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The King Himself > What Makes Stephen King's Writing Tick?

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M.R. Jenks (mjenks6) | 16 comments M.R. Jenks (mjenks6) | 7 comments As an author who is just starting out, I like to study Stephen King's writing and see what makes it tick. I suppose one has to pick different phases of his career as well, because his writing varied greatly from one phase to another. But I'm curious to hear from all of you, what is it that you think makes King's writing tick? What is it that draws you to his books and makes you want to keep reading? I really don't have a solid answer yet, except that in his best stuff (most of which is older) you literally find yourself stepping into the head (and skin) of his characters. You don't just empathize with them; you become them. What do you think?


message 2: by Kathryn (last edited May 17, 2012 12:30PM) (new)

Kathryn (kcanty313) | 631 comments I think a lot of good writing is based on individual talent. If everyone could write like King, well, would King still be one of the great authors of all-time? Probably not. I think, and coming from a writer myself, once an author has written a few works, and experimented with a few styles, they learn their niche and comfort zone in writing. I think with King, he was lucky and found it early on. I think with authors like King, writing is truly their gift, it can't be bought and shown how to, and it's just part of who they are. This probably doesn't answer your question, though. I do think part if his talent has to do with drawing the reader in and making stories seem so realistic. It doesn't seem fake, forced, overdone....It all seems very natural to him and his writing.


David McGowan (Dmcgowanauthor) | 18 comments Obviously, On Writing is a good resource M.R.

King has undoubted confidence in his writing, and the fun he has writing is apparent to the Constant Reader. Too often we, as writers, suffer fear, doubt and negativity. I'm sure King does at times too, and coping with those things is key to overcoming them and becoming a good writer.


Terri | 36 comments He almost always grabs my attention on the first page. I would have to go back and read some to try and figure out why--but he's very good at it!

At the end of chapter's there's always a hook which makes it impossible for me to put the book down.

I almost always feel like I'm in the story--a nearby neighbor to the characters, living on their street. He often sets his stories in a time that has that 50's/60's feel. Since that was the time I was born, I feel transported to my youth.

My favorite book of his is The Stand, then The Talisman, then 11/22/63. I love his characters. They are fully embodied, believable, and feel like someone you've met already.

These are the characteristics that draw me to his writing. I have tried on several occasions to figure out the exact draw of his writing. Is it formulaic? Is it his depth of characterization? His ability to identify our greatest fears? Like Kathryn said--if we could all write like Stephen King would he still be such an enigma? (Paraphrased) And I must add, we'd all be RICH!!!


Revdavid | 23 comments King has this ability or even just a nak to be able to take his characters and make them totally real!!! I am one who gets totally immersed in a book when I really get into it. King also doesn't always give you a happy ending sometimes shit is gonna be jacked up in the end!! You never know with him you can't ever really predict what he is gonna do next in the story usually because he is always switching it up. He doesn't just give you happy endings but does give you a good ending.


M.R. Jenks (mjenks6) | 16 comments Except for Cell, of course. I don't know what he was thinking there.


M.R. Jenks (mjenks6) | 16 comments Terri, the book I think most captures the 50's - early 60's is It. It is my second or third favorite; the movie doesn't do it justice. It really puts you back there, and you feel like you know the town of Derry intimately.


message 8: by Terri (last edited May 17, 2012 09:29PM) (new)

Terri | 36 comments M.R. wrote: "Terri, the book I think most captures the 50's - early 60's is It. It is my second or third favorite; the movie doesn't do it justice. It really puts you back there, and you feel like you know th..."

SPOILER for IT:

I've been thinking I should read it again now that I'm older. When it came out, I enjoyed it but I just couldn't get past the "spider" image in the end. LOL.


Terri | 36 comments Revdavid wrote: "King has this ability or even just a nak to be able to take his characters and make them totally real!!! I am one who gets totally immersed in a book when I really get into it. King also doesn't al..."

Cell kept up the pace throughout the book and then the end was a total letdown to me. But of course it was good enough for me to read the entire book in about two days.


Terri | 36 comments Revdavid wrote: "King has this ability or even just a nak to be able to take his characters and make them totally real!!! I am one who gets totally immersed in a book when I really get into it. King also doesn't al..."

So true...nothing is off the table with him.


