Thursday, April 9, 2009

Stephen King - On Writing, Part II

First of all, I loved this book. It's informative, funny and (duh!) well-written. If it looked anything like David here, I'd marry it.

Pearls of Wisdom:
1) We each have a Toolbox that contains writing fundamentals: vocabulary, grammar and style. The further down we dig in the box, the more compelling the story will be. Interesting since I touched on this concept in my 4.2.09 post entitled "Creating Something from Nothing."

2) His two theses for this book include: Good writing = mastering the fundamentals and Read a lot, write a lot. Re: writing - How much is a lot? For him, that's 2,000 words per day. His books tend to be in the 180K range and he takes an average of three months to write a first draft. The way I look at it, find your target word count goal and divide by 90 (days in three months). For example, if your target word count is 90K, then write 1,000 words a day on average.

3) Novels contain three things: Narration, description and dialogue. Narration moves the story from Point A to Point B, Description creates a particular "reality," and Dialogue brings your characters to life. Where's the Plot you ask? Nowhere! The story should drive the novel, not the plot. Plotting and spontaneity of real creation are not compatible! Stevie says, "Plot is, I think, the good writer's last resort and the dullard's first choice. The story which results from it is apt to feel artificial and labored." Also, "Story is honorable and trustworthy; plot is shifty, and best kept under house arrest." Hey, folks, I'm just the messenger. Keep your hate mail to a minimum. Remember, I'm a highly sensitive artist-type. Thanks.

4) SK believes stories are relics, part of an undiscovered, preexisting world. Our job as writers is to use the tools in our toolbox to yank those suckers out of the ground as intact as possible. I agree, and it's the same with songwriting. I wrote a song about this topic MANY years ago (when I was no more than a wee lass). I've included the lyrics below.

5) SK's opinion on writing classes/seminars? Maybe, not-so-much. You are your own best teacher.

6) Ideal Reader: Every writer needs one. (SK's is his wife, Tabitha, also an accomplished writer.) This is the person who knows you best and will be brutally honest with you. When searching for your IR, you might first want to consider the person who shares your bed (or life) with you. This is also the person who (besides yourself) you write your books for. (Pictured: Stephen, Tabitha and their son, Owen.) My IR is my husband, Chuck. He's a great writer and his editing and review skills are uncanny. Each time he gets his hands on one of my chapters it improves exponentially. Thanks, hon!

7) Eliminate ALL unnecessary words. Seriously, all of them. This is different than "Kill your darlings" (which SK did NOT pen, btw). This refers more to the excess words we writers place in sentences because we're so darn smart, lazy and enamored with description.

8) Kill Your Darlings He didn't say it first, but he loves the phrase - so do I. Eliminate all scenes, no matter how brilliant, that are not part of your story. These may include back story and anything that is not the story you're trying to tell. This reminds me of the "conversation" Michelangelo had when asked how he carved David. "Easy. I simply carved away everything that wasn't David." Um, yeah, "easy."

9) 10% Rule - The second draft should be 10% "lighter" than the first. This is after you've eliminated unnecessary words and murdered your darlings. If your first draft is 80,000 words, your second should be 72K. Sorry folks. Again, I'm just the messenger.

When asked, "How do you write?" Stephen answers, "One word at a time." And when asked what writing is he says, "Telepathy, of course."

Which brings me to the lyrics I wrote all those years ago. I pictured songs "floating" around in the universe, not buried in the ground. However, same concept...

VOICES IN THE WIND (6.28.81)
Songs from within the wind, rap upon their doors
Currents whisper to lookers who will hear
Camouflaged dancers all waiting for a show
Waiting for their show
To talk and laugh and sing

Magical murmurs are asking to be caged
So they may open up and speak their minds on stage
Absent are heartbeats, still they're living for a word
Asking to be heard
To talk and laugh and sing

To talk and laugh and sing
A message each does bring
To have the chance to say

I hope you've enjoyed this trip into the mysterious world of writing. My thanks to Stevie for clarifying a bit of the mystery. And to my IR and life partner, Chuck for sticking with me regardless of how the story turns out.

39 comments:

Chuck Schubert said...

