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Stephen King - On Writing (1 Viewer)

I posted this in writings tips/advice, so please forgive the double post. I just wanted to know what people think.


Up until yesterday I'd managed to successfully avoid reading anything by Stephen King. I never once had any reason to dislike him, I'd only seen his movies. Something told me "Don't read his stuff" and I really don't know why. I thoroughly enjoy reading authors and their works, getting an idea of who they are. One thing that particularly interests me is how writers got their start.


While in the library the other day I found myself browsing through Biographies/Autobiographies. I came across Kings book entitled "On Writing." Here was a proverbial Catch 22, a King book on a topic I enjoy.


I read the book in one sitting and found it to be more frustrating than anything I've ever read. I actually found myself putting the book down and taking a walk to clear my head, it annoyed me THAT much.


I don't know if it was just his way of saying "I write 10 pages a day, but YOU may want to consider starting with 1,000 words a day." Or maybe it was his views on adjectives and pronouns (both of which he hates by the way).


Basically, I'm just asking for a little advice...or reassurance or SOMETHING to just kinda hit the reset button for me and help me forget I even read that book.


The one thing that stands out the most, and the one thing I hope to have some advice in regards to, is his utter hatred of the "past" tense. He wants everything to be done in present tense, as if it is all happening as you read it. I sat down to write today and felt as if he were standing over my shoulder, shaking his head at something I'd written. "Frank was a survivor" or is it "Frank is a survivor"?


"He'd managed to survive three near death experiences..."
"He's managed to survive three near death experiences..."


I want to TELL the story and I'm having so much trouble with this right now because that damn book has gotten in to my head.


Any advice is appreciated.

Thanks
 

Mike C

WF Veterans
I actually liked the book far more than I expected to, because - unlike most how-to's - he doesn't presume that you'll get anything out of it. He doesn't pretend that anyone can teach a crap writer to ever be anything other than a crap writer. He acknowledges a truth that's almost taboo in writing circles - If your writing is poor, chances are it always will be.
 

Kane

Senior Member
I've read King's, "On Writing," twice in full, many more in parts... I don't remember that bit about him hating past tense. Just about every book I've read that King has written was done in past tense. I also don't like the overusage of pronouns and adjectives.
 

Dawnstorm

Senior Member
I posted in the writing tips section. Basically, I agree with Mike's assessment of the book, although I'm undecided on:

He acknowledges a truth that's almost taboo in writing circles - If your writing is poor, chances are it always will be.
Mostly because "poor" is so vague.
 

Kane

Senior Member
Well, King paints it a different way than Mike did. King says that a good writer will never be great. King believes that great writers cannot be made via practice and effort. A poor writer can become a decent writer, or maybe even a good writer, but only a great writer is a great writer. He does not consider himself to be a great writer.
 

Dawnstorm

Senior Member
Kane said:
Well, King paints it a different way than Mike did. King says that a good writer will never be great. King believes that great writers cannot be made via practice and effort. A poor writer can become a decent writer, or maybe even a good writer, but only a great writer is a great writer. He does not consider himself to be a great writer.

Almost, but not quite. King says that bad writers will stay bad writers. Merely competent writers can be turned into good writers, and great writers are a class to themselves:

Stephen King said:
...while it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.

So, yes, King does say that bad writers will never be good writers. Unfortunately, I don't agree with King on his examples of what constituates bad writing (for an example, see the writing tips forum thread - can a mod merge these threads?). That somewhat sheds doubt on the typology in the first place (unless I'm obviouly a bad writer - and reader - myself...).
 
Merging

I wouldnt mind a mod merging the threads, again I just wanted to get an idea of how people felt. Didnt really mean to double post it. King does approach the whole nature vs. nurture concept, and if I recall he does mention that even such an approach is a bit overplayed.

Although I do remember him saying he is not a "great" writer, I still felt as if he were just bragging at some points. Again, I suppose that is how any memoir can be read, regardless of the topic at hand. I just wanted to express my interest, or disinterest for that matter, with the book.
 

Dawnstorm

Senior Member
Swift84 said:
What thread in tips are you referring to?

This one.

It's in Writing Tips/Advice. [Edit: Duh! Swift: What thread in tips are you referring to? Dawnstorm: This one. It's in tips. I have days like this...]
 
Last edited:

Swift84

Senior Member
Well, I agree about passive voice. Even though I will use passive voice, active usually sounds stronger. However, in some instances you have to use passive voice in order to illuminate certain thoughts. Also, I know many people who dislike active voice because they find it harder to write (understandable).

King's hatred for adjectives is not as warranted. My main problem with adjectives is when people use lesser known adjectives when simple ones will work.
 

