Book Review: Stephen King On Writing
For my social media writing class at Quinnipiac, we were required to purchase Stephen King On Writing although it turned out to be an optional work. I think the work was decent.
But… I’m not overly ecstatic about it.
Frankly, I prefer William Zissner.
A lot of people seem to fall over themselves with praise for King. Me? Eh, not so much. I would say, though, that this is the best thing I have read from him.
Nuts and Bolts
One area that I feel he handles well: the question of how meticulous attention to detail needs to be. On Pages 105 – 106, he writes,
“For one thing, it is described in terms of a rough comparison, which is useful only if you and I see the world and measure the things in it with similar eyes. It’s easy to become careless when making rough comparisons, but the alternative is a prissy attention to detail that takes all the fun out of writing. What am I going to say, ‘on the table is a cage three feet, six inches in length, two feet in width, and fourteen inches high’? That’s not prose, that’s an instruction manual.”
Agreed, 100%. I see far too many fiction writers getting into far too much detail, and it’s maddening. Readers are intelligent (generally), and can follow basic instructions. However, the writer needs to provide the framework and then let the reader run with it. Otherwise, it’s an instruction manual, as Stephen King states.
And the corollary is also true – for writing which requires meticulous instructions and step by step information, woe be unto the writer who decides everybody knows what a flange is, or a balloon whisk, or EBITDA. Or any other term of art known more to insiders than to the general public.
Stephen King also exhorts would-be writers to read a lot and write a lot. Basic information, to be sure, but it makes good sense. Without practice or comparisons or even attempts to copy, none of us would learn how to properly craft prose.
What the Hell Did Adverbs Ever Do to You, Steve?
Here’s where we part ways.
King writes, on Page 124, “The adverb is not your friend.” On Page 195, he clarifies his statement:
“Skills in description, dialogue, and character development all boil down to seeing or hearing clearly and then transcribing what you see or hear with equal clarity (and without using a lot of tiresome, unnecessary adverbs).”
It’s funny how he makes the above statement with the use of the adverb clearly.
Show us on the doll where adverbs hurt you.
I see his point. But I’m not so sure that a lot of aspiring authors do. The gist of it? Make sure to choose your words well. A part of this is what editing is for, but it’s also to be able to best get across your point(s). You can write –
She waited nervously.
She waited, drumming her fingers on the table until her brother told her to cut it out or he’d relieve her of the burden of having fingers.
The second example is more vivid. It shows, rather than tells. But sometimes you just want to cut to the chase. There’s nothing wrong with that. Adverbs, like passive voice and other parts of speech and turns of phrase (even clichés!), are legitimate writer tools.
You can still use them.
In all, a decent work, albeit a bit redundant in parts. I didn’t want to read the memoir portions of the work although I can see where they would interest others.
I bet this guy is going places.
Review: 4/5 stars.