Category Archives: Stephen King

On Writing. Fiction

On Writing. Fiction

Book Review and Commentary,  January 21, 2016

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41O3ebvsQSL._AA160_ On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King is #15 (at this time) on the Amazon Best Seller List in Reference/Writing Fiction paperback books. With over 2300 reviews (3% having 1- and 2-star reviews posted by disappointed and angry readers), I found this book to have little value in “how to” actually write, but great value in the thinking behind King’s writing processes. By reading this book, you will not learn to write effectively or how to write horror stories, but you will learn King’s perspective on how his stories emerge and what he values for his creative writing adventures.

I have over twenty writing books on my shelf—twenty-five editing books. I’m always reading and studying writing books on story, plot, characterization, themes, narrative, and the mechanics of creating stories.

So, what is writing? King says it’s telepathy. He believes that writing is the purest form of telepathy of all the arts. He advises not to “come lightly to the page.” Serious business? Absolutely. The act of narrative is a creation after all. King speaks of his Muse (and yes there are muses—believe). My own muse is unlike King’s who is a “basement guy” that inspires him. Mine is a woman and she exists outside my windows. I can’t see her but the light and the sky stream thoughts to me and without a window or a walk outside, I wonder if I can write at all without her.

It’s true that King addresses vocabulary, grammar, passive voice, nouns, verbs sentences, adverbs, description, and the mighty pace and beat of a story. Sure he recommends Strunk & White’s Elements of Style. Most writers know these basics; what is more helpful is how King speaks about the seduction and magic of writing—about letting go of the fear and self-doubt.

I love that King is more of an “organic writer” than a planner and plotter. Probably because that’s how my writing process works as well. “Stories pretty much make themselves,” King says. I agree. He prefers the “situation” of the story to flow from his intuition. “The story is the boss. Write fast to outrun the self-doubt.”

King advises against writing out plotlines, story outlines, and all that predestination. In The Secret Miracle, The Novelist’s Handbook, edited by Daniel Alarcon, Stephen King is quoted as saying he “never” outlines. Some people believe the old axiom that ‘plotting and spontaneity of real creation are not compatible.’ For organic writers this is often true.

Another book on writing is Steven James’ Story Trumps Structure. Here, Steven James echoes King’s standard for organic writing. James tells us to ditch the outline and follow the rabbit trail. “Let scenes evolve … trust the narrative force to reveal the story.” Steven James believes that using “uncertainty” is an essential ingredient if you desire to make art.

On Writing is friendly and inspiring with common sense advice. I loved King’s philosophies and creative perspectives, but there wasn’t a lot new or progressive and was rather thin on character development. A favorite writing book of mine on creating characters is David Corbett’s The Art of Character, Creating Memorable Characters for Fiction, Film, and TV.  “Without an intuitive grasp of the characters, you can all too easily fall into the trap of reducing them to simplistic automatons or “plot puppets,” acting in accordance with ideas or story necessities rather than behaving with the complexity of intention that real individuals possess.” That makes sense to me. King seems to agree with this approach when he says that he wants his characters “to do things their way.” I like that he lets go of controlling his characters to live and breathe themselves into the story.

The reason I read On Writing was because I thought there might be some insight about writing horror vs. suspense or writing horror vs. mystery. King had nothing to say on this. Author Steven James points to a difference between suspense and horror. James sees suspense as “always emotional” and makes the reader afraid to look away. “A murder is not suspense. An abduction with the threat of a murder is.” In horror, the reader is full of fear to look at the action but wants to see it (Do we really want to see this guy beheaded? Horror readers do and enjoy that fear. Interesting paradox ). A horror writer awakens the readers’ inner violence but within the safe confines of fiction.

I’m not a horror writer; my stories are supernatural suspense, ghost stories, and mysteries. And while I like the threat of murder, I don’t want to witness the bloody stabbing in gory details.

So, what did I get out of King’s On Writing? King’s prime rule is to read a lot and write a lot. Learn from the master storytellers. Not newsy advice, since most successful writers tell you to learn from the best writers and read, read, read and write, write, write. King emphasizes a writer must have razor-sharp honesty, discover your muse, and follow your intuition. Dispel self-doubt and run with your stories. Here is his most valuable point about writing in just two words: “getting happy.” I think the gift in this memoir of King’s is telling writers to discover your own true path to your stories and have fun doing it. There are no magic tricks to successful writing, horror or otherwise, but writing in itself is magic. King is famous for saying “Books are a uniquely portable magic.”

Clearly, if you as a writer are feeling the magic as you discover your stories and write them out, then your readers will too. Storytelling is an exertion of power, isn’t it? To write fiction is to allow characters to live in our psychic space. And then they live in the readers’ psychic space. Telepathy, as King describes.

I think the last word here goes to Ray Bradbury because it’s so true: “First, find out what your hero wants, then just follow him!”

Zen and the Art of Writing, Essays on Creativity by Ray Bradbury is next on my to-read list and review.

 

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My favorite list of the best writing books I read:

Writing Fiction, A Guide to Narrative Craft, by Janet Burroway. All the basics of how to write: the writing process, show vs. tell, characterization, fictional atmosphere and place, story structure and plot, point of view, theme, and revision.

