Juicy Bits

As part of the on-going discussion regarding the nature of speculative fiction and how changes in the dominant publishing paradigm are allowing for more latitude and innovation in narrative structures, I engaged in a conversation regarding the nature of “Pulp”–specifically, what is “Pulp” and what is “non-Pulp.”

I mentioned this conversation to my roommate who replied, “Oh, that’s easy–pulp has juicy bits.”  And while her remark was meant flippantly, as a reference to orange juice marketing, I was struck by the singular applicability of the concept to the debate.

And so it is with profound gratitude that I offer the following graphic illustrating what I am calling the Bolhafner Relative Juiciness Index. 

The Bolhafner Relative Juiciness Index (BRJI).

I have divided the scale into four separate indices, somewhat arbitrarily, and so a few notes may be in order.

First, this is designed to apply to specific scenes within a work–the “bits”.  A story may contain a few scenes that rank high on juiciness, but still be dry overall.

Next, the difference between what I am calling Action and what I am calling Horror may be likened to the difference between an acute and a chronic condition.  Action refers to the immediate circumstance–the monster currently attempting to gnaw the hero’s face off.

What I am calling Horror, on the other hand, would refer to the certainty that the monster–or others like it–are known to be lurking about and are sure to jump out sooner or later. Thus combat scenes even in a horror story would fall under the Action category and many mundane threats–a large government conspiracy, for example–would fit under Horror in terms of this index.

I am ranking Wonder in terms of how important the fantastic elements are to the functioning of the story.  It is possible to write “blaster” instead of “gun” and “rocket” instead of “train”, but if the fantastic elements function the same way the mundane ones do there is little impact.

I realize that Romance in fiction and film frequently spikes to J5 without having any significant scenes of levels 1-4. I, personally, feel that’s a narrative flaw, but that is a matter of personal taste.

The intended purpose of this index is as an aid for pacing.  I do not mean to imply that J5 scenes are better than J0 scenes, or to impose a particular template.  Like music, fiction is a matter of finding a particular rhythm of intensity. Some stories (and some authors) work better in high-speed, pedal-to-the-metal mode. Others are better served by a slow and steady building of tension. Knowing when to slow the pace and reduce the tension is a matter of experience and knowing the potential audience.

And finally, as always, I invite discussion and debate.  I do not present any of my ideas as revealed wisdom–I am feeling my way through the subject as best I can, and the continual sharing of insights is what refines a body of thought.



About MishaBurnett

I am the author of "Catskinner's Book", a science fiction novel available on Amazon Kindle. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008MPNBNS
This entry was posted in Artists That I Admire, On Writing, Poetry, pulp revival and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Juicy Bits

  1. This looks useful. A reviewer “scoring” a story by these scales would give me a better idea of what to expect, even if we can’t expect reviewers to exactly agree among each other.

  2. feralplum says:

    My life seems to be about 4 on the scale.

  3. Pingback: SENSOR SWEEP: Juvenile Sexist Jokes, Misanthropic Loners, Deliberate Subversion, and Juicy Bits – castaliahouse.com

  4. Blume says:

    Seems cool but I would like to talk about one oddity. Realistic lit fiction is a zero on everything except romance where everyone is doing it from the get go, so j5. Though I wouldn’t call j5 without 1-4 romance.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      And I agree–there is a lot of non-romantic sex in fiction these days.

    • “Lit fiction” is aiming for a high score on another scale, call it “Angst,” which measures how much shame/jealousy/humiliation/status anxiety/etc. the main character feels. (Is that where sex without romantic tension should be measured?)

      Genres and sub-genres could be defined by which scale they’re aiming to have the highest score on.

  5. Durandel Almiras says:

    How would the rating work? Letter number or Letter and number range? As you mentioned, with the Romance category, does the number displayed imply the levels below also occur or do you write them out?

    Using your system, if I was to rate John C. Wright’s Awake in the Night Land, I would say A3, W5, H4, R0-4.

    Vox Day’s A Throne of Bones, A5, W3, H3, R0-2, 4, 5 or R5.

    As to edits, I think W3 and W4 need to switch places, and R2 and R3 need to switch places.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      There is certainly room for improvement on the scales. They were designed for rating specific scenes, rather than an entire book, so I’m not sure that they could really be used to describe a novel.

      • mobiuswolf says:

        This is really useful and certainly you can apply it to the whole book. You’d just be getting the average or, overall general impression.

        A relative score in each category might be an interesting and more effective way to assign genre.

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