Lessons from Stephen King

A book on writing and publishing I was reading mentioned a piece of Stephen King’s advice from his book On Writing, so I thought I’d check that out of the library and read the whole thing. I haven’t read a lot of Stephen King because I’m a massive weenie who can’t handle a lot of tension and who doesn’t like to be scared. I’ve read a collection of his short stories. I read The Dead Zone after starting to watch the TV series. Oddly, it wasn’t the spooky supernatural stuff that made that series too scary for me to watch all the way through. It was when the creepy politician became the focus that I got too freaked out. I guess it’s the same reason I can’t watch or read courtroom stories. I know vampires and monsters are fiction, but lawyers and politicians are real, and that’s truly scary. I also read The Colorado Kid, which was the (very loose) basis for the series Haven. He’s an incredibly talented writer, so even if I’m too chicken to read most of his work, I figured I had something to learn from him.

The first half of the book is essentially a memoir about how he came to be a writer. I came away from reading that with the sense that I’d actually like him a great deal if I met him. I might even need to give more of his books a shot because, from the sounds of things, I get what he’s trying to say, and it seems like the impression I have is more from the movies made from his books, which tend to take a very different perspective.

The second half gets into more how-to, at least how he approaches writing. I think my biggest practical takeaway is his advice that the second draft should be 10 percent shorter than the first draft, tightening it all up and getting rid of any flab. In my case, I would probably adapt that to say that after I think the book is done, I should do another pass to remove 10 percent. My first draft tends to be fairly bare bones, almost like a screenplay, so it’s mostly dialogue and action. There is some flab, certainly, since I tend to process things on paper, having the characters think about or talk about what they should do or have done, and once I’ve figured all that out, I can cut the process part. But I also have to add things like emotions and description. My second drafts usually involve cutting huge chunks and adding huge chunks. But after that, trying to trim 10 percent, whether it’s in whole passages or individual words, might be a really good exercise. He even has an example of how he edits a scene to show the kinds of things he cuts.

There’s also some good inspirational stuff that I need to keep in mind when I get discouraged about the business that comes with writing. The quote I probably need to embroider on a throw pillow is: “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.”

Now maybe I need to try more of his novels. Any suggestions for weenie-safe Stephen King books?

One Response to “Lessons from Stephen King”

  1. Michelle

    I haven’t read much of his work either, as most horror isn’t my thing. The Eyes of the Dragon was written for his daughter, who hadn’t read any of his books.

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