On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft
Most Americans can name at least one book written by Stephen King or a movie based on one of his books. Stephen King is the MacDonald?s Restaurant of the ?literary? world. Even scholars are familiar with his work. His stories are certainly entertaining, but are they written well? How much thought and planning does he invest in his fiction? His book, On Writing, offers an insight into his writing process.
Like his fiction, On Writing is entertaining and easy to read. One of the first things an alert reader will notice is that there is no index. Perhaps King wrote the book in hopes that the reader would read straight through without seeking out sections on plot, story, characterization, etc. Index is an important tool that should not be omitted if the author of the book has essential points that could be referred to several times.
The first section of the book is dedicated to the story of his life. It contains humor and honesty and can be read very quickly. The reader learns two important things. One, King is like everyone else. Two, King was born with the innate desire to create. This comforts the beginning writer.
The remainder of the book leaves the experienced writer with some doubts. The writer reading the book feels that he/she has been given a bowl of frosted flakes when he/she asked for bran flakes. The book is easy. It is fun. It is satisfying and filling. But is it good for the writer in the long run? Does it teach anything?
That depends on how advanced and independent the writer is. King often makes blanket statements that a new writer might misinterpret. For example King says that plot is not necessary. A new writer might misinterpret this and write aimlessly. I believe that at least a loose plot should be set, especially for longer works of fiction. Plot can always be changed. Plot aids recovery from ?writer?s block?. If a writer has a plot planned in advance, he/she can always fall back on those plans when struggling with what to write next.
King also downplays the need for doing research before writing. To a point, King is correct. Fiction should not be a reiteration of facts. However, sometimes research is needed before a character can even be created. For example, a writer may decide to create a character that has an illness or ailment or disability that the author is unfamiliar with. An accurate description of the character is essential. Also it is essential that the writer conduct research before sending his character into unfamiliar territory (foreign country or state, prison, college, etc.).
Basically, King?s book is entertaining, an easy read and beneficial to a writer who is just beginning his career. He does make excellent points such as it is essential that an writer is well-read in the genre that he/she is writing in. It is also beneficial to study literary magazines and literary markets. Also, he continually reminds his readers that it is only through determination and shutting the door to the outside world that he has been able to become a success. He describes the writing life as one that is done in a vacuum. You don?t need outside sources: writing books, classes, writers? groups in order to write. You simply need to write in order to be a writer. He discusses, in detail and with a lengthy description from his own writing, the importance of editing, something that is mandatory for all writers and often ignored by new writers.
Perhaps the most memorable detail of the book is that Stephen King fell into a slump while writing his book Carrie. This confession knocks him off the supernatural/suspense pedestal and brings him to the level of the common writer. King almost gave up on the book because he was having trouble with Carrie White, his main character. He learned many lessons from her. If you want to write, there really is no excuse to not write. And if you want to read about writing, King?s book On Writing is an excellent choice for reading material at the beach on a hotsummer day.