Kane

Senior Member
Dawnstorm said:
Almost, but not quite. King says that bad writers will stay bad writers. Merely competent writers can be turned into good writers, and great writers are a class to themselves:



So, yes, King does say that bad writers will never be good writers. Unfortunately, I don't agree with King on his examples of what constituates bad writing (for an example, see the writing tips forum thread - can a mod merge these threads?). That somewhat sheds doubt on the typology in the first place (unless I'm obviouly a bad writer - and reader - myself...).

Ahh okay... been a while, maybe I ought to read it again. =)
 
FrankieDWK said:
Up until yesterday I'd managed to successfully avoid reading anything by Stephen King. I never once had any reason to dislike him, I'd only seen his movies. Something told me "Don't read his stuff" and I really don't know why. I thoroughly enjoy reading authors and their works, getting an idea of who they are. One thing that particularly interests me is how writers got their start.

It seems that you already made up your mind prior to reading the book!

FrankieDWK said:
I want to TELL the story and I'm having so much trouble with this right now because that damn book has gotten in to my head.
Any advice is appreciated.

Here is a different perspective: I am a huge Stephen King fan, and I am confident that he will tell you that first and foremost he shares your affinity for just wanting to TELL the story. In fact, in messages hither and thither (forewords, afterwords, intro's etc.) Mr. King alludes to forgetting the specifics and just writing the story (this is why he prefers no outline; just create a character, stick him in a situation and see what he/she does). Also, look in the book for his writing specifically on the "story." You will see how organically he views the story, and this view is right line with your problem.

All writers that have written as much as him will naturally have their pet peeves and do's and don'ts; for King it's adverbs, past tense, etc. So, take solace in the fact that at a fundamental level he wants and strives for the same organic story experience that you do; that should ease your trouble.

Hope that helps....

Joe

Oh, and as a side note: you are doing yourself a disservice by not at least picking up one of his stories, and reading it with an open mind. Try "The Mist"; it's short and it's a very good piece of fiction.
 
J.V. Amaral said:
Oh, and as a side note: you are doing yourself a disservice by not at least picking up one of his stories, and reading it with an open mind. Try "The Mist"; it's short and it's a very good piece of fiction.

I actually just borrowed Carrie and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon from the library. Just finished Carrie today. I guess it's just different than other stuff I've read (his style that is), seeing as how I'm more of a Koontz/Vonnegut fan. (I know...they dont have much in common...but maybe now you can see my affliction?)

Either way I'm doing my best to expand horizons as I've always done. I wouldnt say I so much made up my mind beforehand. It's more based on the fact I honestly lacked interest in anything he'd written.
 

Foxee

Patron
Patron
I haven't read On Writing yet although I intend to check it out. I've just heard so much about it and I'm curious. I've avoided reading Stephen King's fiction because he does get into my head and give me nightmares. (I didn't need anymore nightmares... had enough of my own, thanks) So if in his writing book he got into your head the same way (no nightmares though, I hope) I have to give him kudos for being a truly good writer.
 
He definitely got in to my head, but thankfully no nightmares. The only time I ever got a nightmare from anything King related came from watching the movie IT. While watching it I honestly didn't think it was scary at all. But, I guess it just got in to my head and decided to spring up while I was sleeping.
 

Fantasy of You

Senior Member
I thought On Writing was a great book. All the advice S.K. gives seems pretty good to me. Even he said was said frankly, and without being condescending. He gives examples from his own life, which I found incredibly helpful and enlightening.

It's a great book, and if you don't like what it says, don't read it again. And why should you listen to him? Not like he's been published or made a few pound.

- FoY
 

wmd

Senior Member
This thread seems a bit old to put a new post in, but since it has been revived I will add my two cents.

I am a King fan. On Writing is one of my favorite books in my collection and have read it multiple times (straight through and sporadically). The thing about this book is that I find it more inspiring than I do instructional, which is a good thing.

There is nothing wrong with reading the book and disagreeing with what he is saying. The craft of writing is an art form and there are numerous ways to accomplish the same thing.

As far as King's writing goes... His work falls into two categories imo. It is either exciting and great to read, or boring and hard to read. I think it is one or the other and he usually does not tread into the middle ground.

I don't know why you would say "I will never read a King book". You really did not give a reason as to why. Did someone turn you off of them? Bad experience with the writer? I dunno, but he obviously left a mark on you if you checked out two other books.

If you are still reading him, try Cell it is a newer book and jumps right into the action and never lets up.

And dont judge King by the movies that are made. When you are watching a movie you are not watching a Stephen King movie you are watching a movie based on a Stephen King book/story. There is a difference. I do not like watching a movie that was based on a book because the movie usually comes up short... way short.
 
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