Post originally published 6/4/15
Actually, I hate horror. I hate gore. But Stephen King is my best friend. He really is. At least, it feels like it now that I finally read his book, On Writing. The first half is a memoir. He basically says (and I'm paraphrasing), "Look, I don't know how people become famous authors. I just know my story." He goes through and talks about his life, where and how he first started writing, etc.
The second half is solid advice on writing. He knows what he's talking about! And he makes it interesting!
Here are 5 things I've learned about writing from my new best friend, Stephen King:
1. To be a successful writer, you HAVE TO read a lot!
Here's a quote: "If you don't have time to read, you don't have time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that. Reading is the creative center of a writer's life. I take a book with me everywhere I go, and find there are all sorts of opportunities to dip in. The trick is to teach yourself to read in small sips as well as in long swallows..."
2. Every story starts with a "what-if" question.
"What if vampires invaded a small England village? ('Salem's Lot)
What if a policeman in a remote Nevada town went berserk and started killing everyone in sight? (Desperation)
What if a cleaning woman suspected of a murder she got away with (her husband) fell under suspicion for murder she did not commit (her employer)? (Dolores Cliborne)
What if a young mother and her son became trapped in their stalled car by a rabid dog? (Cajon)
These were all situations which occurred to me while showering, while driving, while taking my daily walk-- and which I eventually turned into books."
3. Avoid adverbs. (These are the words that modify verbs, adjectives and other adverbs and usually end in _ly.)
"I believe," Stephen King says, "the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they're like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day... fifty the day after... and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely and profligately covered with dandelions..."
4. For the first draft, write with the "door shut."
"With the door shut, downloading what's in my head directly to the page, I write as fast as I can and still remain comfortable. Writing fiction, especially a long work of fiction, can be a difficult, lonely job; it's like crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub...The great thing about writing with the door shut is that you find yourself forced to concentrate on story to the exclusion of practically everything else. No one can ask you 'What were you trying to express with Garfield's dying words?' or 'What's the significance of the green dress?' You may not have been trying to express anything with Garfield's dying words, and Maura could be wearing green only because that's what you saw when she came into sight in your mind's eye... you are less apt to slack off or to start concentrating on the wrong thing... being wonderful, for instance, instead of telling the goddam story."
5. Write for the "Ideal Reader."
"Do all opinions weigh the same? Not for me. In the end I listen most closely to Tabby (Stephen King's wife) because she's the one I writer for, the one I want to wow. If you're writing primary for one person besides yourself, I'd advise you to pay very close attention to that person's opinion... And if what you hear makes sense, then make the changes. You can't let the whole world into your story, but you can let in the ones that matter most. And you should...."
Yep. Stephen King is my newest best friend.
I'm only sorry that On Writing is the first and only book I've read of his. But, it's exactly what I needed right now to get my butt in gear. Publishing fiction has been my life long dream. I have the tools. I have the advice. Now it's time to get to work. My door is shut for now, but I'll let you know when I've got something, and you can bet that my best friend will be proud of me, for I won't be using adverbs, and I'll be thinking and focusing on story not theme and writing for that Ideal Reader.
I don't want to sound like Reading Rainbow or anything, but if you're a writer (or hope to be), On Writing by Stephen King is the book for you, and you can make the master of horror your best friend, too.
"There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down... and bleed."
"Mongkonk Street, Hong Kong"