Review of Stephen King’s ‘On Writing—A Memoir of the Craft’
I found a copy of Stephen King’s writing guide, ‘On Writing–A Memoir of the Craft’ on my Artist’s Date to Barnes and Noble last week. After reading the foreword I was hooked. His style of writing is disarming, an every man’s voice. He states that he worked to keep this volume short because he figured that “the shorter the book, the less the bullshit” and he has kept his word. Each section of this book deals specifically with the craft of writing; the language, the storytelling and the process involved in creating with words. No extras, no fluff, no ‘bullshit’ are found here.
The section that is most memorable to me deals with plot, or rather, the lack thereof. Many authors plot their stories out methodically on cards or in a notebook. Mr. King states that he doesn’t follow this method and gives two reasons to explain his break with literary conventions. One, the act of living is ‘plot less’, therefore; writing about life should be as well if there is any truth to be found in it. And two, plot takes away any spontaneity involved in the creation of your story. The end result seems artificial and labored.
He believes that stories make themselves and authors just transcribe them. “Plot is, I think, the good writer’s last resort and the dullard’s first choice.” Mr. King also states, “Story is honorable and trustworthy; plot is shifty and best kept under house arrest.”
Mr. King prefers to begin with a situation, next he adds characters, drawing them as accurately as possible. Then he narrates, letting the story tell itself and the characters do things in their own way. The outcome is sometimes close to what he imagined, but often he admits it becomes a surprise to even him. Knowing the ending isn’t necessary to begin writing, it will come naturally as part of the process of storytelling. And no story will ever be finished if it isn’t begun. He recommends you stop plotting and just write.
He likens stories to fossils in the ground; they are found, and need to be unearthed as intact as possible. Maybe you have found a seashell of a short story, or a complete tyrannosaurus rex skeleton of a novel. Excavating each of them should include the same steps. Consider the situation, listen to what your characters are saying and doing when confronted with this predicament, then watch what happens. And, oh yes, write it down.
Many of the writing skills I was taught in high school and college classes are not used by the successful authors of today. What a lot of time wasted in the pursuit of dated rules and style. I wish that I had read what Mr. King has to say about writing years ago. This book was well worth the price, full of information and told in an entertaining manner.