Books of 2015, #10: On Writing by Stephen King

Even in college—as I was using fiction and poetry writing classes to maintain the possibility of graduating—I think I knew I wasn’t going to be a professional writer. It was a few years out of college that I realized I wasn’t even going to be an part-time writer: I can crank out a hell of an email, perhaps even a worthwhile blog post now and again, but my expectations of being paid to put words in a row are, at this point, zero.

It’s still fun to read about it, and think about it, though, and I was looking for something non-fiction to read, so I picked up On Writing.

As a guide to writing…ehh. Much of the advice it provides are things that you can find elsewhere as well. Interesting to read again all these years later, but hardly revelatory.

And a lot of it is only indirectly about writing, and mostly about Stephen King. Which I am sure disappoints some of its prospective readership, but I found perfectly engaging.

What I did find intriguing, though, find his discussion of story vs. plot to be interesting. I would (over-)simplify it to say that he argues that story unfolds, while plot must be driven. Or perhaps that story arises out of consequences of an event, and thus should flow naturally, while plot attempts to force events to occur. He talks about his process often beginning with a simple statement of a situation, like “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”

I found this resonated with Neil Gaiman’s comments about where some of the ideas that made their way into Sandman came from, perhaps the most ironic being at a comic convention and idly wondering, “I wonder if serial killers have conventions?”

Anyway, if you go into reading this with eyes open, it can be a fun read, and sometimes what it really takes to get you to do something is to hear someone say something you already know in a different way. Nothing in it is profound, but sometimes that’s what you need.

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Michael Alan Dorman

Yogi, brigand, programmer, thief, musician, Republican, cook. I leave it to you figure out which ones are accurate.