Why Stephen King Is Full of Sh*t

Oh, the horror!  This mid-list hack is calling out the master of the writing universe.  Well, this mid-list hack can tell you precisely why Stephen King is full of shit, at least on one count.  In his memoir On Writing, King tells us how we should write our stories.  Because that’s how he writes them: get a story idea, then just start writing it, see where it takes you.  Millions of great writers and writing instructors do it this way.  But that doesn’t make it a good idea, and certainly not the only way to write a great story. 

 

As I’ve said in an earlier blog, this is like Tiger Woods telling a wannabe professional golfer to learn the game by grabbing a club and just start swinging.  Never mind about the mechanics, the infrastructure of the game, the criteria for excellence and the nuances of form and function.  Just do it.  You’ll figure it out as you go.

 

Well, that’s just plain bullshit.  Lunacy, or at least inefficiency, in the first degree.

 

Why It Works for King

 

First off, allow me to acknowledge that such an approach may indeed lead you toward the ultimate creation of a brilliant story.  In King’s case, that usually happens, but what’s not obvious is that it happens because King has mastered the mechanics, the criteria for excellence and the nuances of function to the extent that he thinks about storytelling on those terms.  It’s just how he rolls.  Just like Tiger Woods doesn’t have to think about mechanics when he tees off.  Which means, King’s first drafts come out of his head in nearly publishable form.  Every creative decision he makes along the storytelling path hits the page already in context to how it needs to look at the end of process. 

 

If you have that level of talent and experience, then you and King and about four other people on planet are very blessed, and you’ll be fine with your just do it approach.  The rest of us, however, will find ourselves in a paradox of ulcer-inducing proportions, and the temptation to simply stop before the book is as good as it can be.

 

Why It Won’t Work for You

 

If you just starting writing your story, without doing any groundwork, you won’t know how the book will end until somewhere in the middle.  Which means, you won’t be able to set up that ending, to foreshadow it, and to create the character arc required to make it work.  Your story will wander (fact: King’s 1000 page tomes wander all over the place; if you or I submitted that manuscript we’d get a wing full of editors to chop it down).

 

If you just start writing, you won’t be able to create a proper structure because you won’t know your plot points until its too late, you won’t have a subplot or any subtext, you won’t have a thematic landscape, and you won’t have a character backstory, arc or any inherent heroic appeal.  At least, you won’t have any of this until somewhere in the middle of the process.

 

And when that middle of the process comes, you’ll realize that everything you’ve written thus far needs to rewritten, because you’ve missed all the opportunities to make your story race briskly along toward the right destination, with all the right elements in the right place, and with the best possible reading experience along the way.

 

Jeffrey Deaver, the accomplished thriller writer, does it Stephen King’s way.  He also brags that he writes about 22 drafts before he’s happy.  Which for most of us, is several years of our life.  And Deaver is one of those four other guys who knows this stuff.

 

A Better Way to Roll

 

I say life’s too short.  I say there’s a better way.  In fact, I know there is.  A way that gets you to the same, King-recommended and Deaver-endorsed destination, a way that can create a manuscript that is great and publishable on the very first draft.  One that contains every bit of creative excellence that draft after draft of experimentation and creative wandering yields.


Same result, different process.  It’s called The Six Core Competencies of Successful Storytelling.  Not a shortcut, but a bonafide development model and takes the guesswork out of your first draft.  That allows you to engineer your story before you write, by laying out a criteria roadmap beforehand.

Stay tuned.  That’s what this blog is all about.

17 Comments

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17 Responses to Why Stephen King Is Full of Sh*t

  1. Martha Miller

    Larry, you really got my attention with your title to this blog. Stephen King is one of my favorite writers. But you’re absolutely right about the way he works and why it’s successful for him. His biography tells how much he wrote, starting as a kid; how much he read — he carried a book he was reading with him everywhere, to the point he was considered a complete nerd — before he ever published. It’s clear he internalized the structure you map out in your blogs.
    Understanding that structure, the plot points, and what they should do for story, have helped me more than anything I’ve ever learned about story telling.

  2. As a huge fan of Stephen King I was intrigued by your tag line “Stehen King is full of S*it”. It worked it grabbed enough to respond and I have to agree with your assesment. I loved the anology of comparing Kings comment to just start writing and see where it leads to Tiger Woods telling a wannabe golfer to pick up a club and start swinging. Great stuff!

    • Hope you got what I was going for… I, too, am a huge fan of King’s (at least the earlier stuff), just not his process. I’m a huge fan of Rick Dillon, too, by the way. 🙂

  3. I agree with you of course but… I work on inspiration. I get an idea like an explosion in my head and have to write it down. In my head I think I know what makes a good story and on an almost subconcious level I put those things in. But I have to admit I did have to rewrite my story once. I wrote myelf into a corner I couldn’t get out of. But the concept of the story came from inspiration. So are you saying that I’m like Stephen King? Which by the way I am a fan of his work, but don’t much like the guy.

  4. I’m also a huge fan of King. And before I read your series on story elements I wrote like him. My story was incomplete and boring. Once I analyzed then rewrote it using the story elements from your blog it came to life. Freewriting is fine, but at some point it has to be organized.

  5. RAQUEL

    i feel very strongly disagreable with your comments about stephen king he is a wonderful author and just becuase he has alot detail he just wants you to see the world he’s creating around you when you read the page

  6. Rob

    One issue with this. Jeffery Deaver actually writes some of the most detailed outlines in the biz. Every interview with him discusses his 150-200 page outlines that he spends 8 months working on. But, yes, he then does 20-some revisions before he’s happy.

