On Writing: Stephen King
“The most important things to remember about back story are that (a) everyone has a history and (b) most of it isn’t very interesting.”
King’s much-lauded treatise on writing (title: “On Writing”) finally reached me this summer. It can be separated in two parts, almost down the middle: firstly, King’s reminisces about writing (and reading, and the horror films of his youth); and the how-to guide of write this, don’t write that, and sell here.
His memoir section reads more or less like the intro to almost any of his stories: a lot of first-hand knowledge of drive-up movies and backseat fumblings; a love of comic books; and not nearly enough characterization. It is as though, having recently cast himself as a Very Important Character in a recent novel, we should already know who he is. Just go along with it, folks.
And perhaps that’s the problem. I’ve been reading King in one form or another since I was eight years old; my brother owned The Gunslinger, among a few others, and they were some of the first adult books I read. King is very familiar to me – to all of us; he has shaped the landscape of acceptable horror, and made horror commonplace.
In short, it’s all been done. King’s stories have been told and re-told so many times that the substance – the jolt – is gone; and (like most writers) he may not have had so much to begin with. Most of his works blend together in a reader’s mind, and – so it appears – in his, as well. The re-occurring characters may be the only inhabitants of his nightmares, after all; and how frightening can they be after 30 years?
It was somewhat bitterly then that I turned to the remainder of his work. The basic tips may be found useful – no adverbs, people! – and his knowledge of writing as an industry is certainly invaluable, if you aim to scrape a path down the middle. But the most certain advice is just to write.
And for that I say thank god. If you stare too long into the abyss, the abyss will stare into you; and if you read too much King, you will become him. There may be worse fates (his millions of dollars come to mind), but you were reading the book to become your own writer – right?
“Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch once said, ‘Murder your darlings,’ and he was right.”