Friday, December 17, 2010

My Thoughts on "On Writing" by Stephen King [Part 2]

As promised I'm continuing with my thoughts on Stephen King's "On Writing". In the first post [HERE] I look at the memoir aspects of the book, while here I'll focus more on the actual advice and instructions King provides.

As Charles Gramlich said in the comments, "On Writing" isn't an actual book on writing. To a point I have to agree with him. Even when King discusses writing and tackles all the necessary for a budding writer building blocks he gives examples through his fiction. He distances himself from abstractions or a lengthy list of rules one must apply while writing.

In about one hundred or so pages King covers the nature of writing, vocabulary, grammar, dialogue, paragraphs, structure, pacing, characters, plot, story, themes, descriptions and editing. Is this enough? For veteran writers with several manuscripts under their belts [be they published or not] supposedly not really, but "On Writing" is the perfect book on the art of writing for new writers. Probably those writing book one or two or those planning to sit down and write their first novel.

"On Writing" lays the easy-to-grasp fundamentals in each category. King does so without overcomplicated explanations and remains honest about it. Two concepts King backs up through the whole bulk of his book. King advocates for simplicity. When he talks about word use and vocabulary King emphasizes on the context. One of his rules is to never use big words for the sake of sounding erudite. In the chapter for descriptions, King advises to be minimalistic, employing only key details in key positions. When he talks about direct speech and how to introduce it, King is adamant that 'he said/she said' suffices.

As far as truth goes, King delivers it on many levels. First, he is big enough to admit that whatever works for him probably won't work for others, which is true, because I have not the slightest intention of agreeing that outlines kill the spontaneous act of creativity. You'll never read 'You should do this or that', you will read 'What I do here is this or that' or 'it's this and this that work for me'.

On employing truth in writing King comments when explaining one of the sacred cardinal rules 'Write What You Know'. It's important to understand that this rule does not restrict the writers to topics they have dealt with, because which writer has ever slain zombies or dragons with weapons [be they makeshift or enchanted]. No, the rule binds writers to be honest in the emotions they portray. As long as you are not faking the fear of the zombie horde your protagonist has to face, then all is a-okay. For the rest there is research.

This is it. In short. Hope this didn't turn into a 'too long; didn't read'.


Todd Newton said...

"On Writing" is one of those books that every writer should keep on a nearby shelf, regardless of their ability or progression in their career. Much like Holly Lisle's "Mugging the Muse," it helps not only with the mechanics but also the emotional aspect of what being a writer is. Many books avoid this, or speak from such an obscure angle as to be of no help, but it is just as important as the actual "how to put words on a page" stuff.

J. Griffin Barber said...

A good analysis.

Charles Gramlich said...

the books that talk about the emotional aspects are much more hit and miss for me than the technique books. Some techniques at least are universal. The emotion and passion is always individual.

Harry Markov said...

@ Todd: I think they avoid it, because it is a hit or miss like Chales said, but what King does is not really advise, but share his path to publication and let the reader take what he needed from the story.

@ J: Thank you.

@ Charles: Pretty much what I said above goes about your comment.