Oct 23, 2008

Stephen King "On Writing"

Carrie, Stephen King's first ever novel, was the first book of his that I held in my hands. I returned it back to the school library after 20 pages. This is easy to understand if I reveal that I had been looking for books by Stephen Hawking. Exactly why the missing "Haw" did not attract my attention is unclear, but there was more slime than time in this brief history.

I never ventured into King-dom, not because of the mishap recounted above, but because I don't read horror. I like the movies though, so I read Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, and after experiencing The Shining, I read about the Overlook. I wasn't too impressed. It was wordy, too long, and only occasionally did the hairs on my neck demand that I shut that book and try not too look outside at the blackboard night on whom someone was writing, slowly but with careful intent, my name in blood...

So it is strange that the first King book I've really liked is non-fictional. In On Writing, King takes a practitioner's view of writing. He feels blessed to be able to write and make money off it. He wouldn't probe that bit of magic too much. Instead, he makes sure he doesn't take it for granted and work at it like hell.

King begins with a brief autobiography - he thinks it would be good for me to know how some of that must have affected his work. He then constructs a toolbox for writing. It is suprisingly small (vocab and grammar on top, Strunk and White in the middle, organisation below). Just basic skills.

The last section is On Writing. If you had to read anything about writings, you should read this. He talks about themes, about the way he revises, about reading, about blocks, about ideas and flow. It works for him, but you don't have to do it that way. This section is written with great clarity and cohesion.

If I had to apply Strunk and White's mantra of "omit all unnecessary words", this post should read as:

"Read a lot, write a lot" - Stephen King, "On Writing".
Cross-posted on our group lit blog

5 comments:

Preeti said...

What a co-incidence. A professor just recommended this book for my PhD cohort before we begin any serious writing. And I was feeling exceptionally lazy to check it out cos I did not progress beyond the first few pages of the two Stephen King books that I had once picked. Thanks for the review.

Ramanand said...

Preeti: that /is/ a coincidence. Incidentally, I did not mention that though this is primarily for serious and creative writers, it might also work as a reasonably good guide for anyone doing a bit of writing.

pi said...

I will take your word and try this book :)
the Shawshank Redemption-> I never knew was a Stephen King work!!!!!!
Your post also made me learn what a novella is!!! :)

-(earlier blogged at mon-dieu.spaces.live.com)

Pi

Anup said...

Funny how things coincide. Just this afternoon there was a lunch table discussion about halloween movies and everyone came up with one movie after another, all based on King's books. One fact which was mentioned was that, to date, he neither appreciates nor approves of what Kubrick did with The Shining, even one bit. That man is stubborn or what! But I like his books all the same. Have been meaning to read On Writing for a while. Maybe now I will.

Ramanand said...

Pi: Then you may also be interested in knowing that The Green Mile (same director) is also based on a King story.
Anup: Maybe one of you has the gift of "The Shining"!