Tara Wowra (Fynreader) I think the reason he is such a great writer is becuz he develops his characters so well that you CARE what happens to them. When he kills one off you FEEL it. You feel stunned and you have to find out what happens to the others.


Agrimorfee | 241 comments He cares most about his characters and rarely wastes a word in their thought processes and actions (Some exceptions would include some of his longer protracted endings). Even his omniscient narrator gets into the head of whichever character is currently in a scenario.


Charlene I agree with Tara, it's King's characterizations that makes me come back to him again and again.

I have read The Stand (and It and The Talisman) several times over and to me, it's like going back to visit old friends, but better. Unlike in real life, your old friends in a King book still like the same things and still have all the qualities that you loved about them in the first place.
I know and love these people as if they were real and part of my family. : )


Marc-Antoine | 127 comments For me it's the juvenile sense of humor, I can relate...


M.R. Jenks (mjenks6) | 16 comments Just a note that I like some of the connections (both direct and indirect) that he makes between his books. I loved in 11/22/63 how Jake comes across Beverly March and Richie Tozier when he is living in Derry temporarily. Made me want to go back and read "It" again (one of my absolute favorites).


Kilgallen | 17 comments I think that there are a few things that always draw me back to King's books. First there is almost always an element of the unusual in his works...sometimes it is a main theme and other times a supporting theme but it always seems to be there. His charaters are very well developed and I find myself really caring about them. I also really like when I stumble across the connections in the stories....not just connected themes but the reoccuring people and places. Reading a King novel almost always feels like visiting with a friend.....sometimes those friends are more odd then others. lol


Valerie the bookworm | 30 comments I agree with Kilgallen. My particular favorite thing that he does is the italicized character thoughts, which often actually interrupt the narrator. The humor that is in those thoughts is amazing. I think like that and I love that I can relate. He has said himself that he has these characters and he just gets out of the way and lets the characters do what they will. Pure magic. What is raw talent has also multiplied due to his sheer staying power with all of us, which he brilliantly keeps intact by having familiar elements to each book that we can relate to. We, the constant readers, are rewarded as being "on the inside" and "in on the joke" so to speak. My humble opinion, of course. I could talk for hours about what I love about his writing!


David jones | 165 comments I agree with Valerie. I loved the italicized character thoughts he disperses through some of his books that interrupts the narration sometimes. Now, I don't get scared and stuff, but I think when he does that, it expresses more of a fear into the reader as well as a lot more intensity. I also like how he gets into the heads of the characters, and we learn stuff about them, stuff that may not pertain to the plot, but stuff that is important to the character and getting to know him/her. Another thing is he way he builds suspense, slowly, getting to know the characters, before exploiting them to the situation that is the main premise of the novel.


Lauren (laurej) | 4 comments I love the characterizations. He does excellent "Everyman" figures that are still individualized by their own strengths and weaknesses, but I have a special attachment to his human "bad guys," whom I sometimes find deeply sympathetic, despite their actions, because he always understands their humanity. Harold and Lloyd in The Stand, in particular, always make me ache for them, because I feel like they could have done better, and been better, under different circumstances.

But one of the things I've always liked that I suspect is specific to me is that King has great details. I'm still thinking about The Stand, so, for example, the groceries that Larry's mother stocks the apartment with after he's arrived are such a great way of showing that relationship. And Harold's chocolate Paydays. King used to always get knocked down for including too many brand names, but I love the specificity of some of these details, branded or not: they lend this concrete reality to everything and they always stick in my mind. It's always why I never mind a digressive scene as long as it's full of those, like Roland freaking out over the taste of sugar in the Coca Cola in The Drawing of the Three. But this may just be me.


Janie Johnson I love how King can literally make us really not like the bad guys and just love those he portrays as saints, or the good old fashion "good guys". All the characters are so real, and you can feel them become a part of your own reality.


Lauren (laurej) | 4 comments Oh, definitely agreed that his "good guys" are great. Everybody talks up Flagg, but there are a lot of writers who could have made Stu Redman, or Mike Noonan, or the Losers Club, etc., boring or cardboard, and he makes them vivid and loveable, people you really want to spend time with.


