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 1-17)

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message 17: 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 15: 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 14: 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 13: 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 12: 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 10: 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 7: 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."

message 6: by Synesthesia (new)

Synesthesia 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

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

message 3: by Synesthesia (new)

Synesthesia 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.

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