Friday, December 9, 2011

The Writer Will Take Your Questions Now (#13) -- What Is Pulp?

You talk about pulp so much that I wonder how you define it.
Care to enlighten us?
-- Steven Cumming

Pulp fiction is harder to define nowadays because so much of popular fiction has supplanted it and used its style and tropes to the point that pulp can seem like it has been diluted into just ... whatever...

But there are still several stylistic issues that define pulp as its own camp of writing, regardless of the genre -- from pulp sci-fi to pulp heroes to pulp noir -- even if said style markers have been stolen/co-opted/built upon by popular fiction from the classic days of pulp all the way to today.

  1. Basic character types.
  2. Action-heavy plots.
  3. Clear good vs. evil protagonists and antagonists. (Even if the good is a little bad sometimes, and the bad can be a compelling and likeable character.)
  4. Clear, straightforward writing style with little to no embellishment/literary flourish.
  5. Larger-than-life adventures.
In the old days classic pulp was defined by the cheap paper it was printed on. Today, new pulp is defined by its attempt (sometimes on target and sometimes wide of the mark) to capture the feel and tone of the classic pulps.

For example, in my understanding... 
  • Star Trek isn't pulp. Star Wars is. (Addendum 12/14/11 -- ST:TOS is very pulpy. Most series episodes after that starts getting too cerebral/experimental/political for standard pulp.)
  • Lie to Me isn't pulp. Burn Notice is.
  • Schindlers List isn't pulp. Raiders of the Lost Ark is. 
  • Twilight isn't pulp. Grimm is.

But that's just my opinion. Your mileage may differ.