I’ve included Stephen King for his overall body of work. Some of his books I have loved, been awed by and inspired by. Others I have not been able to get through. It’s not that some books are bad and others good, but Stephen King is one of those lucky authors who can dabble in anything, and some of those things I just don’t tend to enjoy as much.
He has written some of my favourite short novels/novellas including ‘The Long Walk’, ‘The Running Man’ and ‘Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.’ I think it is no mistake that so many of Stephen King’s stories become movies, the man knows how to put a story together. He’s also got some really nice prose, but I’m usually so caught up in what is happening that I don’t stop to mull it over.
One of his books that has guaranteed its place in my library is ‘On Writing’ –it has been the best writing book I’ve ever read and I try to re-read it at least once a year, usually in January just as my New Year’s resolutions are starting to fail. Yes, I have just finished reading it again last week. It always gets me writing and that alone will leave me forever in Mr King’s debt.
For any of you who have dismissed Stephen King as a trashy horror writer, I really encourage you to try his work, and if you don’t like horror he has written a heap of non-horror stories. You may find it under Richard Bachman, but you really won’t have to try hard to uncover something without gore. I highly recommend you give it a go because you’ll find yourself transported to another world. He really is that good.
How much is too much? I have watched a lot of movies recently where people have done ridiculous things, I’d even venture so far as to say impossible things. Sometimes they are so extreme that it pulls me completely out of the movie-world and I find myself sitting on my couch or in the cinema.
I know you don’t have to get everything factually right in a piece of fiction. I have no problems with flames in space, and I’m happy to pretend a bus can jump a 50 foot gap in an elevated roadway and people can just hang on to the handrails and make it to the other side okay. I’m sure it’s possible that if the bus made that leap 1000 times, at least once it would work. That’s enough for me.
But when someone dives from a moving vehicle (not a bus, different film), then slides down a tarmac road for 100+ metres on their back in a pair of jeans and a lightweight shirt and at the end stands up, dusts themselves off and runs away without great chunks of flesh missing, I really do ask the question – why? Why not at least put grass there? Have the car slow down a bit? Maybe someone conveniently dumped some mattresses on the side of the road that day? At least put them in a leather jacket.
The thing is, I know books probably do this too, but maybe my brain bends the rules for them, it puts the grass down, or quickly re-dresses them in a leather cat-suit? Or maybe I just watch more action movies than I read action books?
Don’t get me wrong, books are not immune to such impossible feats, but they seem to have far fewer of them. Maybe the act of typing the words on the page makes you really review what is happening and the impossible can’t be ignored.
I should add that I consider the ‘idiotic-decision-to-drive-the-story-in-a-contrived-direction’ an entirely different issue, and one that is found equally in books and films. Possibly even more in books. Possibly even in mine 🙂
There is no doubt that the most important part of writing a story is coming up with the idea, but does that process of thinking about the story count as writing? I guess first we have to define what ‘counting’ means. For me, anything I can use to offset my guilt from not writing any words for the week is an activity that ‘counts’.
This week I’ve had this chat with three other writers, all more productive than me when it comes to weekly word count, and the split was 2:1 against. The argument against was that thinking is just daydreaming, whereas writing was words on a page that could be read by others. I know how easy it is to lose an hour to daydreaming, the idea that this could be writing was like being told you will now get paid for your commute to work as well as the hours in the office.
I will admit, I was firmly in the against camp, but as luck would have it, immediately after this chat I got lumbered with a 40 minute wait at the bus stop while my bus crawled through Fringe road-closure traffic. Can you guess what I did with that time?
By the time the bus rolled up I had ironed out the bumps in a new story idea that was kicking around in my head. The key here was ‘in my head’ –I haven’t written a word for this story, but I know it is a story, and now I know what happens in it.
So I guess there are cases when thinking is writing, so long as that thinking is not just fantasies about aliens landing so you don’t have to go to work, or coming up with a string of good come-backs you should have used on the person who said that really mean thing to you. Provided you don’t replace all your word-smithing time with daydreaming I think it is vital to give your mind space and time to do some work without a keyboard.
I know I seem a little hung up on the idea of to plan or not to plan. I write a list of 20 things I want to achieve each week in my day to day life, so planning is clearly something that appeals to me.
I’ve just been reading the approach of another writer who does not like to plan. He thinks it limits his creativity and runs the risk of forcing his characters into places they don’t want to go. I feel very strongly that I don’t push my characters into decisions or actions that don’t feel natural for them, they have freedom of choice, and yet I plan, so what is the difference?
I think it might be semantics.
I wonder if what I am calling a plan others might call a first draft, albeit an extremely short fist draft. The person I was reading about who doesn’t like to plot simply writes the scenes as he sees them, eventually writing enough to find the whole story, at which point he pulls it together and gets to work on writing the joining bits, what he calls his second draft.
Until I have a beginning, middle-ish and an end-ish in mind, I generally don’t commit an idea to paper, but when I do, I go through the discovery of those ideas in much the same way as I feel I did when I wrote my pantser novel, I just go through the process much faster when writing a plan.
Then, when I sit down to write the novel I have the plan in mind, but if things change I let them. So is that pantsing? Is that planning? Who knows, I think writing any story is magic at work, no matter how you get there.