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“On Writing”

October 5, 2008

So, yeah, I’m rereading Stephen King’s book “On Writing“.  Well, kind of.  I’m actually listening to the audio version since one of my lovely boys (most likely the two year old scamp) seems to have misplaced my print copy.  It’s interesting to actually hear King read his own book and it allows me to listen to it while I write, if I so choose.

This is a book that every writer should have.  Hell, it’s a book just about everybody should have but especially writers.  I use this book to inspire me when I’m “sure I’ll never make it in this business.”  Those times when that neat little critic guy in our heads screams, “Who the hell are you to think you can write novels?  No agent or publisher is ever going to want this drivel.”  Here’s a neat site that talks to some published authors about certain parts of the book.

He begins with a brief life story, of course.  Who we have been shapes who we are now as well as providing intellectual fodder for our writing.  This is an enjoyable little romp through little Stevie’s life and gives a view of how one popular writer came about.

Then he gets into the meat of it.  The writing.  He helps you construct a “writer’s toolbox” and insists that the two things most important, fundamentally, to good writing are grammar and vocabulary.  Not someone else’s vocabulary.  Your vocabulary.  The one you bring to the table without conscious effort.  The one that you built with every hour spent under the covers at night reading by flashlight when your parents thought you were asleep.  He makes you promise not to try and expand your vocabulary though I’m sure he understands that writers “accidentally” expand their vocabularies every day.

Overall I agree with Mr. King.  We should never unnecessarily complicate our writing.  Yes, I know, “unnecessarily” is a loaded word.  When is it necessary and when is it not?  This boils down to how King says to structure your paragraphs.  It’s all in the beat you hear as you write.  It’s all dictated by your style.

Consider the following:

“Bob hoped no one else was in the men’s room as the trumpeting of his vigorous act of excretion echoed around the stall.”

“Bob hoped no one else was in the men’s room as the trumpeting of his vigorous bowel movement echoed around the stall.”

“Bob hoped no one else was in the men’s room as the trumpeting of his vigorous shit echoed around the stall.”

All of these say the same thing.  All of them are correct (even if kinda gross).  All of them will appeal to a different audience.  There are those that don’t want cussing in anything they read.  There are those that don’t want you to beat around the bush (“If he’s shitting, man, just say he’s shitting.”).  There are those that won’t mind either way.  I’m of the opinion that one of these (if in your story) will fit the beat better than the other two.  That’s the one you should use.

King recommends using the first word that comes to your mind.  For the most part, I agree.  Sometimes, though, it’s just fun to play with this funny little language we use.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. tendell permalink
    October 5, 2008 4:00 am

    I’ve read that book too. It has helped me a lot with my writing.

  2. Kara Douglas permalink
    October 9, 2008 6:32 am

    Thanks for adding my site to your blog roll
    I have added you on my site as well.

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