Thanks for being such a great writer-it makes it easy for me to be your IR!! I feel something big coming soon- maybe a request for a full?? Mark my words...Luv ya hon

Kelly said...

Wow, that SK doesn't recommend writing classes and his thoughts on plot!
Love your lyrics!
I read your ABOUT ME, and my current work in progress is Rock N Roll Princesses Wear Black! Funny coincidence! (but mine is an early chapter book) I can tell we have similar interests!

Lady Glamis said...

Fantastic post!

I'm definitely reading this book sometime soon. It sounds like a keeper, and you have outlined some great points that I agree with. My hardest is getting rid of all the unnecessary words. Right now a friend is helping me cut cut cut cut. :D

Your husband is sweet. I think mine is my IR, as well. :D

Litgirl01 said...

Ok, Ok, Ok...I think I need to go out and buy that book! ;-)

Love this:

This reminds me of the "conversation" Michelangelo had when asked how he carved David. "Easy. I simply carved away everything that wasn't David." Um, yeah, "easy."

DebraLSchubert said...

Chuckie, From your lips to the big guy/gal upstairs' ears. Thanks for your support. I love you.

DebraLSchubert said...

Kelly, What a coincidence! Rock princesses rock. What do you mean yours is an "early chapter book?"

DebraLSchubert said...

Michelle, Cutting and chopping is cathartic. Less is more. Smart of you to have a friend help - it's amazing how much we miss (can't see the forest for the trees!). ;-)

DebraLSchubert said...

Traci, I'm glad I've persuaded you On Writing is a good read. It is. I'm sure carving David was a breeze. Kinda like bungee-jumping off Mt. Everest.

Mollie said...

Hey - who's that hippie in the photo following your lyrics???
Tell Chuck I said, "Get a haircut and get a real job". (I didn't say that first either - but George T. won't mind...)
Dinner soon?

DebraLSchubert said...

Mollie, If Chuck gets his hair cut, I'm leaving him. Possibly for David. Did you see the abs on that guy?

Check with Julie McCoy about a dinner date. How was her weekend, btw?

valbrussell said...

Hi Debbie,

It's a fantastic book, no doubt about it. Of course he's correct about a great deal. By the way, your lyrics are utterly splendid. :) If you've got the time, I've posted two youtube interviews with Capote and a new Google video interview from 1966. He expresses the same sentiments as King. An artist is an artist no matter the field of endeavour.

Angie Ledbetter said...

Good reminders all. So glad I have my Tabitha!

DebraLSchubert said...

Val, I noticed your posts and I'm looking forward to watching the videos. I'll leave you comments after I do. I've got "In Cold Blood" in my pile of "To Be Read" books, which is fast approaching the ceiling. One of these days, I'll strand myself on a desert island with a stack of books and no laptop. Care to join me?;-)

DebraLSchubert said...

Angie, Tabithas are priceless. Too bad you can't pick one up at the local market.;-)

Beth said...

Your lyrics are wonderful!

It's been some time since I read this book, but I must have taken some of his advice to heart. For many years, people have told me that reading one of my letters (or now, reading my blog) is like talking to me. Whenever I've tried to get a little more creative, or throw an extra word or two in there just because I can, it feels stilted and unnatural to me. Why stretch something to 50 words when you can say it in 10? "Because I can" isn't a good answer.

Interesting entry!

Beth

valbrussell said...

Anytime my dear Debbie, anytime. :)

DebraLSchubert said...

Beth, Good for you. Again, less is more. That's my new mantra. I'm glad you like the lyrics. It's an oldie but goody!

Chocolate Covered Daydreams said...

It sure hurts to cut away to make less but I'm with you and SK....chop, chop, chop!!

Great insight and wisdom.

Amy Sue Nathan said...

I just love this book -- so much to take away! I also think this book is something that soaks in with time, and because it sticks with you, it's possible. And as we evolve as writers these truths of digging up stories whole, killing our darlings etc, go beyond theory to practice and then we "get it." It's a process, but it's surely great to have a roadmap.

Cindy said...

Thanks for all the information. Number 9 is a tough one for me. I typically try to write through my first draft simply getting the story on paper. Then my next time through I add the description and such. I don't know if I could do 10% lighter, I usually end up with several thousand more words.