  7. Since my last comment about trying out my next book with an outline and plot points and such, I’ve grown more intimidated by the idea and the process.
    The more I read here, the more I just want to sit down and write and NOT worry about all these things.
    Like I said (I think it was the post about the first plot point … maybe) in that comment, everything in my first book lines up exactly with what everyone says. Timing, structure, all of it… I have all the key elements. But — is that just a fluke?
    I wrote things that foreshadowed later stuff. I remembered I had written it and then the idea came (or the characters just did things) that related back to whatever it was I had written. People commented that they knew something was going to happen when I didn’t even know — until I wrote it and it … happened.
    So now I’m afraid to do something I’m SO not used to. I’ve never written anything with an outline unless it’s nonfiction, and usually, even then, I don’t use one.
    I’m wondering if Stephen King is maybe right. I did have to revise, yes, so I won’t have a salable first draft ever, I’m sure…
    But I didn’t have to revise the structure — only things like character and voice. I let go of the reigns and my characters polished the story the way they knew it to be because they’d lived it. (I realize I sound rather insane right now… But it’s true. It’s how I write.)
    Now I’m afraid because I KNOW I’m no Stephen King, but I also know I’m not an outliner. My characters would Never let me be…
    I want to sit down and just write, but now I’m doubting myself. Not sure what to do :/
    I’ll think I’ll go edit one of my author’s mss and not worry about my own work for the time being. I’m too confused 😛

  8. @Eden — the question isn’t whether King is right or wrong, the question is “what works for me?” King implies that his way in the only, and unless you are a naturally intuitive — and in his case, highly experienced, storyteller — that can spill a story right out of their head and a) it generally follows the form of dramatic narrative, and b) if it doesn’t, that same natural intuitive sensibility allows you to fix your draft until it does.

    I take it from your comments that you may be one of the few naturally intuitive, structurally-oriented writers. And that’s good, a real blessing. But many, if not most, writers are not.

    Whether you pants or plan, it’s all just a search for your story. If you pants drafts in that search, you almost always have to rewrite them. If you plan your stories, you do that revision cycle at the outline (not really an outline, more a “beat sheet”) stage, which means your draft is less likely to need major revision.

    Here’s what’s true: whether you do it King’s way, your way or my way, the manuscript won’t be publishable until it has all the elements in place, and in the right place. Anything other than that is “experimental” fiction, and that doesn’t sell. How one gets there is an individual choice. But rest assured, as you say you “can’t outline,” you are indeed doing the very same thing that an outliner does in your early drafts — you are searching for your story.

    I’m glad your mind is churning on all this stuff. Keep going, it’s all a productive and beneficial analysis for the serious writer.

  9. Steph

    Is this why so many of his endings suck?! All that build up, great characters, settings and the ending craps out.

  10. Thanks for the response, Larry!

    Sorry I’m getting back to this blog so late. I took most of December off as far as blogging and commenting on other people’s blogs.

    I still haven’t attempted my next novel so I don’t know which way I’m going to go… I was sick and then the holidays with family from out of state and country, blahblahblah. And now the year is starting with activity on my finished novel, so I’m a little preoccupied, but in a good way.

    I actually found this comment again because I was looking for a traffic site I’d bookmarked … the snow is crazy around here and I needed to see if any major roads are closed.

    I’m glad I came back, though, because what you said at the end makes a lot of sense and I’d never thought of it that way. I suppose I am searching for my story in the same way an author/writer who outlines does. So that makes me feel *my way* might be all right and to try it another time … see what happens this time around 🙂

    Thanks again,
    Eden*

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  12. clarke

    I believe you may have severely misinterpreted Mr. King. As a writer, as a Human being one has no right be so finite and overly structured with their process. Knowing the characters and what makes them is one thing, but having a detailed schematic of the story from beginning to end is basically suicide by pen. One needs to let the story take shape from the soul not force it, that is the essence of storytelling of creation. Its garnered from years of reading and writing. Let the little men in the basement do all the work, let instinct take course.

  13. @Clarke – the post is well over two years old. I’ve since positioned my views and elaborated on them, without pushback from King fans, frequently on this site. I do stand by one thing: the advice to newer writers, or any writer who doesn’t approach his intuitive, proven command of principle and structure, is naive and irresponsible. As is your statement that writing from a structured vision is “suicide.” There are far more A-list writers who do it that way than there are writers who do it King’s way. I don’t know who you’re quoting in your closing sentence, either, but I have a hunch it’s you. Your whole comment is a window into cluelessness. I wish you well with this approach.

  14. Dude Andersone

    I read what you have written and have enjoyed it a lot. I now write over 300 novels a year.

  15. Asfandyar Ahmad

    Hey thanks larry your blog is very awesome and useful.What eden commented that he dislike to Plot his stories and he feels himself comfortable by doing that is right really I do same when I am writing non fiction Or fiction. I write through the help of Mind mapping I few months ago finished my memoir first draft in I an half month and It was very lengthy and now I am making it to the point just that to not bored my readers–I think it’s about knowing how really to tell the story well and in which technique so then thereafter you don’t need to rewrite 4 or five times so If you’ve clear thought of idea in mind.Then it’s all fine Dear larry what’s ur say?lastly larry help me one author told me don’t write phrases mundane phrases in Novel it’s a dead wood in the novel publishers and agents hate it.Is it really?

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