Friday, April 17, 2009

Exfanding Review: On Writing

As promised earlier in the week, today I'd like to briefly talk about a book that has been recommended to me several times in the past but for whatever reasons, I managed to not pick up until very recently. The book is by horror icon Stephen King, and it is called On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.

Before I get into my review of the book, I'd like to mention that Stephen King is the author of one of my favorite short stories--actually, it's a novella--"Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption." And, while I truly love this story (collected in King's Different Seasons) and the movie that was made, I don't love the entirety of King's bibliography. What I mean is, I guess I'm not what you'd call a die-hard.

That said, there are several of his works that I like, and that I return to every now and then, such as The Green Mile. And, more recently, I've become a fan of King's Dark Tower series.

So, it's safe to say that, while I might not be intimately familiar with his work, I have read a fair amount of King's writing. With my pretty recent discovery of the Dark Tower books, I finally decided to listen to the advice of writer friends and buy a copy of On Writing a couple of weeks ago.

And, I have to say, I am very glad I did.

Now, I have several books about writing at home, but other than a handful of the absolute necessities (Story, by McKee and Screenwriting , by Syd Field as well as The Writer's Journey, by Vogler) most of the other books about writing are sitting on a shelf, collecting dust. And I guess that's why I always approached the King book with some trepidation.

I just don't like reading about writing. I'd much rather just sit down and write. King's book opens with some autobiographical anecdotes and it's here that King shows just how competent a storyteller he is. I blew through this first bit in one sitting. The stories he tells about his youth and about the stack of rejection letters he kept in his room are entertaining and utterly appropriate to the overreaching subject matter of the book.

In the second part, King gets into the nitty-gritty, down and dirty writing advice. He often quotes from Strunk and White's The Elements of Style and, as any good editor will tell you, this is pretty much the greatest and most useful book ever written! So, the editor in me gave King major points there.

King opens this section by going over flat-out grammatical rules and continues on with story, characters, and plot. As King says repeatedly, everything stems from story--story is the thing. He covers dialogue and gives many examples of what he's talking about throughout. King even gives a "homework assignment" of sorts, and encourages readers to send him the results. This section ends with advice on finding an agent, among other incredibly practical advice for starting writers. All very interesting, all very useful.

King writes with not even a hint of pretension in his tone, something that is a far cry from the style of many other books on the subject, as many are simply caked in layer upon layer of pretentiousness. In my mind, it's King's down to Earth style that makes this book more of a conversation with someone who's been there, done that many times over, and as such, it is the single most helpful book I've read about writing.

The final section of the book--I'm about fifteen pages from the end, actually--talks about the horrific accident that nearly killed the author in the late 1990s. While out for his daily walk one day, King is struck--hard--by a large blue van. King describes the moments following the impact, and the subsequent recovery with vivid imagery and unreal clarity for someone who lived through an actual horror story.

It's moving and terrifying, and that's really all there is to say.

In conclusion (ooh, just like a book report!) I'd recommend this book to any newbie (or, like me--wannabe!) writer out there who can't stomach the textbook-like tomes about writing that glut the market. If writing is even just a time-passing hobby of yours, check this out. I think it'll be quite helpful.

And, if you're a fan of King, but have no desire to write, then pick this up for the personal anecdotes contained within.

Welp, that's all for today. Happy Friday, everyone!

No comments: