Review of “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft,” by Stephen King

For this review, I read: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King. The book is 291 pages long.

Because I was reading this book for class, of course 13486639
I procrastinated and waited to read this book until the last few days before its related assignment, this review, was due. In spite of this, I found that the amount of reading I had to undertake was not at all difficult. In fact, I found I had a hard time putting this book down; when I did read, I would read huge swaths of the book at a time before looking up at the clock and wondering where the time went. I found that King has a way of writing that is honest, concise, and interesting to boot. Also, he writes with such confidence that I as a reader had a hard time not being led where he wanted to lead me. Even though I sometimes doubted some of the advice he was trying to give the reader about writing, I was able to see, and he said so, that he himself believed it. If such a prolific writer believes and lives such techniques for writing, I found that I could probably do a lot worse than taking a few of his suggestions.

The section, “On Writing,”

where King provides most of these writing tips, I found extremely helpful. Especially the sub-section on publication which I have zero knowledge but a large interest in. He also covers the topics of dialogue and character development, theme, symbolism, and how to structure your reading and writing, to name a few. On writing specifically, he says that:

Stories are found things, like fossils in the ground (pg. 163)

and

The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible. Sometimes the fossil you uncover is small, a seashell. Sometimes it’s enormous, a Tyrannosaurus Rex with all those gigantic ribs and grinning teeth. Either way, short story or thousand-page whopper of a novel, the techniques of excavation remain basically the same. (pg. 164)

While just a metaphor for the writing process, I found it encouraging. Earlier, King states that he doesn’t believe that bad writers can be made into great writers; however, It makes me feel that I have at least the opportunity to excavate my stories fully intact. That I have the opportunity to write decently.

Because I’m reviewing this book for my fiction workshop class, I found it interesting that King actually had a view on whether or not they serve to benefit the fledgling writer. One of the things that stuck with me, and no offense to the workshop process, as I’ve found it extremely helpful so far, is that it makes writing something you have to do rather than something you want to do, and I’ve felt this myself in my own writing. It’s impossible for the instructor to say, “OK everyone, write what you want and I’ll make sure to grade everyone equally.” There has to be some assignment and grading structure. I just hope it doesn’t change how I view writing from an enjoyment standpoint.

The only part I felt I didn’t like about this book,

and it’s not a critique of the writing, just the way it made me feel, is that the auto-biography of his childhood made me feel that if I didn’t write a lot as growing up that I wasn’t meant to be an author. Perhaps it’s petty to think this way, but as someone who is still in the process of figuring out what they want to do after having been in college for a number of years, I’m a bit jealous that King seemingly always knew he wanted to be a writer.

On the whole, as said before, I really enjoyed this book. It’s chock-full of helpful suggestions from the perspective of a person who finds joy, and has been successful, in writing.  King had me laughing and shaking my head all the way through the book. I Cheered at his victories and was solemn at his misfortunes. Anyone who writes, or has the notion to write, should give this book a read.

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IMWAYR? – It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

Currently, I’m reading On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King, and I’m on 13486639page 60. I’ve never actually read one of his books before, and the only movie adaptation I’ve seen of his work is The ShiningDespite this, I know that he is a prolific author and probably knows a thing or two about writing. So far, I’ve enjoyed this book.

The Book So Far:

The beginning portion of this book had been entirely about his life growing up as a writer.
From very young, and creating stories for his mother to read, to the point I’ve gotten to now, when he’s just starting college, it seems like King always knew that he wanted to be a writer. As someone who’s recently switched out of my original major, and trying to find what I’d rather do with my life, I’m rather envious. As of now, one of the only nuggets of wisdom that King has provided about the actual craft of writing itself has been this, quoting his first editor:

“When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story,” he said. “When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.” (pg. 57)

and

“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. Your stuff starts out being just for you, in other words, but then it goes out. Once you know what the story is and get it right-as right as you can, anyway-it belongs to anyone who wants to read it.” (pg. 57)

On My Own Writing:

As I’ve been writing for my class, and working on a story revision, I’ve had a hard time just allowing myself to write and be creative without the worry of anyone being able to see my first thoughts. I think King’s handed down advice is good. As I took it: that when you write, the story you are writing is just for yourself, that you’re telling yourself the story. That you have to allow yourself to be creative and write freely, without thinking too much about it, and then go back and find the parts that need improving.

