Jane Stewart's Reviews > On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

On Writing by Stephen King
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's review
May 11, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: 5-star-nonfiction, nonfiction, autobiography, how-to-write
Read in May, 2012

Entertaining and engaging. I enjoyed the whole thing.

Maybe half of this is Steve’s personal life and the other half how he writes and his opinions on good writing. Steve narrates. I enjoyed listening to him.

His personal life: A lot of writing when he was young. He met his wife in college. He taught high school English for about two years when his first novel Carrie was published. After that he had many bestsellers. He was an alcoholic and drug user for a while, both of which he gave up. He was surprised that he could write just as well without.

1. Parts of Stories and No Plotting.
Steve thinks of stories in three parts.

A. Narration moves the story from point A to point B and finally to point Z.

B. Description creates a sensory reality for the reader. He doesn’t do a lot of description. He doesn’t do clothes, and he doesn’t overdo physical appearance. He wants readers to supply some of that. He doesn’t describe everything in a room, just a few things.

C. The third part is dialogue which brings characters to life.

D. Steve says “You may wonder where is plot in all this? My answer is nowhere. I plot as little as possible. Plotting and the spontaneity of real creation are not compatible. Situation comes first and then watch what happens as the characters try to work themselves out of it. Most of the time the outcome is something I never expected.” Some critics say Steve’s weakness is his endings. And if he paid more attention to plot early in the process he might have better endings. Some experts say writers should start with a plot and outline. So, there are different opinions.

Personally, I think Steve’s greatest talent is his creativity. And his method might be useful to others who want more creativity.

I was amused with the story of how Steve came up with the “situation” which became the book “Carrie.” Steve was working with a high school janitor cleaning the girls locker room. He was surprised to see individual shower curtains. The boys had none. He asked the janitor. The janitor said girls are shy and they want to shower in private. Steve asked about the odd shaped box on the wall. The janitor explained it held plugs for girls on their periods. Steve then thought of a “situation” of a girl’s locker room with no shower curtains, a girl being embarrassed taking a shower, and other girls throwing plugs at her. (He used more colorful language than I.) This was the start of “Carrie.”

2. Characters.
Steve based the characters in “Carrie” on real life people he knew - the two loneliest most reviled girls in his high school class. One of them had an overly religious mother. Steve combined the two girls into Carrie and used the religious mother as Carrie’s mother.

3. Don’t use critique groups as you write.
Write the entire book without anyone else seeing it. Put that first draft aside for six weeks. Do other things, write other things, try not to think about it. Then read it and make revisions. This is your second draft. Then give the second draft to your friends, family, and beta readers. His point is not to use critique groups and writing classes prior to the second draft. He gives examples about this.

4. Steve says don’t use adverbs. (I disagree.)
Steve says “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs.” My words: Steve has a degree in English (something). He has been trained to avoid adverbs by academia. In the book “Carrie” he used adverbs occasionally, but not often.

Steve says “the Harry Potter novels are just fun, pure story from beginning to end.” My words: J.K. Rowling uses tons of adverbs in the Harry Potter books. And her books are the most successful fiction books in the world! Following are some wonderful adverb examples from the first Harry Potter book. “eyed them angrily” “whispering excitedly” “acting oddly today” “said as casually as he could” “appeared so suddenly and silently.” And for those of you who may argue that certain genres lend themselves to adverbs, please note that John Grisham also uses them liberally in his legal thrillers. Grisham is another top selling author. Examples from Grisham’s book “The Client:” “slowly looked at Ricky” “he exhaled calmly.” “Mark carefully picked a cigarette from his shirt pocket.” “Mark suddenly remembered.” “He mumbled loudly.”

Some editors say adverbs are like spices, use a little not a lot. They would probably consider Rowling and Grisham as too many. Personally I love the way Rowling and Grisham write, but I also enjoyed the book “Carrie.”

5. Other Advice from Steve.
Every aspiring writer should read “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White.
Don’t use big words when simpler words work.
Use the first word that comes to your mind.
Don’t fear overusing “said.” Steve says “using he said, she said is divine.”
Don’t use cliche phrases like “at the end of the day” or “the fact that.”
Avoid passive tense.
To be a good writer you need to read a lot. Steve reads 70 to 80 books a year - mostly fiction. He’s a fan of audiobooks.

Unabridged audiobook reading time: 8 hrs and 5 mins. Swearing language: strong. Sexual content: none. Book copyright: 2000. Genre: nonfiction and autobiography.

For a list of my reviews of other Stephen King books, see my 5 star review of Carrie.
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07/15/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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message 1: by Hannah (new)

Hannah Lol. 70 to 80 books in a year is a lot? I guess I'm doing okay then!

I think one of the main benefits of avoiding adverb use is that it forces you writing with stronger verbs. That said, I tend to get a little adverb-happy when I write. It's hard not to.

Jane Stewart Voracious readers like us are rare. But I like this minority of ours.
You’re right about stronger verbs, that’s what I hear.
Thanks Hannah - I can’t believe you read that - it’s so long.

message 3: by Carrie (new)

Carrie Another great review! I'm surprised that King reads even 70-80 books a year. I know ma lot of writers can't read other people's work while they're writing. It muddles their own "voice."

Jane Stewart Thanks Carrie :)

Lelot I was surprised with King's mention and praise of Rowling's Harry Potter books after hearing his utter dislike for the use of adverbs.

Lelot Also, I have not read any of Stephen King's books. Horror is not my genre but I knew he is a prolific writer and most of his books have been adapted to movies (only one I've seen and liked "Shawshank Redemption").

This may be the only Stephen Kings book I read but if I do decide to read one of his works it would be "Carrie" and whatever is his most recent work.

I loved your review by the way!

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