Book Review: Stephen King’s On Writing

10569Stephen King’s On Writing was a Christmas gift; half-memoir, half-guide to writing, it was all memorable and enjoyable, regardless of the fact that I am not a huge Stephen King fan. I’ve read The Shining, but I don’t get much more into it than that.

Nevertheless, his stories about his childhood, early writings for local newspapers and re-workings of movie plots for his classmates were told with funny, self-deprecating flair, and the humble beginnings of his career were downright inspiring: two married English graduates raising little kids on King’s meager teacher’s salary, worried about affording “the pink stuff,” amoxicillin antibiotics, for their daughter’s ear infection, then to run away bestselling author of Carrie, followed by hit after hit.

Granted, Carrie was not his first novel and he had printed many short stories, but he went from seemingly impossible odds to near-overnight success; it gave my soul a smile to read about. When all seems lost, good things might be right around the corner.

As for the writing guide, that too gave a helpful outline of what building a literary career might look like as well as King’s opinions on language–(use few adverbs). Peppered with King’s typical, “earthy” language, a few of On Writing’s examples demonstrated perfectly what works and what doesn’t work in imaginative prose.

I’ll discuss two:

  1. The Simile: “When its on target, a good simile delights us in much the same way meeting an old friend in a crowd of strangers does.” (p. 178)

See that? He’s done it in the very sentence. A good simile connects a tiny piece of our experience and emotion to the physical act being described. All of a sudden, the author has made the connection for us. We all know how pleasant it is to recognize someone, and a good simile does just that.

2. King counsels the aspiring author to tell the story how she sees it, paying no head to trendy critics who pronounce the death of the linear novel. He tells us that he prefers stories written in order while admitting that you might not. Nevertheless, he says, “I’m an A-Z man; serve me the appetizer first and give me dessert if I eat my veggies” (225) as a metaphor for a story told in order.

I appreciated this sentence a lot for its simplicity of image and language, but also for how well it captures the simple pleasure of things taken in order. This is right about the level I like for longer prose. It’s illustrative without making you think about it; it just clicks.

Another book I am reading, which will not be named, uses far more poetic language in the structure of the novel.  She tells of finding her “glasses tipped atop her knobby head.” This sentence annoys me;  I have to stop reading to compose the mental image.

In poems, I like that. In novels, the things built from complete sentences, I’m not such a fan of phrasing that requires mental weight-lifting.

So I liked On Writing. I enjoyed the free-flowing examples incorporated into the text and the personal stories from his life and career.

Do you have any favorite memoirs? Are you a Stephen King fan? Got any favorite books on the craft of writing?

 

 

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