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

On Writing by Stephen King
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Nov 28, 09

Read in January, 2006

Let's be honest: Stephen King is not one of the greatest writers of all time. He will never win a Pulitzer or a Nobel (he might win a Newberry though, if he ever decides to tap into the Kids/Young Adult market), and on the few times his books are featured in the New York Times Book Review, the reviewer will treat the book with a sort of haughty disdain, knowing their time could be better spent trashing Joyce Carol Oates.

None of this should suggest, however, that King is not qualified to write a book about how to write. Sure, he churns out pulpy horror stories that are proudly displayed in airport bookstores, but the man knows how to write a good story, and he's probably one of the most well-known, non-dead American authors in the world. So he must be doing something right.

I'm not the biggest fan of King's books, but I really enjoyed On Writing. He talks about writing frankly and practically, mixing tried-and-true pieces of advice (fear the adverb, never write "replied/remarked/muttered/yelled etc" when you can write "said", and don't be afraid to kill off your favorite character) with anecdotes about how some of his books came about. I especially liked the story behind Carrie: King was working as a janitor at a high school, and one night he was cleaning the girls' locker room. He asked the other janitor what that little metal dispenser box on the wall was, and the other man replied that it was for "pussy pluggers." At the same time, King had been reading about how psychic abilities often manifest in girls just beginning to go through puberty. He combined the two ideas and wrote out a couple pages that would turn into the opening of Carrie. (if you haven't read it you should.) Many thanks to King's wife, who rescued the pages from the wastebasket after King first decided that the idea was stupid and threw them away.

So, in conclusion: even if you aren't a fan of Stephen King's work, he has some very good advice about writing and storytelling, plus some good stories of his own. Sure, you can call him a sellout. But I like him.

Also, he once said in an interview that Stephenie Meyer "can't write worth a darn." You stay classy, Mr. King.
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Comments (showing 1-35 of 35) (35 new)

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message 1: by El (new)

El You stay classy, Mr. King.

I think it's his classiness that keeps me coming back for more. You know, like when he publishes 1,000+ page books after he "retires".


Madeline He's like the Cher of the writing world. Just when you think this is the last concert ever, six months later he's in Vegas working on another tour. He will never retire.


message 3: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer Barbee "He's like the Cher of the writing world."

Perfect analogy, and very astute review. Whether King is a "great" writer or not, he most definitely has a talent for finding the vein when it comes to the lowest common denominators of fear. Sometimes, he does this really well ("Carrie") and other times, not so much ("Pet Sematary," etc. etc. etc.).


message 4: by Paul (new)

Paul Let us not forget that he is also the author of such works as "The Shawshank Redemption" and "The Green Mile".

Sure, pulpy horror... but then shit that gets turned into classic American cinema (as in Shawshank)?

He's doing something right, whatever it is.


message 5: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Russell Yeah, that book was quite good -- might have been surprising, but he did show a talent for informal nonfiction narrative (esp with personal digressions) in Danse Macabre. I thought the book really picked up after his (horrific) accident.


message 6: by Ken (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ken Yes, Madeline, let's be totally honest: Pulitzers are a joke, as are most awards. Good luck trying to justify Dave Eggers' Nobel recognition for "A Heartbreaking Work..." King's refusal to "tap into" (see: pander to) "the Kids/YA market" is a testament to his greatness, rather than some kind of demerit.


Madeline Actually, I think Stephen King would be a fantastic YA author. He's one of the few authors who's able to actually understand how kids think, and his ability to write from a child's perspective without being cloying would be a huge help if he ever decided to write books aimed specifically at kids.


message 8: by ★ Jess (new) - added it

★ Jess Agreed.


message 9: by Ken (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ken Madeline wrote: "Actually, I think Stephen King would be a fantastic YA author. He's one of the few authors who's able to actually understand how kids think, and his ability to write from a child's perspective with..."

Fair enough.