Lynnette Labelle said...

I love this book. After reading your post, I feel like I should pull it out and give it another read. Thanks for the reminder. I forgot I had it.

Lynnette Labelle
http://lynnettelabelle.blogspot.com

Big Plain V said...

One of my top four books on writing. My copy has a lot of stuff highlighted and typed into my secret 'Writing Better Bible'.

Although I obviously disagree on a number of issues. Care to guess which ones?

DebraLSchubert said...

CCD, Sharpen your scissors in order to snip all those extra words! Your story (and your readers) will thank you in the long run.

DebraLSchubert said...

Amy, Absolutely. I look forward to reading it again, and I rarely do that. The process reminds me of the saying, "the more you know, the more there is to know." Ignorance is a blissful mistress - I miss her already!

DebraLSchubert said...

Cindy, Thanks for stopping by! Don't forget, none of these are hard and fast rules. This is simply how it works for him. The beauty is we each have our own ways of capturing the magic.;-)

DebraLSchubert said...

Lynette, You're welcome. It's definitely worth another read-through. There are pearls of wisdom on every page.

DebraLSchubert said...

Ray, You're one of the voices in the universe who called me to this book. Thank you! You'll never guess who I thought of when writing the part on "plot." (For the record, I think you're anything but a "dullard.")

Fragrant Liar said...

I have *On Writing* and it's one of my favorite bible-type books on the craft of writing. It's one of those books I treasure because, as a writer, he's speaking my language in a way that nobody else can understand.

Anita said...

My IR is so not my husband. Besides the books he reads to the kiddos, I've only gotten him to read like two books in 17 years of marriage. HOWEVER, he has published a book...an astronautical engineering textbook (yeah, rocket science), which totally ticks me off, because here I am trying to get my book published and it's taking soooo long...so who is my IR? My friend Wendy. Wendy holds nothing back, even when I sometimes wish she would. I also have two lady friends in my accountability group who read everything I write, but automatically love everything because they love me (which is nice sometimes, too). Anyway, thanks for the Steven King Cliff Notes...so I guess now I don't need to read the book?!

Kathryn Magendie said...

YES YES YES! I love the part about Plot - I never write from plot - ever. I can't...don't...won't...

:)

DebraLSchubert said...

FL, No doubt - it's so awesome to read his take on what we do every day and know he goes through the same exact stuff we do!

DebraLSchubert said...

Anita, Um, no, you still need to read it. (Nice try, though!) It's great you've got Wendy, et al to read your stuff. It's amazing the difference it makes when you get other people's input. I just finished rewriting my first three chaps due to some great advice I got from an agent and a great writer friend. Supporting each other is key!

DebraLSchubert said...

Kat, I'm right there with you. Writing is like reading - I love not knowing how the story's going to turn out!

nsiyer said...

Reading and writing, I love both. But you are just wonderful with your writing and your lyrics. Have fun.

Pen Pen said...

too many compliments to say!

Indigo said...

I finally made it over here from Rebecca's place; only to find your talking about my favorite subject and author. (Hangs head bashfully) I have this book - it's still sitting on my shelf unread. After this I think I'm digging it out.

I'm in the process of trying my own hand at writing. In my case it's a memoir of sorts. A lifetime of abuse and your own story begins to sound surreal. The hardest part is keeping it in first person, when I want to push it to third and move the story away from the painful.

In time I'm confident I'll get it out on the page before me. I believe it was Stephen King who also said, write about what you know - it keeps it real. Seeing the subject matter of some of his books that's a scary thought (raises eyebrow).

In the meantime it's a pleasure getting to finally meet you in the blogsphere. (Hugs)Indigo

DebraLSchubert said...

Nsiyer, You are so sweet and complimentary, but please don't stop. Every time you stop by it puts a smile on my face.;-)

DebraLSchubert said...

PenPen, Oh, stop it! You're making me blush.

DebraLSchubert said...

Indigo, The pleasure is all mine. Your writing is inspiring and when you get your story down on paper, I'm sure it will make a huge difference to all who read it. Thanks for stopping by - my appreciation runs deep.

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