His past life has been an interesting read, but I’m looking forward to the rest of his book when hopefully he’ll give more specific suggestions on how to improve your writing. One of the things I have to constantly remind myself about in my writing is: “what is my goal for this scene, or this story for a whole?” and “How do I achieve this?” Something else that I’ve found interesting about writing is that I never really thought that you could teach it. That writing was some sort of innate skill that a person did or did not have. As I learn about writing through my class, I’m learning more and more that writing, as much as it’s an art, is also a science. When writing, you constantly have to be conscious of elements that have finally been given a name to me. Constantly thinking about how the audience should be feeling or what they should be thinking about. I’m hoping that King will provide some insight on how to make your story do what you want to do.

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Book Review: “A Clash of Kings,” by George R.R. Martin

“A Clash of Kings,” by George R.R. Martin. 969 pages.

Introduction:

For this book review, I chose to read “A Clash of Kings” by George R.R. Martin. I finished the first book in his series recently, and thought it would be appropriate to use my interest in his work for my school assignment. Because the book is 969 pages, a bit long, and I only have a limited time to read each book before I review it, I chose to read only half of the book for this review. Compared to the first book, “A Game of Thrones,” “A Clash of Kings” is much more political so far. At the end of the first book, things were picking up action wise with armies engaging in battle and ancient legends coming to life. Things have been much slower comparatively during the first half of this book. I can only assume, and sadly know because I’ve seen the TV series already, that things will eventually pick up and end much like the first book did: action packed. Tyrion Lannister, a character from the book, agrees that not much has been happening:

“There is sitting and there is sitting,” Tyrion suggested. “Each waits for the other to move, but the lion is still, poised, his tail twitching, while the fawn is frozen by fear, bowls turned to jelly. No matter which way he bounds, the lion will have him, and he knows it” (page 320).

The “lion” being Tywin of house Lannister, and the “fawn” represents Rob of house Stark. This brings me to what I didn’t like about the book: all of the political information. Having to keep track of each house, there are many of them, and who belongs to it, is very tiring for the reader.

What I did not like about the book:

I understand that this kind of thing comes with the territory of writing an epic novel, but Martin has a tendency to introduce a lot of information about the world he has created that is hard to keep track of. As a reader, I want to take to heart all of the information that an author gives me because I believe authors don’t just give extraneous information, as all of it will be important later on; however, it’s almost impossible to remember all of this information unless you keep a journal. Namely the characters, houses, and alliances he has created are all important because this information becomes relevant towards why the book progresses the way it does. “A Clash of Kings” in particular, so far, is comprised of very little action and is mainly based around these politics of these involved factions. One could read his books without taking time to study these aspects, but all of the posturing and strategy that characters use in these books, based on these alliances, lose their meaning if you don’t know the history behind them. Because of this, it feels as if you almost have to study his books, which is a bit more effort than I think reading a book for pleasure should demand, but is rewarding in the end. Martin has created a wonderfully realistic world, and as realistic worlds tend to do, this book has a lot of information; hardly any element of how people, from low to high status in this world, live is left out. The benefit of this, however, is that his works truly feel like you are being lead through a living and breathing world that has been captured between the pages of his books, which leads me to what I do like about the book so far.

What I liked about the book:

The characters that Martin has created are very life-like. They do things in a manner that is reasonable based on the situation they are in, and their emotions are very easy to see and relate to based on these challenging situations. The characters also often come up with solutions to these problems that you did not expect, but worked better than you might have hoped, and this creates a feeling these characters have a tangible intelligence, and are therefore tangible themselves. Most of these characters are either easy to like or easy to hate, and this makes us want to see them succeed or fail. We of course want to see Joffrey returned with the same cruelty that he has shown the Starks, and we want to see the Starks triumph over him. In spite of this, we root for both sides because each has likable characters even though we know one has to triumph over the other. This creates a very interesting narrative quality because we don’t know who to root for in a straight up confrontation. Also, because we are invested in both sides, it helps to keep the reader engaged in the story even when opposing forces have to be given narrative time.

On the narrative’s construction, this book was created with parallel plot lines; each chapter focuses on a different character. This type of plot is effective because it introduces suspense, which I enjoyed, that draws the reader through the story as we cycle through character perspectives. We leave each character at the end of a chapter when their situation has reached a climax and then start a new chapter by being reintroduced to a character the reader is invested in but who hasn’t been mentioned for some time.

Conclusion:

Overall, I love his books because of how alive the world he has created is, and as stated before, Martin has used many techniques to do this. Despite being set in a fantasy realm, his characters are relatable and it’s enjoyable to see their personalities in action and when they clash against one another. I’m excited to see how the book turns out, and my next report will be on the latter half of it.

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