Ravven I think that Stephen King is sometimes (not always) a superb writer. When not astonishing, he is usually always entertaining and readable. And don't forget that he did win the O. Henry Award for his short story "The Man in the Black Suit", and isn't something to turn your nose up at.


message 11: by Ana (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ana Ruiz I don't want to read your review to spoil anything (even if this is not a novel), as my reason to land on this page was to add this to my "currently reading" shelf, when I saw that you had reviewed this, and thought "cool, this will be worth my time."


Synesthesia (SPIDERS!) Sometimes he's REALLY good like with Firestarter or Green Mile and sometimes he drives me up a tree like with the long version of the Stand.


Terry who cares Madeline- which of us here wouldn't want to be in his shoes? Successful, not a pompous old ass either


Gitta Have you read his recent comments on Twilight, The Hunger Games and Fifty Shades? Priceless.


Synesthesia (SPIDERS!) Man, I'd love a sequel to Firestarter. It's such a karmic-ally satisfying book. Man I want to be a writer.


Peter McQueeny I used to think King was a hack, but then I read "The Shining" and I discovered that he is a mad genius. He's written some crap, but hell, almost all authors on this Earth write exclusively crap. Most art is bad. Truth is, King is a damn prolific author. When you've written as many books as Stephen King, some of them are bound to suck. Hell, he's earned the right to suck once in a while. What makes me respect him most though, is that he doesn't apologize for this fact. So what? Write! Write like the wind! Even if you're breaking wind! Better than not writing at all!


Shala I agree. The Shining was a revelation for me in regards to how he told the story, not just the imagination and scope of the story itself.


message 18: by Dave (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dave YA sucks and king better not enter that shit genre


Madeline Wow, okay, I guess we're doing this.

I can think of two possible explanations for why you're able to dismiss an entire genre of literature as "shit." The first is that you've read each of the millions of YA books that make up the genre and are therefore able to give an informed opinion. The second explanation is that you're a judgemental douche who thinks that because a book is marketed specifically at teenagers, it is automatically not good.

Go sit in the corner with the 18th century dudes who dismissed the novel as "women's books" and be quiet.


hannah lynn swisher I love your book series so does my dad,we read it together,and at barns and noble your series is also on tape.


message 21: by Amaya scott (new)

Amaya scott love


message 22: by Reagan Wesson (new)

Reagan Wesson I really enjoy your reviews, and especially appreciate your honesty and sense of humor.


message 23: by Jeff (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jeff Messick I would disagree with your assertion that King's not a great writer. He has a huge audience, tells a great story and writes because he loves to write. A "great" novelist back in the day versus a "great" novelist now is access to their work. King is a great writer, even though some of his work seems formulaic. His book about the Kennedy assassination is one of my top five books ever.


message 24: by Dave (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dave I Agree with Jeff. King doesn't need to write YA novels or jargon like David Mitchell to be considered a great writer. He sells Millions because he knows how to tell stories.

I don't like horror but I'll read his other stuff anytime.


Madeline Nice backpedaling. You're still a pretentious ass.


message 26: by Leo (new)

Leo Say what you want about him but, everyone I know and I mean everyone, has read something by him. I've read The Stand, Desperation, Bag of Bones, and I'm about certain there's another one in the bin. I feel like this thread is derailing.. So I bid you all adieu.


message 27: by Alexander (new)

Alexander Arsov Interesting criteria of great writing: Pulitzer, Nobel, NYBR...


Madeline Perhaps a better way to phrase it would have been to say that Stephen King will never be recognized as a great writer.


message 29: by Trinity (new) - added it

Trinity wow since we all bein honsest k why do people 50·/· chance u like the author or not???…


message 30: by Alexander (last edited Jan 15, 2015 11:50PM) (new)

Alexander Arsov Should Mr King and his fans care for this kind of recognition?


message 31: by Adeba (new)

Adeba Nice review :) I really liked the phrase 'one of the most well-known, non-dead American authors'. Don't know why but it made me laugh.


message 32: by Dave (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dave Who's being a pretentious ass


message 33: by Dave (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dave Who's being a pretentious ass


message 34: by Bill (new) - added it

Bill Great review. And I think Stephen King would also have endorsed your review.


message 35: by B. (new) - rated it 5 stars

B. Reese Great review. i agree, even if you hate king, this book is gold.


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