Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Book Review: On Writing by Stephen King

It's about half a month to NaNoWriMo, so here's the last book review before I start!

Apparently, when you google books on writing, Stephen King's On Writing is highly recommended. So, I figured I should go and look for the book and give it a read.

The book is divided into two main sections - a short autobiography, and the "how-to-write" section.

For the autobiography section, I skipped about half of it. I wasn't very interested, and the frequency of the curse words (in particular, the f word) made me uncomfortable. In the later half, he mentions that he believes in writing naturally, and apparently, naturally includes lots of cursing. But the last section of his autobiography is quite inspiring, particularly, the last paragraph:

"It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn't in the middle of the room. Life isn't a support-system for art. It's the other way around."

The On Writing section really is useful. He talks about the importance of the basics (grammar and vocab), the common mistakes to avoid and such. But what I found most interesting (and my biggest takeaway), was the relation between theme and story. Like Tolkien and Lewis, Stephen King doesn't believe that you should start with the theme and then think of the story. He puts it better in

"Good fiction always begins with story and progresses to theme; it almost never begins with theme and progresses to story."

I think sometimes, when you think of a really cool idea you want to share, you'll suddenly think of ways to plunk it in at every single turn. And if you're a Literature student like me, then you'll probably get absorbed wondering about the different ways you can write symbolism into whatever you're writing. So this is a good reminder, and extremely good reminder, to me, that I should focus on telling the story, and then (only in the second draft), do I look for a theme to tie everything together.

Another piece of good advice was to wait a long time (he recommends six weeks) before taking a second look at your manuscript for objectivity. After NaNoWriMo, I have a feeling I'll be glad for the break.

But for now, I'm just getting to know my characters better. Come November, it'll be their time to take the center stage.

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