Story, Robert McKee

Story Trumps Structure, Steven James

The Fire in Fiction, Donald Maass

The Art of Fiction, John Gardner (I reread this book once a year, it’s that good)

Making Shapely Fiction, Jerome Stern

The Art of Character, David Corbett

Getting into Character, Brandilyn Collins

The Secret Miracle, the Novelist’s Handbook, edited by Daniel Alarcon

Becoming a Writer, Dorothea Brande

The Faith of a Writer, Life, Craft, Art, Joyce Carole Oates

If You Want to Write, Brenda Ueland

Reading like a Writer, Francine Prose

Elements of Style, Strunk & White

 

Best Editing Books for Writers:

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Renni Browne & Dave King

A Dash of Style, Noah Lukeman

The Grammar Bible, Michael Strumpf & Auriel Douglas

Line by Line, Claire Kehrwald Cook

Chicago Manual of Style

The Careful Writer, Theodore M. Bernstein

 

Here’s the famous Rolling Stone Interview with King.

Ten Writing Tips from Stephen King, from MentalFloss.com

StephenKingOfficialWebsite, StephenKing.com

StephenKing.com/Library

 

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Rossetti: Pia de’ Tolomei

If you have a writing or editing book you’d like to add, please feel free to comment.

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Stephen King Fans. Rankings From the Worst to the First

Wednesday, January 13, 2015

Many here at Reading Fiction Tales of Terror Blog are Stephen King fans, so I’m sharing a blog post from Horror Novel Reviews.  How would you rank his novels from the worst to the first, 50 to No. 1? Take a look at this fun video (6 minutes) on Horror Novel Reviews.

For myself, I’m not an avid King fan. To be honest, I think he overwrites his prose, but his early novels were far better structured than his later ones. I will say that King is certainly a master at creating stories with high suspense. I did love The Shining and The Dead Zone.

At the moment I am reading King’s On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft. Watch for my book review next month.

For now, hop over to Horror Novel Reviews blog at this link below, and see if you agree which novels are the top five.

http://horrornovelreviews.com/2016/01/13/ranking-every-stephen-king-novel-from-worst-to-first/

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Why Do We Love Horror?

In the words of Arthur Conan Doyle ( and as a companion post with this week’s featured author, 1-5-2016 Tales of Terror, “The Horror of the Heights”),

“Where there is no imagination, there is no horror.”

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So, let’s see now, why do we love to read horror stories and terrifying suspense mysteries? Why do we watch horror movies? Is it to stimulate our imaginations? Is it because some of us love gore-watching or identifying with killers? Or maybe it’s because we like to face the unknown safely in our reading chairs or comfy movie theater seats. As an avid reader, film lover, and writer of supernatural, mystery, and horror, I ask these questions all the time.

 

Below is a link to  FilmmakerIQ.com John P. Hess’ 15-minute vimeo on this very subject.  Hess explores the “Psychology of Scary Movies” theories from contemporary scientific professionals to Freud, Jung, Aristotle and much more. When I came across this vimeo some time ago, I found it  informative and insightful. I hope you do too.

 


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/77636515″>The Psychology of Scary Movies</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/filmmakeriq”>FilmmakerIQ.com</a&gt; on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

 

We could say there is no single answer to the question, but if you have a theory, agreement or disagreement, please post.

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Weird Fiction by Stephen King

Premium Harmony  by Stephen King  (2009, The New Yorker Magazine)

Tuesday’s Tale of Terror   October 20, 2015

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Halloween season requires at last one Stephen King story. Not too many are available online to read for free and this one about a cold death seems appropriate as we approach Halloween.

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We are in King’s famous town of Castle Rock, Maine, with Mary and Ray, a married couple on route to Wal-Mart to buy grass seed. How mundane is that? They argue about petty things, which is actually amusing. Then something really shocking happens. This is not a traditional spooker—more like a dark comedy or weird fiction. You be the judge. Did you like this story? What did you think of the “smoky” ending?

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Read the short story here at The New Yorker Magazine.com.

At Open Culture.com, you can find a few more free Stephen King stories.

And here’s a review of King’s

Bazaar of Bad Dreamshttp://www.miamiherald.com/entertainment/books/article41913834.html

 

 

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Are you looking for a real Halloween story? Try this spooky tale.

“The White Scarecrow” at Underworld Tales.com. This time of year yields some pretty weird happenings.

 

 

Other Reading Web Sites to Visit

Bibliophilica       Lovecraft Ezine     HorrorAddicts.net  

Horror Novel Reviews    Hell Horror    HorrorPalace

HorrorSociety.com        Sirens Call Publications

 Monster Librarian   Tales to Terrify       Spooky Reads

HorrorNews.net     HorrorTalk.com

 Rob Around Books     Sillyverse    The Story Reading Ape Blog

For Authors/Writers:  The Writer Unboxed

Don’t forget to view the INDEX above of more free

Tales of Terror classic authors.

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Filed under fiction, Halloween, horror blogs, psychological horror, short stories, short story blogs, Stephen King, weird tales