Sunday, February 21, 2010

Stephen King - On Writing

Recently read Steven King's On Writing, that everyone raves about. It was a good read, nice and smooth and easy to get through, chatty, makes you feel like you could sit down and bang out a novel, I'd recommend it if you are interested in writing stories. Here's notes I took from the writing part of it:

You have to read a lot and write a lot.

Don't worry about your vocabulary, you don't have to have big flowery language to get the story out: "He came to the river. The river was there." -Ernest Hemingway

Use the first word that comes to your mind, if it is appropriate and colorful. If you hesitate you will of course come up with other words, but the first one was most directly what you meant.

Know grammar, the usual have to know the rules in order to know when to break them.

Any noun paired with any verb = a sentence. Rocks explode. Jane transmits. Plums deify. Grab onto simple sentences when you start feeling overwhelmed by complex grammar rules.

Avoid the passive tense. The subject of the sentence should be doing stuff, not have stuff done to it.

Adverbs are very bad. They are words that end with -ly. You should be able to describe with context how things happened. "He closed the door firmly." vs "He was angry. He shut the door." {I don't understand the big deal, but other writers suggest this too}

And similar {and similarly repeated by others} don't use dialogue attributions. 'Said' works great, anything else is over the top and stupid.

Lots of short paragraphs make the reading easier. Topic sentence with support and description means the writer has organized their thoughts and isn't wandering.

In fiction the paragraph is the beat instead of the melody. (the more you read and write the more you'll find you're own rhythm)

King writes 2000 words a day, so in  3 months that's 180,000 words; a goodish length book. He suggests starting easier at 1000 a day (and 1 day off a week). His main point though is that you're doing it because you want to, not because you feel like you should. You do it because it's your passion.

He likens writing to creative sleep, you're dreaming while your body is conscious enough to type the words out. So he suggests having a space where you can be free from distraction, and try and be consistent day to day so that your brain learns at what time it's supposed to fall into creative sleep. You should go into your room, shut the door, shut out all distractions, and not emerge until you've hit your goal (1000 words).

People want a good story they can get involved in. So write what you're interested in, infuse it with what you know of life and love. And put in what you know about because that feeling of expertise makes things more believable. (Grisham wrote about lawyers because he was one.)

{somewhere I read that how to write books can be divided into those who like to plot everything out (with notecards for example) and those who fly by the seat of their pants. King is a "pantser"}

King starts with a situation. Then the characters come (usually 2 dimensional) then he just rides along to see where the characters go. He says this way he gets surprised, which is great if even he doesn't know where his story is going to go. He talks about writing like unearthing a fossil {which Andrew Stanton talked about too, but I can't find my blog post on that} you don't know what you're going to pull up until you're done. With Misery he started with a captured writer and a crazy nurse, but when he started he thought it would end with the writer's skin binding his last single edition book. Misery is "two characters in a house". Bag of Bones is "widowed writer in a haunted house". Easiest way to start is with "what if".

Description is what makes the readers a sensory participant in the story. Read and write a lot to learn how. Thin description leaves the reader feeling bewildered and nearsighted. Overdescription buries them in mundane details. See (and smell and feel) the scene in your mind, then put down what you experienced, then edit it. A few well chosen details that stand for everything else. Simile and metaphor (when used right) are one of the delights of fiction, we are able to see an old thing a new way.

Dialogue is a strong way of showing (instead of telling) the reader what kind of person the characters are.

Pay attention to the real people around you, then put what you see into your characters.

I think the best stories always end up being about the people rather then the event, which is to say character-riven. But once you get beyond the short story (2000-4000 words) the story should be the boss, otherwise it's a biography.

2nd draft is 1st draft minus 10%. 2nd draft is also where you polish the theme and symbolism you see when you read your first draft. Symbolism is another tool you can use to help focus the story. Symbolism exists to adorn and enrich, not to create a sense of artificial profundity.

Every book is about something after the 1st draft your job is to read it and in the 2nd draft make it more clear, which may take major changes and revisions, but will give you a clearer and more unified story. But starting with the theme is a recipe for preachy bad fiction. Write what's interesting to you, then go back and see what the overall message was that snuck out.

Steven has to write the first draft as fast as possible to keep up the enthusiasm and outrun self doubt. Write the first draft with the door shut, just you and the story, no outside comments or input, resist the temptation to share it. Then when you're done let it sit for at least 6 weeks (this is when he writes his shorter novella's, between drafts of the bigger novels) leave it long enough so that it's a little foreign to you so it's easier to kill your darlings.

As a reader what's about to happen is more interesting then what happened already. 

Pacing:cut out the boring stuff. But if you go to fast you'll leave the reader behind. Everyone has personal taste for what the right pace is. (and it doesn't have to be fast paced to be a good book)


Ratul Sarna said...

I guess this should also work...."Angrily, he shuts the door." Best of both worlds. :)

Alonso said...

nice :)

Hey Ratul, you're animations are really looking nice these days, you've definitely upgraded your skills. I tried a few times to leave a comment on your blog, but it wouldn't go through.

Ratul Sarna said...

Hey Thanks Alonso....I'm really glad that you're liking my work.

Strange though, that you're unable to post comments. I guess the culprit is the layout and the coding behind it. I'll try and make it work.

Thanks again for the great blog!

hari bau seo said...

good information on writing skills, thanks for the tips