Friday, September 05, 2008

Latest Reads

Yesterday, I finished reading "Rocket Boys" by Homer Hickam and just now I closed "On Writing" by Stephen King for the last time.

I highly recommend "Rocket Boys", a memoir about a boy growing up poor in a West Virginia coal mining town in the 1950's who, along with his posse of friends, captures the imagination of an entire community through his obsession with rocket launching. The story is also a poignant recollection of a complicated relationship between a father and son. The movie version of the book titled "October Sky" is also a favorite of mine and, as a huge bonus, stars Jake Gyllenhaal.

"On Writing" I read in just a few days. Holy crap, what aspiring writer wouldn't be wise to at least take a peek at King's thoughts on the craft being, as he is, one of the most prolific fiction writers of the last three decades? In my case King, as they say "Had me at Hello" with his first blockbuster novel "Carrie".

Looking back, I guess you could say King was the JK Rowling of the 1970's. I spent the better part of that decade in breathless anticipation of his every new release. After "Carrie" it got better and better: "Salem's Lot", "The Shining" (my favorite), "The Stand" (King hints in "On Writing" that this is probably his best work), "Dead Zone".

Until it got worse. He lost me at "It" and it's, in my opinion, improbable ending. Although I've read a few of his novels since, it's never been the same. Not that I expect it to be. I wouldn't think anyone could keep up such a fevered pace at that level forever. I'm surprised King managed it for as long as he did. At his best, King reaches out, grabs you by the collar and doesn't let go. At his worst, he's still damned entertaining.

King's writing advice is mostly predictable--not bad advice, but the same advice I've read over and over: Discipline is key--write at the time of day and for the same amount of time each day, write what you know, barf up a shitty first draft, leave out the bullsh!t, edit ruthlessly, develop a network of smart people that you trust to read your second drafts and give you feedback. King himself writes 2,000 words per day and writes in the morning. On a good day, he is finished by lunch, on a bad day it takes twice that long. In this fashion, King can churn out the first draft of a novel in about three months.

King diverges somewhat in that he READS four hours a day and feels this is necessary to keeping one's chops sharp. Also? He's not a fan of the adverb. In fact, I'm not sure I'll ever look at an adverb the same way again, so great is his aversion. King's argument? If you're writing is good you don't NEED adverbs (he doesn't mean never ever, but sparingly at most). It goes with the "no bullsh!t" and edit ruthlessly credos. Check it:

She decided to write her paper. (no adverbs)
She quickly decided to write her paper. (her decision was quick)
She decided to write her paper quickly. (her writing was quick)

Sentence #1, right?

Need more?

I am dead to adverbs; they cannot excite me. To misplace an adverb is a thing which I am able to do with frozen indifference; it can never give me a pang. --Mark Twain

So there you go.

Beware the adverb, people.


Bubble Girl said...

I've yet to read a King book that tops "The Stand" since I read it many (many!) years ago (three times - thank you OCD!). "Misery" was fun, in a demented way, but "The Stand" was the bomb.

Suzanne said...

Yes, Misery was fun and also I forgot to mention "Pet Sematary" a book that scared the hell outta me. (Not that the others didn't but, oh, when he's digging up Gauge's grave...LORD)