Sunday, April 5, 2009

Stephen King - Not So Scary

After being nudged by the universe several times lately, I finally listened and picked up a copy of Stephen (aka Stevie) King's "On Writing" last night. Holy shit, Sherlock! Is this a book, or what? Only halfway through, I've discovered I'm doing (practically) everything wrong. Well, not really, but kinda sorta. Here's what I've gleamed so far:

1) Adverbs = bad, very bad. Eerily, terribly, creepily, forcefully, horrifically bad!

2) He guffawed. She gasped. He agreed. She snipped. All bad, very bad. He said/she said should do the trick, providing you've worked your writing magic thereby insinuating the "guffawed, gasped, agreed, and snipped." And even worse? She gasped wearily. He agreed righteously...

3) Write the first draft for yourself with the door closed. Rewrite for others with the door open. Who knew Stevie was so feng shui? (And, who knew the teachers in my life, both male and female, would be named Stevie?)

4) Use the vocabulary you know. Don't try to be flashy or intellectual. Example:
"They hugged." vs "They were locked in a deep embrace." (Unless you write romance!)

5) Use active verbs not passive! Here's a few examples:
Passive: "The party will begin at six o'clock."
Active: "The party's at six."
Passive: "The sofa was moved into the family room."
Active: "We moved the sofa into the family room."
Passive: "I had inquired into the location of the parade."
Active: "Where's the parade?" I said.


Interesting tidbits about Stevie's past:
One day when Stevie was six and his brother, Dave was eight, they were a half-mile from home playing in an old junkyard. Stevie needed to "use the facilities" but, of course, this was an old junkyard, not the Marriott. "Use leaves to wipe yourself, just like real cowboys and Indians!" said Dave. Stevie looked around, gathered a pile of shiny leaves, and did it like a man. What were those shiny leaves? Poison Ivy. Ouch.

He started submitting his writing at the age of 14. By 16, he'd collected an impressive pile of rejection slips that he nailed to his bedroom wall.

When he was a sophomore in high school he was 6'2" tall! Now he's 8'5". (Kidding!!)

During his final semester of college, he sold his third story for $200 - more than twice the combined revenue of his first two ($65).

In the early '70s, he got an advance of $2500 for "Carrie." Although that was a lot of money to him and his wife, Tabitha, it was a low advance even then. (He had no agent to negotiate for him, btw.) On Mother's Day, 1973 he found out the paperback rights had been sold for $400,000, half of which would go directly to him. The rest, as they say, is history.

I'll write another post in the next couple of days outlining what else I've learned from this ridiculously inspiring book. My advice, if you're not too flashy or intellectual, is to run out and get yourself a copy!

(HINT: At my Borders the book was located in "Horror" with all of Stephen King's books, not in the "Writing" section where I spent five-ten precious minutes searching to no avail.)

48 comments:

Beth said...

"When he was a sophomore in high school he was 6'2" tall! Now he's 8'5". (Kidding!!)"

LOL!

I read this book several years ago when it first came out, and enjoyed a glimpse into that peculiar mind. This entry makes me want to read it again. I loves me some SK. Many critics think he's a hack (Hello? Have they read James Patterson lately?), but I've always found his books to be one helluva a fun read. I also think that he's gotten much better at describing characters and making us understand more about them, especially his female characters (Jessie Burlingame, Delores Claiborne, etc.).

His books after his terrible accident seemed to take on a heavier weight. He wasn't just writing horror stories...he lived one of his own, and I think that comes through.

Did I mention that I'm a Stephen King fan? I can't claim that I'm his nummmmberrrr ooonnnne faaaaan (that title belongs to Annie Wilkes), but I'm right up there! Oh, and I loved the Gunslinger series.

Beth

Amy Sue Nathan said...

On Writing is the only Stephen King book I've read, and I read it about 2 years ago. The best things I took away from it were how writing is not about you, it's about the story; and how all the stories are out there we just have to find them.

I did like that he talked some basics like your #1-5; so the book can be beneficial to everyone; and that so much of the book is about processing yourself as a writer. It's why he moved his desk out of the middle of his office - because he was thinking just a little too much of himself as the center of the universe, and then he realized, not so. That's what stuck.

DebraLSchubert said...

Beth, To be honest, the only SK book I ever finished was "The Stand." It's one of the best books I've ever read (plus the "good" guys ended up in Boulder, CO and that's were I went to school for a short time!) I attempted to read "The Shining." I got about 2/3 of the way through and it scared the crap out of me. I put it down and never finished it. Needless to say, I never saw the movie. (I love true crime, but basically I'm a chicken-shit. Guilty as charged.) How anyone can call him a hack is beyond me. Whether or not you like his genre, he's a master writer.

BTW: I think you're his #1 fan. Annie Wilkes is a wee-bit crazy if you ask me!!! (Never saw Misery either, but I know the premise. Seeing Kathy Bates in the commercials was enough to make me want to run for the hills!)

DebraLSchubert said...

Amy, I thought of you when I read his take on "he said, she said vs he asked, she added." You, my friend, were right! (No surprise there!)

SK is a genius, and quite modest in the way he views himself. He's also a monster (hah!) when it comes to hours put in on his writing. If "practice makes perfect" is true, he's about as close to perfect as it gets.

Re: His desk. I've also been thinking more about my physical location when I write. I think there's a lot to be said about things like that. (Yeah, I'm a hippie!)

Kelly said...

I've been meaning to read this book as well. I used to read lots of Stephen King before I had children...now I just read children's books! Thanks for the reminder to check this out!

Vivi Alden said...

Oh, no! Adverbs are bad??? ALL of them? :>)

I have yet to read ol' Stevie's book, but I always see it at the bookstore and think, "I bet he has good things to say." I may have to pick it up one of these days. I love that he used to nail his rejection letters to the wall. That's so "Stephen King", isn't it?

Lady Glamis said...

Looks like a great book, although I try and follow all those rules already. :D

I'll be there's lots of great stuff in there! I don't like people saying "very bad" about anything, though, as if using one adverb is going to kill my manuscript. Aren't there always exceptions? And isn't it about balance? Is he completely against all adverbs? Just wondering. :)

Rebecca Anne said...

Raises Hand. Yup. I've read it, ok gulped it down. I'm a bit of an adjective whore (there, I said it!) So, I have to keep his words in mind when I'm writing.
When I hear someone mention they don't have a decent place to write, I like to dig up and toss at them Stephens first writing nook, a closet. That puts the lid on that excuse.
Now, you haven't read his books?? I can't claim I've read them all like Miss Beth up there (love ya Beth!) but I can suggest trying, ohhh...Duma Key, or Liseys (? can't remember the way he spelled it) Story. I really enjoyed Duma Key. It has an artist and creative twist to it.
Anyway, thats my 2 cents of Scary input.
Rebecca

DebraLSchubert said...

Kelly, Ah, I remember the days of children's books! I even miss them. A little. Give yourself a treat and pick up a copy of "On Writing." It's part autobiography and part writing tips - a very interesting combo.

DebraLSchubert said...

Vivi, Not all adverbs are bad. That was my (bad) choice of words. As SK puts it, "while to write adverbs is human, to write he said or she said is divine." I'll still be sliding my "asked" or "added" here and there, but I'll try to steer clear of "guffawed" and "snickered" and far, far away from "snickered nervously."!!!!

DebraLSchubert said...

Michelle, Read the comment I just wrote to Vivi. I think it addresses your logical concern.;-)

DebraLSchubert said...

Rebecca Anne, Good for you for gobbling up SK's books. When it comes to horror, I prefer the real deal. I'm a HUGE Ann Rule fan. I don't think there's a book of hers I haven't read. And, yes, (so far!) our Beth wins the #1 SK-stalker prize!

Anita said...

This is bad, I know...I have never read Stephen's book...I "hear" about it all the time and have read 90 million horrible books while skipping his...maybe April 2009 is the time for me?!

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

I read this book a little over a year ago and really enjoyed it.

The whole passive vs. active voice is something I really struggle with - as I have a hard time identifying what qualifies as being "passive voice".

The Screaming Guppy said...

I've heard this is a great read. I have a friend that's going to let me borrow his copy when he's done. Looking forward to it.

DebraLSchubert said...

Anita, It's a super-fast read, especially for you I imagine (with all the reading you do!). It's refreshing to read about writing from such a down-to-earth master. I'm about 2/3 of the way through and loving it. Treat yourself. It's worth it!

DebraLSchubert said...

Kate, The passive voice is what has already happened as opposed to what IS happening (was vs is, had vs has, heard vs hears, were vs are, moved vs move, etc...) I think it's the difference between "being in the moment" and "observing the moment." Does this help any?

DebraLSchubert said...

TSG, Good for you! I think you'll enjoy it. There are many pearls of wisdom to gleam from it. Some you may already "know" but not "get." As in knowing what it takes to lose weight (eating less, exercising more) vs. eating less and exercising more. Sounds so easy, doesn't it? (Not!)

giddymomof6 said...

Well My books have a few gasped and growls in them. I'll let you know what a publisher says when she gets back to me. As of right now my agent loved it fine. but then again, i'm writing YA for girls and not adult horror/suspense. I've heard a lot about this book, I'm glad you shared! I've been very curious about what was inside. Jenni

Indigo said...

Ok, slap me upside the frigging head will ya! (winks) Actually I have the book and haven't read it yet. Go figure and I'm in the midst of trying ever so indelicately to write a memoir. Who would of thought first person narrative can easily slip into third without warning...

Came by way of the elusive but delightful Rebecca. (Hugs)Indigo

DebraLSchubert said...

Jenni, I personally have no problem with gasped, gawked, giggled, etc. (Really, they don't have to all start with the letter "g"!) This "advice" seems to be the accepted protocol. I can't even say I agree. I mean, who cares if you say "I love you," she said or "I love you," she sighed. If truth be known, I prefer sighed. It gives you that much more insight. I'm just repeating some of the points from the book. (And it's clearly not just SK who thinks this way.) On the other hand, I've read plenty of books with all kinds of adverbs and they've never bothered me in the least. It's a strange world, this writing business. Best of luck on your submission. Keep us posted!

