Ah, it’s about time I finished a book on writing, or rather, THE book On Writing. I am a writer, after all.
On Writing by Stephen King is a 291 page long novel all about writing. It starts off as a series of King’s memories, in an effort to show the audience how an author is made, as it is Stephen King’s belief that writers are born, not made. This is not to say that he doesn’t believe that one’s efforts to become a better writer are futile without natural born talent. He believes that:
…while it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.
After establishing this fact, he gives you a metaphor about having the right toolbox–grammar and vocabulary on the top layer, then elements of style, etc–while throwing in the fact that in order to write, you must also read. The two are inseparable, and to be a great writer you must first be a great reader. I’m sure my creative writing teacher would react to this somewhere along the lines of “preach, Stevie, preach” (not necessarily using this phrase, but you get the idea), to which I would emphatically nod and join in. To try and become a successful writer without first becoming an avid reader would be like trying to become a professional cook without tasting any other dishes. How silly would that be? How else would you discover the correct combinations of flavors, of sweet and salty and spicy, of texture, and of presentation? You would have no context or experience to rely upon before trying to create your own original dish, which would surely turn out to be a disaster.
Moving on from the essential component of reading before writing, one of my biggest takeaways from this was what he said about adverbs, the passive voice, and dialogue attribution. I agree with the fact that the active voice should be used over the passive voice the majority of the time, and that adverbs should be used sparingly, which is a great reminder for me, as I probably tend to use adverbs more often than I should. However, I am on the fence as to whether I should agree or disagree with his view on dialogue attribution (such as “Look out!” Jason commanded, “It was her!” Zyth growled, or “Don’t do this,” Kana pleaded). I understand and value the simplicity of “he said”, “she said”, but I write action. Half of the time, it needs to be clarified that the dialogue has been delivered a certain way. To me, there is an obvious difference between these three lines:
“Murder!” she said.
“Murder!” she cried.
“Murder!” she growled.
The first line seems so bland to me. The dialogue could be read any which way. How boring. The second line implies some kind of desperation or mourning. The third implies a vindictive tone, or simply just anger. I know that half of the time the dialogue can speak for itself, and it is essential to recognize when this happens for editing and revision purposes, but I am too bored with “he said”, “she said” to resist livening it up with other dialogue attributions.
All in all, this book is essential to any writer’s toolbox. Stephen King’s casual yet comical narrative voice makes this a pleasure to read, and the knowledge contained with in is invaluable.
If you plan on making writing a career, or simply wish to seek to improve your hobby, do not hesitate to pick up this book.
all the best,