Victor | 140 comments His charactors of course! Stephen King makes the best charactors and I love to read about them even the bad ones. There is something different about his writing, but I can't really put my finger on it. It amazes me how Stephen King can wite about one thing and fit into so many pages!


Dustin Without a doubt, it's King's characters. The reader really does feel like you're right there alongside them, experiencing what they're experiencing!


J.C. (CaptKidd) | 16 comments His dialogue, which is fantastic. And whenever he does first person narration, you know you're in for a treat.


Jason Baldwin-Stephens | 126 comments J.C. wrote: "His dialogue, which is fantastic. And whenever he does first person narration, you know you're in for a treat."

Agreed. In many ways it is his mastery of dialogue that I find to be his strongest attribute.

But of course something could be said of his well developed characters, his excellent prose and his amazing ideas. : )


David jones | 165 comments It is his characters. Those characters he writes, he writes them so well, including everything about their back story (I know those parts drag a bit, but I am glad they are in there). He writes them as if they were actual people, with actual problems. I also like the way he mainly writes about how people are the biggest monsters sometimes, and the supernatural horror is just an additive.


Dustin David wrote: "It is his characters. Those characters he writes, he writes them so well, including everything about their back story (I know those parts drag a bit, but I am glad they are in there). He writes the..."

I LOVE the character's back story, too, David! King's stories simply wouldn't be the same without them, IMO!


Victor | 140 comments His plots too. for example crippled writer stuck in a house with a crazy woman, children having to unite together to defeat a great evil, a bullied telekinetic girl, town infeted with vampires, snowbound familiy and the father is trying to kill them, mother and son stuck in an extremly hot car because a rabid dog will rip their throat out, killer psuedonyms, crazy cop that captures people for a host, possessed cars, plague, cell phones turning people into zombies, a sex game where the husband has a heartattack and the wife is handcuffed to the bed, saving JFK, raining killer frogs-the only short story I could think of, and a whole bunch more novels and short stories. Yup SK has a unique mind.:)


David jones | 165 comments Yup. I mean, King can come up with the most absurd of ideas, that no other writer would be good at, and he can create a story around that absurd idea that is the best thing ever.


Ethan | 145 comments I think one of the best things about King is that he won't worry himself to death with what people will think. If he likes a concept and finds it interesting he will run with it. If he thinks of an ending he likes even if its crazy or controversial he will go with it. He won't second guess himself . He comes up with the most amazing characters as well.


Tony Talbot | 133 comments I think it's a fundamental grasp of old fashioned story values. The battle between good and evil we can all relate to, and the characters he writes are the people we think we'd be in those situations.

Also, his fears are the universal fears of childhood: the monster under the bed, the darkness of the cellar. We've all been there, what he's telling us taps into the terror we all felt as children starting out in this scary world.

There's a line in IT, where some children are listening to a fairy tale: "The eternal fascination: Would the monster be bested...or would it feed?" That's a sentence we can all relate to, we HAVE to know if the characters will live or die.

If you read "On Writing", you can see that King was in no way an overnight success, and he laboured for years to be published. During all those years, he honed his writing to a point sharp enough to cut with it.

And as Ethan says, he stays true to himself (That's all a writer can ever do, just write for himself). He's having a blast and it shines through the page.


Mal Keenan (keeno82uk) | 64 comments I'm by no means a literary buff and not good at analysing authors or their styles, but with Stephen King I'm going to share my view.

His descriptive writing is beyond that of most, he describes the surroundings, characters and even the atmosphere well, which makes good reading.

Another good trait of a good author is creating that curiosity for readers to read on. Looking back at his books, he perfected this quite early on and has mastered this ever since.


Lanie (IceVamp) | 145 comments I've been reading King's books for several years, as well as other authors, and I believe I know what makes him stand out as a writer.
1. He writes good prose (I'm speaking technically - grammar usage, characterizations, he "paints" the story rather than insults your intelligence by "telling" you something)
2. His characters are "real" and you empathize with them - this is key. If you don't care about the characters why would you want to want to know what happens to them? His characters have many layers. How many times has he described a non-main character and you've thought to yourself, "I know someone like that"...one of the best gifts a writer can give to us as readers
3. The stories are solid and good. Even a "bad" King novel is still much better than any mediocre writer, so of course I have stories which I prefer over others but he is the one writer I measure others against.
4. His dialogue is realistic - so often I've read other authors who just can't write dialogue and it makes me lose respect for them. I can hear the characters in my head and they seem like real people to me having real conversations. So often writers overload exposition into dialogue in a very unrealistic way - King has a way of his characters speaking volumes in the things they say and what they don't say. He's a master at dialogue.
5. Setting - as King's character "N" says in the short story, "place matters..." and it does. He makes the setting of each story so real for us that we even cherish these make believe places. I fell in love with New England after reading his stories as a young girl - guess where I live now? (Not Maine, but Massachusetts and I'll never go back to California)

