Monday, July 13, 2009

Stephen King's "On Writing"

I had to share my prize lily with you. I keep going into the garden and taking more pictures of it. I hope it brightens your day.

A friend of mine has just returned my copy of Stephen King's book, "On Writing: a Memoir of the Craft" (Pocket Books, 2000). Instead of putting it back on the shelf above my desk, I've been re-reading it. I've read it at least twice before, but it's one of those books on writing that I never tire of. I highly recommend it.

Although not all of King's stories are to my taste, I recognize that he is a master of his craft. His writing is tight, he eschews adverbs and reminds us to "omit unnecessary words."

I found most helpful his section on "the bells and whistles," i.e., pacing, theme and symbolism. There comes a point, usually after the first draft is done, where you ask yourself, "What is this story about, anyway?" Perhaps it seems to be going off in many different directions.

Now is the time to re-read your story, all at one sitting if you can. If you discover during this reading that there is evidence of a theme or something recurring that could be used as a symbol, you can bring this out and reinforce it in the second draft.

King reminds us, "None of the bells and whistles are about story, right? Only story is about story." He says, "Symbolism (and other adornments too) ... can serve as a focusing device for both you and your reader, helping to create a more unified and pleasing work. ... When you read your manuscript'll see if symbolism or the potential for it, exists. If it doesn't, leave well enough alone. If it does, however... go for it. Enhance it."

I've found this advice has helped to strengthen and unify my own stories.

Write on.
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