On Writing by Stephen King

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When I was growing up I read Judy Bloom and Ann M. Martin. I read some Roald Dahl, and plenty of other authors I forget the names of.  Stephen King books were not on my list, I’d heard of him of course, but  I always saw his books as the ‘scary books for the big kids.’ I’ve only just read my first King book last year  and it scared the crap out of me, but it was so good. Really good.

On Writing is the method to Stephen King’s madness. He tells us what he thinks makes a good story, what doesn’t, what inspired him to write certain scenes in books like Misery and Carrie and some of his pet peeves. He also touches on his inspirations to write, the tragedies in his life (loss of his mother, life altering car reck) and his childhood. It was a great read that I found really helpful as someone who wants to write, but feels stunted in many ways. Obviously this is only King’s suggestions on writing and everyone has their own formula, but here are some of the points in the book I thought were really helpful.

  • King writes for his muse, who happens to be his wife(Who he’s obviously deeply in love with).
  • His first piece of positive feedback came from his mom, after she read one of his stories when he was a child. She told him it was good enough to be in a book. He said : “Nothing anyone has said to me since has made me feel any happier.”
  • On using words that don’t come naturally to you as a writer: “One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you’re maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones. “
  • On structure: “Take any noun, put it with any verb, and you have a sentence. It never fails. Rocks explode. Jane transmits. Mountains float.”
  • Avoid the passive tense (more of a personal reminder).
  • The best form of dialogue attribution is said, as in he said, she said, Bill said, Monica said. (Same thing I learned/am louring in my journalism program)
  • “I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing.”
  • “While to write adverbs is human, to write he said is divine.”
  • “I believe the first draft of a book—even a long one—should take no more than three months, the length of a season.”
  • King likes to write ten pages a day, which amounts to 2,000 words. (180,000 over three months)
  • He makes a point, (which made sense and I hadn’t ever really thought about) on reasons not to be overly descriptive of your characters. He uses the example of one of his characters, Carrie White. He chose to describe her as an outcast with a bad complexion and a fashion victim wardrobe but wants the readers to fill in the rest : “We all remember one or more high school losers, after all; if I describe mine, it freezes out yours, and I lose a little bit of the bond of  understanding I want to forge between us. Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in he reader’s.”
  • On the same topic he states : “So spare me if you please, the hero’s sharply intelligent blue eyes and outthrust      determined chin; likewise the heroine’s arrogant cheekbones. This sort of thing is bad technique and lazy writing, the equivalent of all those tiresome adverbs.”
  • “Good fiction always begins with story and progresses to theme, it almost never begins with theme and progresses to story.”
  • He suggest letting a book rest (first draft) for a minimum of six weeks.
  • King says writers are needy  people, who generally write for a specific person—King writes for his wife.
  • He’s a Harry Potter fan!
  • He suggests you write (at least the first draft) of your book with the door closed— no distractions or outside opinions.
  • Suggests that writer’s pick up a copy of Writer’s Market.
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