A combination of all of these 5 things make Mr. King "tick" as the thread goes. He is one of the best at his craft, and by writing bestseller after bestseller he has proved this over and over. On a personal note, my husband and I were both huge King fans in our youth- and it was one of the main things we had in common when we met, and eventually fell in love. So Stephen King's stories have been very personal to me. He has continued to be my favorite author (Neil Gaiman would probably secure the #2 spot) for over 20 years, and as long as he continues to write, I will continue to read. Thank You Mr. King, our Constant Writer...


message 34: by Angie, Constant Reader (new)

Angie | 2120 comments Lanie wrote: "I've been reading King's books for several years, as well as other authors, and I believe I know what makes him stand out as a writer.
1. He writes good prose (I'm speaking technically - grammar us..."


Good points!


Lanie (IceVamp) | 145 comments Thanks Angie!!
Using "Christine" as an example, we trust Dennis who is telling us the story and we eventually learn why he is telling us the story. We "see" who Arnie Cunningham is not only from Dennis' description of him, but as he talks about Arnie's relationship with his parents, other students and the town of Liberty itself. It is evident that Dennis loves Arnie - as they have been friends throughout childhood and have the ability to make each other laugh. Don't we all have friends like this, even if we still don't have much in common? We want Dennis to succeed in "saving" Arnie, and his intentions are good. We are in his corner and Arnie's - and we root for them. This is just an example of how King "shows" us the story through characterization, place, without corny dialogue and meaningless exposition (there may be a flashback or recounting of an event that Dennis recalls when they were younger) of writers who "tell" us things. As Arnie says to Christine, "show me"...
Rock on, King!


message 36: by Kathy (last edited Jan 18, 2013 07:38AM) (new)

Kathy (bookgoddess1969) | 665 comments I love the conversation tone of his story. It's as if we are crowded around a campfire and Uncle Stevie is just telling us a story. I can almost hear him.....


Alan Toner | 13 comments I love the way he sometimes introduces a new novel or short story collection at the beginning of the book.


Lanie (IceVamp) | 145 comments Nice, Kathy...


message 39: by Dustin (last edited Jan 18, 2013 01:03PM) (new)

Dustin Kathy wrote: "I love the conversation tone of his story. It's as if we are crowded around a campfire and Uncle Stevie is just telling us a story. I can almost hear him....."

You are spot-on, Kathy! Almost every of his stories has that 'sitting-around-the-campfire' feel to them, IMO!


Hans  (HansErik) | 16 comments In my opinion no other author creates old people- and children characters like Mr. King. You can tell that he has a lot of love and respect for them. (And for dogs :-) ) And quite often he also manage to follow the books good idea, the plot if you like, through the whole book. When that happens its magical being a King reader. Besides, I also love that through his long writing life he has visited "The Dark Tower" universe in stand alone books outside the now eight "Dark Tower" books.


Holly | 389 comments I love how you can get lost in his writing. When I start a King book, the pages just fly by for me.


Myra Compton | 15 comments Lanie wrote: "I've been reading King's books for several years, as well as other authors, and I believe I know what makes him stand out as a writer.
1. He writes good prose (I'm speaking technically - grammar us..."


Lanie, that has to be the most accurate and compelling descriptions of Stephen King I have ever read. I share your sentiments, as well. Mr. King has an insight into how people think, and couples that with fantastic writing skills no one else can match. Thank you...I really enjoyed reading your post!


M.R. Jenks (mjenks6) | 16 comments I think he is someone who is keenly observant. He listens to how people speak, their gestures, why they act the way they do. I think HE wants to know what makes THEM tick. What drives them? What makes them the way they are?


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