When Overwriting Was King

In my debut novel, The Scare, I’ve been accused by Kirkus Review of overwriting: “…a tedious torrent of overwriting…” is how they put it to be precise. I agree with them and am darned proud of their review! The Scare is overwritten for sure. But what overwriting! It’s a jolly good yarn with great characters readers love and a story that draws you in. And that’s all that matters. My goal as a writer is to entertain my readers and if I succeed it doesn’t matter how many words I used to do it. When I’m absorbed in a book I can’t put down I ain’t counting words or thinking about whether it’s overwritten! But okay, since I’m talking about overwriting let’s talk about it. I overwrite. I admit it and I admit that I love it. Come to think of it Stephen King overwrites and he’s doing just fine. So I’m in great company. Another guy who was big on overwriting–and who was around decades before King–is Robert Ervin Howard, aka Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian. That’s right, Conan the Barbarian wasn’t created by some facile, overpaid Hollywood screenwriter fresh out of an Ivy League school, he was created in 1932 by a full grown Texan. In Howard’s day, not only was overwriting not frowned upon, it was King, just like Conan became! The 30s was the age of pulp fiction, no, not that movie by that director, but wonderful stories that could be found in the inexpensive fiction magazines that flourished from 1896 through the 1950s. The term pulp derived from the cheap wood pulp paper on which the magazines were printed. Pulps were most often priced at ten cents per magazine and were the successor to the penny dreadfuls, dime novels and short fiction magazines of the 19th century. Many respected writers wrote for the pulps before they became respected, some of them, like Howard, became respected pulp writers. And yet Howard overwrote. In fact, he beautifully overwrote. And you know what? It’s great stuff. There’s not a thing wrong with it. Not back when it was written and not now. Howard’s stuff was so great it’s never been out of print. It’s been adapted into comic books, made into movies, copied endlessly. Some of today’s best writers have even written their own original Conan novels: Robert Jordan, Steve Perry, and L. Sprague de Camp to name a few. Conan the Barbarian is his own industry today. Not a bad achievement for a character created by a man in 1932 who was an inveterate overwriter. In “Queen of the Black Coast” one of Howard’s greatest stories, his overwriting shone brightly:


As they moved out over the glassy blue deep, Belit came to the poop.

Her eyes were burning like those of a she-panther in the dark as she

tore off her ornaments, her sandals and her silken girdle and cast

them at his feet. Rising on tiptoe, arms stretched upward, a quivering

line of naked

 white, she cried to the desperate horde: “Wolves of the

blue sea, behold ye now the dance–the mating-dance of Belit, whose

fathers were kings of Askalon!”


And she danced, like the spin of a desert whirlwind, like the leaping

of a quenchless flame, like the urge of

 creation and the urge of

death. Her white feet spurned the bloodstained deck and dying men

forgot death as they gazed frozen at her. Then, as the white stars

glimmered through the blue velvet dusk, making her whirling body a

blur of ivory fire, with a wild cry she threw herself at Conan’s feet,

and the blind flood of the Cimmerian’s desire swept all else away as

he crushed her panting form against the black plates of his corseleted



There is no denying that Howard’s overwriting was a pure art form, and although my own overwriting may be nowhere near as good, to be accused of it is a thing to be proud of and shouted from the highest rooftops. Or from the humble keys of my laptop. And so I proudly shout it.


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