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Volume 7051

ERB Writing About
The Golden Locket
(Chapter V in Tarzan the Untamed)
The Editor ~ Vol. 51, No. 3 ~ 1919.08.10
From the David Sorochty Collection
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Another of the Tarzan short stories, "The Golden Locket," appearing in Red Book, May 1919, brought a request from William R. Kane, of The Editor, for an account of the genesis and development of the story. Kane, on April 25, explained his need for information that would inspire other writers, and in replying to him, rather than focusing upon 'The Golden Locket," Burroughs chose to offer general suggestions about writing. He spoke of two methods he had tried, the first one based upon a "very broad and general plot" around which he extemporized, letting "one situation suggest the next." He stated, "I did not know what my characters were going to do or where the plot was heading in the next paragraph; as I was writing merely to entertain I sought to put action or the suggestion of future action into each paragraph."

The second method, in which he plotted his stories more carefully, involved a chart "covering the principal situation and action in each chapter." However, he found the chart difficult to follow, and his writing "became tedious labor" by comparison with his former method.

As a result, he returned to the old plan and used it in most of his stories. Interestingly, Burroughs maintained that this system would not work if the story depended upon an "intricate" plot; he believed that in his writing, the action was of most importance and the plot was "merely ... a simple clothes-horse upon which to hang the action." A consideration of the intricacies of some of his stories, not necessarily in plot, but especially in the lengthy gallery of characters, the complex details of equipment, and the various customs and backgrounds, indicates that this evaluation of his stories as mere improvised sequences of actions is far too limited.

Both plot and content could be intricate — for example, in the Martian works, where on occasion the stories were unified around a central theme, and the fact that Burroughs could produce these complicated plots from a general idea, with very little outlining or planning, is quite remarkable.

For the Kane article, Burroughs' advice to young writers related first to their attitude; they were not to take themselves or their work "seriously." He stressed that each writer had his own method of expressing himself— his style. Here Burroughs revealed his own distrust of style, perhaps because of the criticisms of his works as being superficial or nonliterary and his suspicions that style was associated with lofty literary creations, often written for a select audience:

If you take yourself and your work too seriously you will devote too much effort to mastering a style which you believe will insure your success. Forget style while you are writing. Write in the way that interests you most, tell the stones that you are interested in and if you cannot succeed in this way it is because nature never intended you for a writer.

Through his own experiences he viewed the best writer as the natural or untrained one. He rejected the concept of writing as a craft that required an apprenticeship period, like any other profession, a period in which the writer would develop through careful study, practice, and analysis of other authors' stories. This, Burroughs, a natural storyteller, had never done.

A conflict of goals was also involved; he could conceive only of writing to entertain. The subtler and more refined uses of language — those that he might regard as a kind of stylistic pretense — were of course integral to the story's aims and the demands it made upon the reader.

If the challenge were intellectual and the goals included a psychological probing of the characters or a perception of social issues, the language and style of the story were not separable from its content. These goals, often associated with realistic or "literary" stories, were beyond Burroughs' scope.

~ Porges: Page 327

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