Wednesday, October 03, 2012

On Writing - From the King of American Fiction

I had long wanted to look at popular fiction works dissected as it were, under the microscope. I wanted to understand how successful fiction works, how characters develop and dialogues keep our attention drawn into the plot. It was a task quite difficult to perform alone. That is, until I chanced upon "On Writing" by Mr.Stephen King.

King's book has many detailed dissections of popular novels. It is a good resource if you aspire to be a fiction writer. A must-have.

This book has an unexpected bonus: It lucidly explains tricky issues of the English language and its effective usage.

Mr.Stephen King is a prolific writer of fiction, predominantly horror, and many of his books are best sellers. One did not expectd him to produce a work that would elucidate the principles of good writing, but he  shows himself to be a teacher extraordinaire. This is because he uses his powers of vividity of expression to convey ideas. Not many course authors use vivid images so that the reader/student gets the idea immediately and firmly.

Consider the Writer's toolbox that King conjures up. He first draws a clear, vivid picture of his uncle's toolbox that he used for carpentry works around the house:

...The toolbox was what we called a big ’un. It had three levels, the top two removable, all three containing little drawers as cunning as Chinese boxes.It was handmade, of course. Dark wooden slats were bound together by tiny nails and strips of brass. The lid was held down by big latches; to my child’s eye they looked like the latches on a giant’s lunchbox. Inside the top was a silk lining, rather odd in such a context and made more striking still by the pattern, which was pinkish-red cabbage roses fading into a smog of grease and dirt.

On the sides were great big grabhandles. You never saw a toolbox like this one for sale at Wal-Mart or Western Auto, believe me. When my uncle first got it, he found a brass etching of a famous Homer painting—I believe it was The Undertow—lying in the bottom.

One summer day I helped Uncle Oren replace a broken screen on the far side of the house. I might have been eight or nine at the time. I remember following him with the replacement screen balanced on my head, like a native bearer in a Tarzan movie. He had the toolbox by the grabhandles, horsing it along at thigh level...

Having painted the picture to stay firmly in the reader's mind, King goes on to convey his core message, which is of a totally different field:

I want to suggest that to write to your best abilities, it behooves you to construct your own toolbox and then build up enough muscle so you can carry it with you. Then, instead of looking at a hard job and getting discouraged, you will perhaps seize the correct tool and get immediately to work.
The toolbox had three levels. I think that yours should have at least four. You could have five or six, I suppose, but there comes a point where a toolbox becomes too large to be portable and thus loses its chief virtue. You’ll also want all those little drawers for your screws and nuts and bolts, but where you put those drawers and what you put in them . . .well, that’s your little red wagon, isn’t it? You’ll find you have most of the tools you need already, but I advise you to look at each one again as you load it into your box. Try to see each one new, remind yourself of its function, and if some are rusty (as they may be if you haven’t done this seriously in awhile), clean them off...

Common tools go on top. The commonest of all, the bread of writing, is vocabulary. In this case, you can happily pack what you have without the slightest bit of guilt and inferiority. As the whore said to the bashful sailor, “It ain’t how much you’ve got, honey, it’s how you use it.”  

Some writers have enormous vocabularies; ...

Pretty ingenious way to teach, so that readers can absorb information effortlessly, isn't it? From the way he's put it, it'd be hard to forget the nuances of using language in writing, fiction or non-fiction...

You can have copies of On writing at Amazon:
 and for kindle, at 
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