How To

Lester Dent’s Recipe for Successful Pulp Fiction

Lester Dent (1904–1959) created the classic pulp hero Doc Savage, a brilliant surgeon, inventor, adventurer, and do-gooder detective.

lester dent


For today’s Mystery Thursday, we’re sharing a pulp fiction writer’s secret to success: the Lester Dent Formula. Lester Dent (1904–1959) created the classic pulp hero Doc Savage, a brilliant surgeon, inventor, adventurer, and do-gooder detective. And of course, Doc Savage was easy on the eyes.

Dent spent a few years churning out popular action-adventure stories before introducing Doc Savage in 1933. Under the pseudonym Kenneth Robeson, Dent wrote more than 150 “Man of Bronze” stories between 1933 and 1949. He reeled off action-packed plots involving conspiracies, diabolical killers, and thrilling misadventures.


doc savage

Dent devised a plot formula that gave wannabe authors a road map for pulps in the detective, western, adventure, and war genres. “No yarn of mine written to the formula has yet failed to sell,” he claimed. With his huge cache of page-turning pulpers, he was his own best advertisement.

Here’s a quick outline of the Lester Dent Formula, his field guide to writing a saleable 6,000-word pulp story, with pointers some writers still use today.

Split the 6,000-word story in four parts.

Part 1: 1,500 words. Introduce your hero and hit him with a heap of trouble. Establish all main characters and themes.

Part 2: 1,500 words. Double it. Develop main characters and themes.

Part 3: 1,500 words. Put him in so much trouble there’s no way he could ever possibly get out of it. Add plot twist.

Part 4: 1,500 words. Shovel the difficulties more thickly upon the hero. Bury him in the troubles. Then hero extricates himself using his own skill. Resolve.

You can view the complete formula here.

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