On Reading Stephen King

Posted: October 17, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

I know nothing of Stephen King, other than that he is a wildly popular and successful horror writer.  I have never intended to read any of his work.  I don’t read horror, feeling that there is too much of the real thing in this world already.  Do we really have to create more?  I just don’t like putting my head into that kind of energy.

That might sound a little hypocritical from someone who is writing murder mysteries, and I suppose it is.  Just a little bit.  My mysteries are of the type called “cozy” mysteries and don’t have all the gore, violence, sex and swearing of the more hard boiled type.  Like I said, just a little bit hypocritical.

Anyway, I still don’t know if I will read Stephen King, except for one book of his that is on the recommended reading list of just about everyone who is a successful writer, “On Writing”.  In trying to describe the book, I will run out of adjectives.  It’s honest, revealing, humorous, intimate, sensitive, critical, pack full of excellent writing and very easy to read.  King takes us into his head and shows us the evolution of him and his writing.  He doesn’t teach us the mechanics of writing, leaving that to the hundreds of other books on the subject.  Instead he takes us on a journey of his discovery of the craft of writing.  Teaching by example is the best method, and he does it brilliantly.

His prefaces are required reading, too, for those of you who normally skip such things.  He uses them to explain why this book came into being.  He wrote it because of something Amy Tan said to him, that during interviews nobody asks about the language.  King is a person who cares passionately about the craft of writing, and it shows in every sentence of this book.  If you read it looking for the magic key to instant fame and fortune, save your money.  It isn’t there, unless you are willing to really listen to what he is telling you.  It’s all there in the crispness of the phrases, the delightful allegory, and prose that is both sturdy and lyrical.

From him I am learning how to  let my readers see what I intend them to see.  He tells us that writing is telepathy, and then goes on to prove it.  Vividly.

He introduces himself to us in the first part of his book and then does a masterful teaching on the craft of writing.  He says everything I’ve heard in class before, but says it in a way that I can finally hear the message. I will reread this book many times.

Stephen King is a delightful writer.  A writer’s writer.

Just one word of warning: if you decide to read “On Writing”, make sure you only start it when you have time to read it straight through to the end.  It’s that good.  You won’t want to put it down.


  1. taureanw says:

    I love some of Stephen King’s work & I loathe some of it, but I agree On Writing is easily his best work & one of the better books I have EVER read!

  2. Louise says:

    Hi Chris,
    I’ve never read Stephen King or Patricia Cornwell or others who write forensic or gorey horror. I don’t watch CSI either as I just can’t actually understand how that level of violence has become ‘entertainment’. I guess it comes from working with kids at risk, you realise it is not just drama or fiction, but somone’s life. Anyway, I don’t think it is hypocritical to be writing a murder mystery and making comment on gore/horror/murder. I really see them as very different things and hate to think you are using the term ‘cozy’ mystery as if was a junior version of a ‘real’ murder mystery. I think it requires much more creativity to build intrigue rather than descriptive details. My favourite movie is North by North-West, a good old Alfred Hitchcock. Murder, yes. Violence, yes. Suspense, yes. But soooooo intriguing for the viewer. Very, very clever. To me the difference were talking about is the difference in ‘class’, something like the difference between the allure and breath taking anticipation of burlesque versus the splatter and coarseness of naked pole dancing. I hope you keep true to what you know and are as a writer, without any apology. Best wishes, Louise (RB – Akrotiri)

  3. Hi Chris. Steven King is known as a Horror writer, but he has actually written scores of books that have nothing to do with horror… Perhaps you’ve seen some of the movies based on those books- Stand by Me, Shawshank Redemption, and the Green Mile. These are just a sampling of his non-horror genre… If you like his writing, but not horror, I suggest giving some of these a try, because they are well written. I myself am not a fan of the horror genre. It doesn’t frighten, but it doesn’t thrill.

    I do however look forward to reading a good mystery next month…

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