this is sol­id, com­mon sense writ­ing advice. Some of it isn’t. As with all things Love­craft, you would be wise to use your dis­cre­tion. A full read of Lovecraft’s trea­tise on com­po­si­tion will give you some sense of how to begin writ­ing your own Love­craft pas­tiche. For even more of his advice on the writ­ing of fiction—particularly, as he called it, “weird fic­tion,” see his list of five tips for hor­ror writ­ing, which we fea­tured in Octo­ber.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

H.P. Love­craft Gives Five Tips for Writ­ing a Hor­ror Sto­ry, or Any Piece of “Weird Fic­tion”

H.P. Lovecraft’s Clas­sic Hor­ror Sto­ries Free Online: Down­load Audio Books, eBooks & More

Love­craft: Fear of the Unknown (Free Doc­u­men­tary)

Stephen King’s Top 20 Rules for Writ­ers

Writ­ing Tips by Hen­ry Miller, Elmore Leonard, Mar­garet Atwood, Neil Gaiman & George Orwell

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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