Posts Tagged ‘Stephen King’
For a long time I believed that all English novels ought to be written in long, difficult sentences with complicated clauses and words that no-one ever uses in conversation. Narrators ought to be effete and educated. Plots should be convoluted. Coincidences should stretch credulity. And there should be romance and sometimes even heartbreak.
It was with reluctance and some sorrow that I learned that novels survived the onslaught of James Joyce, Virginia Woolf and William Faulkner. They not only survived, they thrived. They became cleaner, leaner and healthier (notwithstanding Pynchon, Burroughs and Barth).
They became too easy to read, too exciting and too funny. Yes, too popular, Ray Bradbury, Mr. Salinger, Joseph Heller, Nevil Shute, Stephen King, Jackie Collins!!!
So it was with great relief and nostalgia that I immersed myself in this sentimental thriller set in Victorian England. It’s best read in bed over two days with a heavy cold and absolutely no visitors.
It’s sublimely self-indulgent. Treat yourself to a gin and tonic while you’re reading it and have a big box of tissues handy.
When asked which of his novels he thought would last Stephen King said The Shining, The Stand and Salem’s Lot. The ‘S’ novels.
I think they’ll all last because Stephen King has the knack of getting inside people’s lives and putting them on the page.
Stephen King reminds me a lot of Dickens without being as good. While Dickens can skewer a character in a single phrase, Stephen King recreates them with layer upon layer of trivial details. You might not like his characters but you can see them in your mind’s eye and in that respect they are real.
Another thing Stephen King does well is to vary the rhythm and syntax of his sentences, which means his prose is relatively free from noticeable mannerisms and you can read it for a long time without getting tired. This is the mark of a writer who has read and written a lot. It’s something the reader appreciates only subconsciously. Although his books are long, they are very readable. He doesn’t talk down to his audience. Some of the passages in this books are quite poetic and his vocabulary is very rich. But his sentences are elegantly constructed and the details he notices and presents are very pertinent.
It took me a while to appreciate how deeply literate Stephen King is. I am not a big fan of his but I admire his craftsmanship and I always find his books pleasurable to read. I have been drawn to his books more and more recently, since I have begun to write for publication. I think all writers can learn a lot from him, not so much from his book On Writing as from the novels themselves.
If I were being totally fair, I suppose I should give this 5 stars. But since he is not quite as good as Dickens and this is probably not his best book, I’ll give it only 3. Sorry, SK, but I don’t think you need a leg up from me.
As a writer of erotica, there are many things I’ve tried to learn from this book. How to make condoms sexy. How to coarsen my vocabulary. When to let my heroine wear knickers with a gusset. And many other tricks of the trade.
But there’s one thing that, for my money, Kristina does better than any other writer of erotica, and that’s to use her sophisticated mastery of language to describe quite complex physical sensations. She does it very simply and accurately and the effect is very powerful.
Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of her language. What she is doing is very difficult. For she doesn’t just focus on the physical. She manages to dig out and express the emotional roots of desire.
I recommend this book to every writer. Kristina can be lyrical at times but she is never self-indulgent. And when she needs to be crude she is definitively crude. Above all, she strives to be accurate. Her touchstone is undoubtedly herself, her own body, her own desires, her own responses. For this reason alone the book is very daring. Many writers of erotica fall back on well-worn phrases. They do not make best use of the raw material available to them – themselves.
As an example, here is a description of Beth walking along the beach in Brighton.
The wind buffeted me and, every now and again, my steps went crooked and drunken because it was so ferociously strong. It was warm and arid too: my eyes didn’t stream the way they would do in a chill wind. That rushing air had the opposite effect; it made my eyeballs feel strangely dry.
There are some emotions lying beneath the surface of those stark sentences but even if you are not aware of them, because I have lifted the words out of their context, you get a sense of how clinically accurate Kristina can be.
Stephen King once wrote in one of his introductions to Salem’s Lot (June 15, 2005):
So turn off the television … and we’ll talk about vampires here in the dim. I think I can make you believe in them, because while I was working on this book, I believed in them myself.
Whenever I pick up Kristina’s book and re-read her sentences about Ilya and Beth, her vivid descriptions of Brighton, her sharp and swanky dialogue, I believe that what I am reading is real. Because while Kristina was writing this book, it was real.
Not everyone can handle this kind of authenticity. This book isn’t for everyone. Beth degrades herself in ways that are sick and disgusting. She does things that no woman should ever do. But I believe in her. I understand her. I care about her. And for that Kristina earns my everlasting respect.
It’s impossible to write a definitive book on writing. There’s so much to say and everybody is at a different entry point. But the first 118 pages of this book are padding and, though interesting, can be skipped. The last 65 pages are also disposable.
The meat of the book is in the middle section called Toolbox, which is about 180 pages in my edition and can be read in a few hours as there aren’t many words per page.
It’s probably not advisable to read it so quickly, though, as there is a lot of wisdom distilled into this section. If you can already write you won’t disagree with anything that Stephen King says. If you can’t write, I’m not sure it will teach you very much. But it serves as a useful reminder of things that writers should keep in mind.
Some writers will agree with it but still not follow his advice and not realise they are not following it.
Just this week I came across several aspiring writers who are happy to tell the world that they don’t have time to read and have never read much. They think it doesn’t matter because they write what they know.
Stephen King’s prime rule is: write a lot and read a lot.
If you don’t follow it, you don’t know anything.