(originally published on my now-defunct blog, "Tonya Rice - Writer", on March 11, 2011)
After all these years, I've finally picked up a copy of the writer's designated handbook, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King.
Since I'm not a horror fan, I've never read much of King's work. Once, I did read a few passages from one of his books and was indeed marveled by his prose that brought his characters to life - along with a morbid understanding of the despiration that drove them to their madness. It was different from Poe (I'm from Richmond, reading his work was a process of nature here). Though King's work was less melodic and more direct than that of Poe, it is nevertheless, just as powerful and captivating - simply by his use and obvious love of language. King masterfully describes the gore, the burdens, and the emotions that somehow seem to justify their actions. As nasty as the double-murder was in the passage I'd read so long ago, I realized I couldn't pull away. For me, I realized that it wasn't even about what he wrote, it was purely how he'd written it. The characters had reason. They had emotion. We were made to understand them. They even garnered a bit of sympathy (take his character "Carrie", for instance). Not just that, I could see the light glisten on the knife. The sun unexpectedly gleaming through the window. Through all of this, I saw the story. Writing 101.
I remember telling my husband once how it's okay to have horrible thoughts of destruction as long as you don't physically carry it out. It's simply the imagination at work. King and perhaps other masters of horror stories are good examples of this, I further explained. Things go bump in the night, the boy tells the girl he doesn't want to see her anymore, the wife walks out on the husband and kids etc.; so do you quell the thoughts or do you let them evolve in your mind? These are awesome opportunities to write a story. I also told my husband that when I read excerpts from On Writing years ago, I realized that King was perhaps one of the nicest and coolest men in the world! The work he writes keeps him sane. Pure and simple.
King, through the excerpt (if I recall correctly, it was the time he was writing Carrie; very motivating for the first-time author), taught me that experiencing fear and bringing it to life through the process of writing is cathartic. Necessary. Even after over 35 years of diary-writing and taking breaks from fear of even seeing what I have to say, I was encouraged to keep writing. Everything. I can always alter the course of the tale at any time.
As he pointed out in his (second) forward, his aim in this book is to cut through the notable fluff factored in other writing books/guides, or as he bluntly and correctly calls it "the bullshit". I'm reading...
Go pick up your copy soon.
by Tonya Rice