Points of Light: Stephen King

The last few weeks on POL, I’ve discussed some out of the box sources of inspiration, but since this is about a book, I felt this week, I should talk about something more book-related. And so I have decided to use the week to discuss an author whom I can claim as my first writing influence- one of the masters of American horror, Mr. Stephen King.

Points of Light: Stephen King

The Man

Almost everyone has probably heard of at least one story by Stephen King. One of the most popular and bestselling authors of the last forty years, King is primarily known for his horror stories, which range from the supernatural (Pet Sematary, The Shining, Needful Things), to the mundane turned horrific (Cujo, Christine, The Dark Half), to gritty suspense (Dolores Claiborne, Misery). However, King has penned tales of hope, redemption, and the trials of youth (Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, Hearts in Atlantis), as well as epic fantasy (The Dark Tower Saga, The Eyes of the Dragon) all spread out over thirty novels, countless short stories, and even some original screenplays. Writing well into his sixties, King remains one of the most successful authors in the world- his work has been turned into various films (though not all successful), and he has received various literary awards over his career.

What I Learned: Description, Themes, Dialogue,

Stephen King was the first serious author I ever read, thanks to my mother’s attempt to wean me from the child’s horror of R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series. With the impact King had, it was probably the best thing she ever did for me. What I loved the most about my first King book (Different Seasons, a collection of four novellas) was how much of a picture King painted with his words. Just by having the characters talk, I not only got a clear picture of them, but also the world in which they lived. When Red, the inmate narrator of Shawshank describes his life as the prison’s ‘supplier’, you immediately understand not only him, but the dreary, endlessly routine world in which he lives. And by doing that, King shows another skill- his ability to tie themes into his story without letting them overshadow the tale.

The theme of hope become far more apparent because of Red’ prison world as does the corruption of an all-American boy in Apt Pupil, and the hard fall from innocence the child protagonists of The Body face. Even in his horror stories, which did plenty to build my imagination alone (and with ghosts, resurrection grounds, magic towers, and demonic salesmen, who wouldn’t be inspired) there was still an abundance of theme and meaning. Pet Sematary, for all its gore, is about the nature of death and how we must all eventually accept it. Carrie shows the themes of revenge and rejection, It is about how childhood fears affect us as adults, and The Dead Zone examines a man thrust in the role of Cassandra (foreknowledge of danger, but cursed for sharing it). All of these are themes that people relate to, and make their supernatural or otherworldly concepts seem understandable. That was something I needed to get across in Lightrider- a story about magic and demons and balance, but centered around the idea of a man trying to make a new life from the ashes of his old one.

And on a final note, I have always been in great admiration of King’s talent for dialogue. In all of his novels, his characters generally have a working class background, and as such, talk like normal people. The dialogue never sounds forced or a pale imitation of real people. It sounds real, so the characters speaking them seem real and therefore the story takes on even greater resonance with the reader. I worked hard to achieve that same quality in Lightrider, and given the praise I have received in that area, I apparently succeeded.

What Writers Can Learn

Even if you aren’t a horror fan, Stephen King’s methods have plenty to learn from. Crafting real dialogue is vital to a story, and so is the ability to have a real, human theme to your story. The best thing I can really do here is to recommend examples of his work to display that, so I’ll end things on that note. If you are a horror or fantasy fan, read The Stand, The Dead Zone, The Shining, and The Dark Tower. If you have more interest in ‘real word’ stories, then Different Seasons, Misery, Dolores Claiborne, and Rose Madder. His various collections of short stories, like Night Shift and Skeleton Crew also have examples for both. However, I will suggest avoiding The Tommyknockers, which has many of the qualities listed above, but jumps the shark by having a flying Coke machine kill someone (really). Regardless, if you are interested learning true storytelling craft, supernatural or not, go pick the King.

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Posted on March 28, 2013, in Inspiration and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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