Saturday, 9 April 2011

The Stephen King dilemma

As I have literally just today finished reading Stephen King's Rose Madder, I have come to an interesting crossroads about the King of Horror. I have spent years, really, years worshipping this very talented writer, and not just because I was brought up on the likes of R.L. Stine Goosebumps novels. I think, in the grand scheme of things, the nature vs nurture debate really does come up even stevens. As much as a person can argue that a person's likes or dislikes can stem from her upbringing, you could also concede that she was always like that, had a little bit of that in her blood. For me, it was scary stories.

And who else would be such a logical step after R.L. Stine? I mean, really? So, let's jump forward in time: I have been through the school of hard knocks when it comes to writing and creating a story that other people will read. I have been through the whole question in my head that goes something like this: Do you want to write something that you like or do you want to write something that everybody else likes (and will sell)?

The answer to that question, well, I can't really say. Stephen King, in his book On Writing (A Memoir of the Craft) - one of his only nonfiction books besides Danse Macabre - states that you have to write what you know and what you have a passion about. You have to write full-bodied characters and not just bags of bones. I totally agree with that.

Inspiration: Rose Madder

My creative writing profs at Ball State University, bless their cotton socks, have told me time and time again that if you want to do good writing, if you want to learn from literary stories, you must stay away from Stephen King. Stephen King is the ultimate genre writer. Stephen King is to horror as McDonald's is to hamburgers. But the thing of it is, they must be doing something write otherwise they wouldn't sell.

So now I am at the point where, after years of thinking Stephen King can do no wrong, that he is more or less in existence on this earth as a god, I can see now that yes, sometimes he overwrites (just as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was criticized, at times, for putting in "too many notes"), and sometimes relies on overblown blood and guts to get his point across and carry the story through to its bitter, bitter end (Carrie, Cujo, Salem's Lot even The Green Mile). But that is just his writing style. So he has a simile for just about every sensation his main character feels, so what? So I've gotten lower points on my creative writing assignments - both fiction and nonfiction - for glaring, mixed metaphors, in my hopeless stab at simulating the King of Horror himself. So what? Clearly, at the end of the day, it is a subjective market, and he has his own style and voice and that works for him.

But I will still love and adore his writing and take this multitude of - I wouldn't say faults, as such, just differences in writing style to mine - quirks with a pinch of salt. No matter how horrific his stories are, he always touches on a nerve that is the true heart of the story. These moments are so quiet and serene and powerful that all the buckets of blood that the main character will be most likely covered in later don't matter - it is the soul of the character that really matters, and that great shift that makes us want to follow him or her with an open and willing heart is always there.

And besides - there's always such gems as Dolores Claiborne, Shawshank Redemption and The Body to keep us on a literary bent in the Stepehen King library. He is, still, a genius to me.


  1. So did Rose Madder make you fall "less" in love or just spark this topic? I am interested because I was getting tired of King when I ran across this gem a few years back and it "saved me" and made me want to read more from him. I would love to know it did the opposite for you? ;)

  2. It just sparked this topic. I find it really interesting how people either love or hate King. I am definitely in the camp that loves his writing. I think that he does horror better than most (his only main competition in my opinion are Poe [perhaps he is the Poe of his time?] and Peter Straub).
    I mean, after all, one of my favorite books on this planet is The Long Walk... and who else can write a full-length novel about a bunch of kids walking and make it into a thrilling and deep story about young love and coming of age? I mean really? Only Stephen King can do this. Rose Madder is a fantastic read though and I still to this day have never read a book by King that I didn't like.

    Perhaps I have just realized I'm recognizing the "nuts and bolts" of King's writing and how that differs from other writing styles. :)

    Thanks for reading my blog by the way, Lil!!

  3. I totally know what you are saying about "nuts and bolts." I read "Bag of Bones" and kept thinking King REALLY needed a more honest editor! LOL! But then I remember reading "Pet Cemetary" and almost pooping my pants (King is SOOOO good at horror, like you said). Rose Madder brought me back from the brink.

    Another consideration...lots of books I hated or loved changed depending on what I was going through at the time. I wonder if there are times I am just not in the mood for King...and times he is "just it." :o)