I’ve never been much of a Stephen King fan ever since I read “Needful Things” as a teenager. The gloopy aspects of human anatomy meeting the sharp end of a knife don’t interest me all that much. Not unless there are a few spaceships in the background. However, people kept mentioning “On Writing” as being one of the best books written about the craft of writing, so I decided to check it out.
The book is divided into three main parts. The first is a memoir of King’s early life up until the point he first got published. The second is a series of thoughts on what he believes the best way to write is. And the third is another memoir of his getting hit by a van in 1999.
The first part I found enthralling and whipped through it in short order, as I did for the third part. Both were well written and reminded me somewhat of Ray Bradbury in his short stories about growing up in a small town.
What I’d like to discuss the most, however, are King’s thoughts on writing. I have a lot less experience as a writer, but I have already discovered much of what King says to hold true. The fewer words and the simpler they are, the better and more enjoyable the story. Adverbs and passive voice should be used only in moderation (but shouldn’t be cut out entirely). You need to write every day.
Where I disagree with King is on plotting. Which is to be expected, since I’m a plotter (I come up with a plan beforehand) and King is a pantser (he finds the story as he writes it). I find plotting to be enormously beneficial to the overall structure of a book, as long as it doesn’t dictate the minutiae to the characters. The characters need to live and breathe, not just to service a story. But the story itself should have a direction.
This just points to the other thing I’ve discovered as I write more: that every writer is different in the way they work and that’s not a bad thing. What works for me didn’t work for King. He’s giving his method for consideration, but not precluding other methods either.
Overall, this was a great read that I flew through. While most of it just reinforced my own beliefs on story-telling, I still recommend it. I give “On Writing” 5/5 stars and agree that it is one of the best books on writing I’ve read.
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