Monday, October 15, 2007

ON WRITING by Stephen King

I picked up On Writing because you can't do it much bigger than Stephen King has. Most books on writing are by grammarmongers or literary types, and I was interested to get the perspective of a writer of popular fiction. Previously, I'd only skimmed through Terry Brooks's Sometimes the Magic Works: Lessons from a Writing Life, but I don't think Terry Brooks is a very good writer, so that was the end of that.

Half the book is King's autobiography, and he focuses on the points in his life that he feels helped shape him as a writer. I felt like I didn't need most of this, although it was nice to know even Stephen King worked at some terrible jobs before he made it big. Those reading this book just for the writing lesson, and who care not for Stephen King, can skip this whole section, although there are some interesting tidbits on the publishing process.

King's points are several. The two keys to good writing, he says, are mastery of the fundamentals and hard work. A good writer should write all the time and read all the time. I agree with this.

King's strategy for writing is this: to come up with a foundational situation, not worry about the plot, and make it up as you go. There certainly is something to be said for this kind of writing, and it has a very romantic ideal, but I think this also explains why quite a few of King's otherwise-amazing novels have lame, deus ex machina endings.

On Writing is written in King's distinctive, conversational, foul-mouthed style, which is just as engaging in non-fiction, although he runs a bit long-winded at times. The book is pretty short, though, and it's a fairly quick read.

I can't say I learned anything new about writing, but I did have some concepts reinforced (like don't use dialogue attributions), and it was nice to hear it from the most popular novelist of our time.

King says you can't make a good writer great, and you can't make a terrible writer competent, but you can make a competent writer good. If that's you, then to you this book might just be