I have great affection for Stephen King. His books provided places for me to lose myself in during the more depressing episodes of my adolescence from ages 14 to 18. King churns them out at such a pace that there are bound to be some stinkers in his back catalogue, but at his best I think he’s a very effective storyteller. My favourite King novels are The Dead Zone, Dolores Claiborne and The Shining, and one day I intend to work my way through everyone else’s favourite, The Stand. I also like King’s non-fiction. I’ve read his book Danse Macabre: An Anatomy of Horror about three times and my copy is looking pretty worn out, so I was looking forward to reading On Writing.
The first section is an attempt to explain how he became the kind of writer he did and, as such, it fails. It doesn’t really explain why he grew up to become a compulsive and prolific writer of horror fiction, but this doesn’t matter because it’s such a great read. I really enjoyed his positive attitude to his experience of being raised by a tough, self-reliant single-mother. King, it seems, can make a story out of anything he has lying around. Did you know that he plays in a band with Barbara Kingsolver and Amy Tan?
The second section of the book is practical advice for people who want to write. It’s all useful, sensible stuff:
- If you’re not prepared to work your arse off, don’t even bother
- Read a lot – you learn about writing through reading
- Write a lot – King recommends 1,000 words a day minimum
- Leave out everything that isn’t the story
- Know who your ideal reader is
- Expand your vocabulary but use it appropriately
- Understand the basic rules of grammar
- The adverb is not your friend
- Shut the door of the room in which you write
- A partner who takes no shit off you is also a boon
In the last section King tells the story of the near fatal accident that really does feel like an episode from one of his novels. It’s a trauma narrative and also quite fascinating.