Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Another Blog Post On Writing By Stephen King

My friends have been telling me to read On Writing by Stephen King. After all, it's been published for ten years. It seems  as if it's on almost every writer's blog as a good writer's resource. So I took the plunge and read the book. I must say right up front that I don't enjoy horror writng and couldn't finish watching Jack Nicholson in The Shining. It was too scary for me. But that doesn't take away from the fact that Stephen King has captured millions of readers and movie goers with his work. So I was interested to see if there were some ideas that a writer like me could use.

 King begins with backstory and recounts "an odd, herky-jerky childhood" in New England where he and his brother David were raised by their single parent mother. There are autobiographical details here but only enough to show how Stephen King became the writer he is today.

He expertly takes you into his life as the young author who’s tormented by poison ivy, babysitters, strict school teachers, and a job doing nasty laundry.  It’s a quick story that casts a different light on his fiction.

As a child he was entranced by Yvette Vickers from Attack of the Giant Leeches, not popular teenage movie stars. “I wanted monsters that ate whole cities, radioactive corpses that came out of the ocean and ate surfers, and girls in black bras who looked like trailer trash.” Being an avid and vast reader on all literary levels was a craving and soon King was the published author of I Was a Teen-Age Grave Robber.

As a young adult he raised a family in a trailer and struggled. King started a story inspired by his job as a janitor cleaning a high-school girls locker room. As a high school teacher, he became so frustrated with his writing, he wadded a story up and threw it in the trash, but his wife retrieved it. She was also a writer. She encouraged and advised him. He used his own memories of two reviled teenage classmates who died young, to come up with Carrie.

 King shares many eye-openers about work. The kidnapper character in Misery, the mind-possessing monsters in The Tommyknockers, and the plague of the blocked writer in The Shining, an example of his cocaine and alcohol addiction. With help and his wife’s intervention, he has had a successful rehabilitation. During this period he says he barely remembered writing Cujo.

Second Half-Stephen King's Advice

In the second half of the book King addresses the craft of writing and says it is like a toolbox in which the most easily accessible tools - vocabulary, grammar, and elements of style - reside on the box's top shelf. He shares some very practical advice on these matters – use the first word that comes to mind, avoid the passive tense, avoid adverbs. Beneath this level, he says, are three elements of story – narration, description, and dialogue – all of which arise from placing characters in "what if" situations:

What if vampires invaded a small New England village? (Salem's Lot)
What if a policeman in a remote Nevada town went beserk and started killing everyone in sight? (Desperation)
What if a young mother and her son became trapped in their stalled car by a rabid dog? (Cujo)

He shows what can be learned from other authors, i.e. H.P. Lovecraft’s esoteric vocabulary, Hemingway’s tightness, Grisham’s correctness and Jonathan Kellerman’s sentence fragments. He explains why Hart’s War is marred by a poor ear for dialogue, and how Elmore Leonard’s Be Cool could be the cure.

In fact, King is exceedingly practical in his instruction – first drafts should, ideally, take the length of a season (three months) to finish, and a manuscript should remain in the desk drawer for a minimum of six weeks before being unearthed for a second draft. He even prescribes a rewrite formula of 2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10% to give the would-be novelist a quantitative goal for editorial cuts.

Ending-The Accident

In the last chapter, King tells about being hit by a van with a drunk driver while walking on the roadside near his summer home in Western Maine. The accident almost killed him. After a very long  rehabilitation and recovery he was able to walk and write again. He labeled the chapter "On Living," and makes it clear that writing, like life, doesn't have anything to do with  getting rich and being famous. In the end, King tells us, "it's about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life as well."

Parting Words

 On Writing is for anyone who writes or  wants to write.  King says, "Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up." And that says it all.

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts on it?.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am a Stephen King fan and I have read the book. He has such an amazing imagination. He truly gives great advice.

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