Monday, June 7, 2010

Edgar Rice Burroughs - Notes on William Cane's "Write Like the Masters"


Burroughs’s writing characteristics:
· Beginning stories with the familiar before introducing the unfamiliar
· Appealing character names
· Several storylines crescendoing in unison
· “A stranger in a strange land” conflict
· Prolonging the separation of lovers

- Burroughs’s narratives were set in faraway and imaginative places where civilizations thrived and opposing races vied for power. Enter stage left: Hero warrior who must earn his right to live by becoming a student of the foreign civilization’s customs and policies. That being said, Burroughs refrained from opening his stories with exotic and confusing locations. Burroughs starts with the familiar before introducing the unfamiliar.

- Agreeable names are imperative to character believability. According to Cane, Burroughs’s "women sound euphonious, the heroes strong, the villains dastardly." (Wouldn't writers want foreboding names rather than dastardly for their villains?) To Burroughs's credit, I consider his villains' names foreboding. Check out “The Name Game ” by Christopher P. Anderson, which reveals subconscious psychological associations of names.

- Burroughs keeps his readers involved but prevents them from becoming exhausted. Whereas Maugham introduces a dramatic pause after an action-packed scene, Burroughs transitions from one storyline to another, forcing readers to wait for the action of the first scene to resume. An effective time to exercise the shift in storylines is at a chapter break. Perhaps Burroughs's technique served as inspiration for the originators of soap operas.

- His novels are laden with conflict with numerous near-death experiences and battles between tribes, nations and worlds. The common thread in Burroughs's novels is the “stranger in a strange lander” conflict - Tarzan in the jungle, John Carter on Mars, David Innes in the Inner World, Carson Napier on Venus, ect.

- Romance is integral to most of Burroughs’s stories. Burroughs understood it would take more than a “boy meets girl, boy gets girl” plot to captivate audiences with romance. His approach to romance in his novels reflects Richard Falk’s argument in his article “Obstacles to Love”: “No matter how strong the plot, the book won’t work unless the obstacles to love are serious enough to keep the lovers apart.” In most his work Burroughs prolonged the separation of the hero and heroine until the end of the novel, when all conflicts were resolved.

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