Monday, August 1

The 5 Best Books on Writing. First Book: On Writing by Stephen King























If I could only recommend one book on writing I wouldn’t hesitate. It would be Stephen King’s book, “On Writing.”

Why “On Writing”?


Stephen King is, in my opinion, one of the best writers of our time. I know not everyone will agree with that, and, if you don’t, I’d ask you to hear me out.

Prose and Plot


There are more (many more!) than two dimensions to any piece of writing, but here I’m only going to talk about two: prose and plot.

I think that where Stephen King excels is his prose, not his plot—though, don’t misunderstand, I think his plots are riveting. But it is his prose that immerses readers in his characters. It is the unrelenting intimacy one feels with his characters that sucks me into his stories, his worlds, and makes me sad when I have to leave.

Here’s an example. What follows are the first three paragraphs of “The Shining” by Stephen King.

Jack Torrance thought: Officious little prick. Ullman stood five-five, and when he moved, it was with the prissy speed that seems to be the exclusive domain of all small plump men. The part in his hair was exact, his dark suit was sober but comforting. I am a man you can bring your problems to, that suit said to the paying customer. To the hired help it spoke more curtly: This had better be good, you. There was a red carnation in the lapel, perhaps so that no one on the street would mistake Stuart Ullman for the local undertaker. As he listened to Ullman speak, Jack admitted to himself that he probably could not have liked any man on that side of the desk—under the circumstances.

Let’s examine this. And, please, keep in mind these are just my thoughts as a reader and admirer of Stephen King’s work. I’m not speaking from any sort of privileged position. I’d love to read in the comments what you think of these passages. 

In the first paragraph we are shoved into the mind of one of the two main characters in this story, Jack Torrance. You can't get more intimate than that. Also, this is emotional. No one thinks, "officious little prick" of someone unless they're angry, and anger is very personal, very intense. We are not only eavesdropping on Jack’s thoughts, but Jack’s thoughts are (depending on what you're used to) a little bit shocking. I mean, the very first thing we learn about Jack Torrance is that he thinks someone is an officious little prick. It paints a picture of Jack. Right off the bat it seems that he might have anger issues, perhaps he is someone quick to take offense.

That first sentence of “The Shining” is, hands down, my favorite first sentence of any book, ever.

The second paragraph is written in the third person but it clearly reflects Jack’s point of view. King uses the phrases, “prissy speed,” “small plump men,” as well as a suggestion that Ullman looked cold and dour, to paint a picture not only of Ullmen, but of Jack. These are Jack’s emotions, Jack’s musings, Jack’s thoughts. It also tells us, or at least hints at, why Jack is with Ullman. Jack needs Ullman to hire him for a job that is (he feels) far beneath him and he hates Ullman for it.

In the third paragraph we learn that although Jack is angry he is also reflective. Thoughtful. He realizes that perhaps he isn't being fair to Ullman and is honest enough with himself to realize that, under the current circumstances, it doesn't matter what Ullman is like, Jack is going to despise him. And Jack seems okay with that.

Interwoven through it all is King's voice. It is like a living thing, thick with emotion. It thrusts and gouges, revealing character.

I was planning on writing more today but ... I'm moving! Lots to do, lots still to pack.

In my next post I’ll pick this topic up again and talk about what I think is Stephen King's number one best piece of advice for writers.

1 comment:

  1. 'On Writing' is my favorite as well. I must read it again.

    ReplyDelete

Because of the number of bots leaving spam I had to prevent anonymous posting. My apologies to anyone this inconveniences, I wish I didn't have to do it. I do appreciate each and every comment.