At long last, I finally read and completed Stephen King’s “On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft”, his part autobiography, part how-to-write book which has been widely received. I had heard many great things about this book, and earlier this year, felt it was time for me to finally learn from The Master.
This is a great book, even though many have said so. But I want to re-echo it, this is a great book if you want to learn the craft of writing. Here are a few things that stood out for me:
“You must not come lightly to the blank page”:
I like how Stephen King talks about we writers must approach the blank page like we’re “ready to kick ass and take down names”. Or even, “with nervousness, excitement, hopeful, or even despair”. He’s, of course, very passionate about writing, and he’s the kind of writer who was born to write. People like that would see flakey writers as insulting to the craft of writing. That is why he says, “its writing, damn it, not washing the car or putting on eyeliner.” True, very true.
Reading King’s tough words made me wonder how exactly do I approach the blank page. I certainly do not take lightly. But I am one of those who does with the “nervousness, excitement, hopeful, or even despair”. I am not the kind looking to kick ass, though I could imagine it would be fun to do so!
“The best form of dialogue attribution is said”:
Yeah, I’m one of those writers who feels – and even likes – to use attributions like asked, shouted, whispered, etc. I just feel like it gets rid of the repetitiveness of said. Sure, it might be OK to do that, but I also get what King means. We as writers are supposed to allow our readers to decide for themselves what is going on. In this case, our readers are to figure out what tone or level of voice characters are speaking in. Using other attributions would be like holding a reader’s hand, or rather, telling rather than showing. We all know the main rule for writing fiction: show, don’t tell.
“I don’t believe any novelist…has too many thematic concerns”:
This is interesting because for anyone who’s ever sat in an English Lit class, themes are one of the biggest topics when discussing a novel. King brings this up, but makes it clear that it not important, or as he puts it: “no big deal”. The themes in his novels are simply “interests which have grown out of my life and thought, out of my experience” as a human being. He also adds that “good fiction always begins with story and progresses into a theme”, and not vice versa. I found this to be a relief because whenever I write, I worry about themes. I remember that issue being drilled into my head in high school and college, and at one point, it scared me away from any fiction writing.
Its unfortunate that many English teachers are forgetting the important thing about fiction: it is sometimes just a story.
But only sometimes. Even King, when he ends off this part, says, “once your basic story is on paper, you need to think about what it means”. Themes are inevitable, but they are not the point of writing a story.
“Paragraph, not the sentence, is the basic unit of writing”:
I like this because this is something I’ve noticed when I write. I put a lot of thought into where a paragraph starts and where it ends. Sentences, particularly their content and length, don’t worry me as much. Paragraphs on the other hand, kind of stress me out in a way! I always worry if they’re too short or too long, or if one short paragraph should really be on its own or be part of a larger one. I even worry if I have too many short paragraphs going on.
But I worry because I realize how important a paragraph is. As King puts it, “it is a marvellous and flexible instrument…you have to learn the beat”. Yep, paragraphs are the rhythm to a novel.
Anyway, I highly recommend Stephen King’s classic book on the craft of writing. Please do read this you haven’t already. You’ll learn a lot and you’ll be relieved a lot. Either way, it is the book all writers need to have on their shelves, with many pages dog-earred.