Friday, June 3, 2011

Book Review: On Writing

I don’t like horror.

I don’t read it. I don’t watch it. I try very hard not to think about it.

So it will come as no surprise that I have never read a Stephen King novel.

What may come as a surprise, especially if you also avoid Stephen King’s novels—preferring to sleep without nightmares or a baseball bat in your hand—is that Stephen King is a respected author. His writing—according to people who are much braver than I and who have read his work—is excellent, his storytelling skills exemplary and his technique worthy of emulation.

This poses a problem for me. Because while I’m interested in reading and learning from masters of the craft, I’m not going to read his horror novels.

Fortunately for me—and you, should you happen to share my belief that it is actually possible to be scared to death—I don’t have to. Several years ago, King compiled his thoughts On Writing. No horror. No gore. Just practical writing tips from an author who knows what he’s talking about.

The book is divided into three sections—C.V., On Writing, and On Living: A Postscript.

In the C.V., King gives a brief autobiography and it’s an engaging read. I enjoyed his style and voice so much, I flirted with the idea of reading one of his novels. (I came to my senses when a popping sound made me jump and I realized it was just the A/C kicking on).

The middle section, On Writing, is a tight package of writing tips. After establishing the “Great Commandment”—read a lot, write a lot—King details what should be in your writer’s toolbox, gives suggestions for setting up your writing space and then dispenses advice on dialogue, theme, symbolism, description, characterization and the revision process.

The final section, On Living: A Postscript, is a brief account of the accident that almost claimed his life in the summer of 1999, as he was writing this book.

He concludes by providing a brief sample from a short story. We see the first draft, followed by his revisions and a note explaining why he chose to make the changes he did.

Thankfully, while this passage hints that there is some creepy stuff going on, it’s tame enough for a wimp like me to be able to see the flaws in the first draft and appreciate the revision process without hyperventilating or slamming the book closed, too afraid to read to the end.

In fact, this is a book I will open again and again. My guess is that you will, too.

Disclaimer: This book, while an excellent treatise on the craft of writing, is written in a conversational style, including very raw language.