DebraLSchubert said...

Indigo, I'm slapping you metaphorically upside the head. Read the frickin' thing - it's awesome!

Those memoirs can be tricky bitches. You gotta keep your wits about you, as they say. (Not sure who "they" are or what "keep your wits about you" means, but I've always wanted to say that!)

I'm very glad you found me. I feel much better. I've been wandering aimlessly most of my life. Tell Rebecca her work here is done. I hope you'll come by more often! Hugs back atcha, Debbie ;-)

Cindy said...

Thanks for sharing the helpful tidbits you've gathered from the book. I'd sort of crossed it off my list because he seemed to give a lot of advice he, himself, didn't stick to. But, King is a very well established author who can pretty much make his own rules. And, some of the advice he gives seems as though it would really help newer writers. I look forward to reading more!

Angie Ledbetter said...

One of the top three writing books I've read. Glad Mr. King got to you.

An important tip, though unstated in the book, I think, is that every fine writer MUST have a Tabitha. :)

DebraLSchubert said...

Cindy, First of all, thanks for stopping by! I wouldn't know what SK does or doesn't stick to, although I'm sure his "rules" change somewhat depending on the story he's telling. He's a pretty free-form kind of guy who believes strongly in the "magic" of writing. I love his advice on writing 2000 words a day. That's when I'm most content as a writer.

DebraLSchubert said...

Angie, "every fine writer MUST have a Tabitha." Ain't that the truth! His devotion and appreciation towards her are palpable. What an amazing couple.

Sun Up said...

I'm going to put some money on my debit card and order it from Amazon today.

DebraLSchubert said...

Sun Up, Good for you! You won't regret it. And, thanks for stopping by. I hope to see you back again soon.;-)

WendyCinNYC said...

I haven't read his book, but I've heard it's great.

I think your definition of active v. passive voice is a little off, from what I understand. In active voice, the subject performs the action of the verb:

I crashed your car.

In passive voice, the subject is acted *upon*:

Your car was crashed.
or
Your car was crashed by me.

Anyway, that's how I learned it, back in the day. And sorry about crashing your car.

Broke But Still Drinking said...

I've read the book twice. Really good stuff but I don't think he always takes his own advice, because I've seen his characters guffaw before.

DebraLSchubert said...

Wendy, Thanks for the clarification. I'm not an English major, I was just trying to understand SK and relay it in a way that may make sense. Clearly, I've still got a way to go. (And don't worry, my car's still in great shape!)

DebraLSchubert said...

BBSD, Oh, if only we could all practice what we preach... You're right, it is really good stuff. I plan to finish reading it tonight and I'll post about it again in the next day or so. (BTW: The shoot-out in Pittsburgh was a drag. Did it happen anywhere near your "digs?")

Chocolate Covered Daydreams said...

I've seen his book also in the horror section and didn't pick it up because I figured it would be something I wasn't interested in. Thanks for the highlights so far. It sounds good and I've got a lot to learn. I'm here by way of Linda Lou! You've got a great blog!

DebraLSchubert said...

CCDD, I'm so glad you found me! I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE me my Linda Lou!

And, yes., if you saw the book in the "Horror" section, wouldn't you think it was one of his novels? I don't understand why they don't also place it in "Writing." (Not surprisingly, "they" never ask my opinion.)

I'm hunkering down to finish it up and laughing out loud as I go. I'll post in the next day or two about my final thoughts. So far, I'd only recommend it to anyone who's interested in writing, loves Stephen King, and/or has a pulse.;-)

Vegas Linda Lou said...

SK is definitely a cool guy. Have to admire him!

DebraLSchubert said...

Linda, Yes he is. He's definitely a "one-of-a-kind" (but then, aren't we all?)

jamiemason said...

Huge fan of this book. I highly recommend it in audiobook format. King's thoughts and words in his own voice are a real treat.

Glad you found it!

DebraLSchubert said...

Jamie, That would be a treat! I've actually never listened to an audio book before. One of these days...

Broke But Still Drinking said...

Nope. I think the shoot-out was in the city. I'm about 25 miles away from the city.

Julie said...

I don't even want to know how badly I write. I like to kid myself and pretend it's good. LOL

Debbie said...

Fascinating. But I do love adverbs.

Matt said...

I read this one, or parts of it, every year or so. Its a good kick in the pants for writers!

DebraLSchubert said...

BBSD, I'm glad you were out of harm's way. I, for one, wouldn't want to go on without your hilarious writing.;-)

DebraLSchubert said...

Um, Julie, repeat after me: I AM a great writer, I AM a great writer. Self-doubt (like jealousy and envy) is an ugly mistress.

DebraLSchubert said...

Debbie, "I do, too," she said enthusiastically.

DebraLSchubert said...

Matt, There's nothing like a good, old-fashioned kick in the ass! Thanks for gracing my little blog, btw.;-)

Pen Pen said...

Oh, Stephen! I love, I worship, I pine!

DebraLSchubert said...

Pen, Thanks for stopping by! I'll be checking out your blog, so you might want to tidy up.;-)

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