I went through Stephen King's On Writing recently and am going back through parts of it a second time right now. I don't remember how I found it. I'm not a fan of the kinds of books Stephen King writes so I couldn't have been perusing his cv. In any case, it's a wonderful book and he reads it himself.
Audiobooks are vulnerable to poor reading. Jonathan Cecil is such a good voice actor that you can't wait to hear the next of his P G Wodehouse renderings. Derek Jacobi is so bad that he takes one of my favorites - Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur and turns it into indigestible sludge. Stephen King is no one's idea of a great voice actor, but he was perfect for this.
By the end of the book I had a deep affection for him. He's genuinely in love with his craft and he wants to share that love with you. I felt like we were good friends when I finished. He didn't read it so much as he talked to you. It was like having him in the car with me. I drove and he shared. It was beautiful.
And now to the content. The key to being a good writer is to read a lot and write a lot. Every day. It's the same key to being a good artist, engineer, soccer player or whatever. There's no shortcut to success. With that out of the way, here are a couple of revelations from the book.
- He doesn't believe in plot. He starts with characters and a situation and goes from there. His stories surprise even himself because he never really knows where they are going.
- Write in your language. Don't dress up your vocabulary through learning and exercises. That will come through reading, but let it come naturally.
- Know grammar. This echoes what Jerry Pournelle wrote. Learn how to write properly first. After that you can write the way you want.
- Stephen King hates adverbs terribly. Longingly, he wrote about how he assiduously avoids them. (Blech. I get it now. Those two sentences were terrible.)
- Writing is telepathy. You communicate with people separated by space and time with your prose.
- Don't write to make money. Write what you want. If there was a formula for making money writing, everyone would be doing it.
- Stephen classifies writing talent into four categories: bad, competent, good, great. If you're a bad writer, forget about it. If you're competent, you can work really hard and become good. Nothing can take you from good to great. Charles Dickens is Charles Dickens and you're not.
I looked for a really good video clip of Stephen talking about his craft. This was my favorite, but it wasn't embeddable.
* - Well, actually, I've been listening to most of them.