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.
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.