On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft Hardcover – Oct 3 2000
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Short and snappy as it is, Stephen King's On Writing really contains two books: a fondly sardonic autobiography and a tough-love lesson for aspiring novelists. The memoir is terrific stuff, a vivid description of how a writer grew out of a misbehaving kid. You're right there with the young author as he's tormented by poison ivy, gas-passing babysitters, uptight schoolmarms, and a laundry job nastier than Jack London's. It's a ripping yarn that casts a sharp light on his fiction. This was a child who dug Yvette Vickers from Attack of the Giant Leeches, not Sandra Dee. "I wanted monsters that ate whole cities, radioactive corpses that came out of the ocean and ate surfers, and girls in black bras who looked like trailer trash." But massive reading on all literary levels was a craving just as crucial, and soon King was the published author of "I Was a Teen-Age Graverobber." As a young adult raising a family in a trailer, King started a story inspired by his stint as a janitor cleaning a high-school girls locker room. He crumpled it up, but his writer wife retrieved it from the trash, and using her advice about the girl milieu and his own memories of two reviled teenage classmates who died young, he came up with Carrie. King gives us lots of revelations about his life and work. The kidnapper character in Misery, the mind-possessing monsters in The Tommyknockers, and the haunting of the blocked writer in The Shining symbolized his cocaine and booze addiction (overcome thanks to his wife's intervention, which he describes). "There's one novel, Cujo, that I barely remember writing."
King also evokes his college days and his recovery from the van crash that nearly killed him, but the focus is always on what it all means to the craft. He gives you a whole writer's "tool kit": a reading list, writing assignments, a corrected story, and nuts-and-bolts advice on dollars and cents, plot and character, the basic building block of the paragraph, and literary models. He shows what you can learn from H.P. Lovecraft's arcane vocabulary, Hemingway's leanness, Grisham's authenticity, Richard Dooling's artful obscenity, Jonathan Kellerman's sentence fragments. He explains why Hart's War is a great story marred by a tin ear for dialogue, and how Elmore Leonard's Be Cool could be the antidote.
King isn't just a writer, he's a true teacher. --Tim Appelo
From Publishers Weekly
"No one ever asks [popular novelists] about the language," Amy Tan once opined to King. Here's the uber-popular novelist's response to that unasked question a three-part book whose parts don't hang together much better than those of the Frankenstein monster, but which, like the monster, exerts a potent fascination and embodies important lessons and truths. The book divides into memoir, writing class, memoir. Many readers will turn immediately to the final part, which deals with King's accident last year and its aftermath. This material is tightly controlled, as good and as true as anything King has written, an astonishing blend of anger, awe and black humor. Of Bryan Smith (who drove the van that crushed King) watching the horribly wounded writer, King writes, "Like his face, his voice is cheery, only mildly interested. He could be watching all this on TV...." King's fight for life, and then for the writing life, rivets attention and inflames admiration as does the love he expresses throughout for his wife, novelist Tabitha. The earlier section of memoir, which covers in episodic fashion the formation of King the Writer, is equally absorbing. Of particular note are a youthful encounter with a babysitter that armchair psychologists will seize upon to explain King's penchant for horror, and King's experiences as a sports reporter for the Lisbon, Maine, Weekly Express, where he learned and here passes on critical advice about writing tight. King's writing class 101, which occupies the chewy center of the book, provides valuable advice to novice scribesDalthough other than King's voice, idiosyncratic and flush with authority, much of what's here can be found in scores of other writing manuals. What's notable is what isn't here: King's express aim is to avoid "bullshit," and he manages to pare what the aspiring writer needs to know from idea to execution to sale to a few simple considerations and rules. For illustration, he draws upon his own work and that of others to show what's good prose and what's not, naming names (good dialogue: Elmore Leonard; bad dialogue: John Katzenbach). He offers some exercises as well. The real importance of this congenial, ramshackle book, however, lies neither in its autobiography nor in its pedagogy, but in its triumphant vindication of the popular writer, including the genre author, as a writer. King refuses to draw, and makes a strong case for the abolition of, the usual critical lines between Carver and Chandler, Greene and Grisham, DeLillo and Dickens. Given the intelligence and common sense of his approach, perhaps his books' many readers will join him in that refusal. 500,000 first printing. (Oct.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
It was a passion from his childhood, which was when he started writing stories. Like all beginning writers, he first copied his ideas from works he enjoyed, then later on formed his own stories.
The writing section in this book was extremely helpful as well, giving bits of advice that other writing books may not include.
Some advice includes:
- Writing a lot and reading a lot are a must for writers.
- Find a place that you will be able to concentrate on your writing, preferably a place with few distractions.
- Try to get the same number of pages or words competed per day and you may need a set time. Start off with a fewer number of pages so you do not become discouraged.
- Don't open your room door until you have completed your work.
- Don't tell people what you are working on and try to complete the novel as soon as possible or work on it daily so it stays fresh in your mind.
- Try to read everywhere you can, for example long line ups, the park, the waiting room.
- Novels consist of three parts: narration (situation comes before the characters prior to narrating), description, and dialogue. Plots are not important since life is plotless, and because spontaneity cannot be created with the use of plots.
- Whole novels can start from what if questions.
- Don't over-describe or under-describe.Read more ›
I've always wanted to be a writer, but completely lacked confidence. Now I'm trying in earnest and this book not only gave me some real applicable wisdom, but so much encouragement and motivation. I can't help but think my dad is the one that led me to here. This is one of those books that I'll always remember. One that really makes a change in you.
Thank you Stephen King. For your honesty and advice and the connection with my dad nearly four years after his passing. Big hugs.
The decision to make it a memoir and not a writing manual was good. Anyone can write a book and tell you what works for them (and will probably result in what might not work for you) and explain the mechanics any English class can teach you, but King only explains what his method is and encourages a lifestyle more than a mimicry of his process and that is what someone should get out of reading this book.
Most recent customer reviews
Surprisingly good, by an author whose writing I don't usually read.Published 10 days ago by Ken Shipley
Entertaining and insightful. A very personal account of the life experiences that shaped the art form of Stephen King. I will return to this book again and again.Published 23 days ago by Amazon Customer
Great book for writers and fans of Stephen King! A must read.Published 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
Stephen King is truly a mater of his craft. Although this book was not an exhaustive checklist of what to do/avoid as a writer, I feel its qualitative nature has enriched my... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Nelou Keramati
This is THE best book on the craft of writing. I've read it many times and it continues to teach and clarify.Published 2 months ago by Green Raven Art
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