What Stephen King Taught Me About Writing

JacketCoverLarge900x430I remember being intrigued a while back by a rather large book (thicker than my Bible, even), called Under the Dome by Stephen King.

Now, I had given Stephen King a chance about two years ago with an older book of his called Pet Sematary (spelling correct). I was writing The Man in the Box at the time and needed some direction on how to write rabid animals gone amuck. Plus, I wanted to give this popular King guy a shot – after all, he can’t be one of the most well-known authors for nothing.

Well, when I got through a bit more than a quarter of the book I did something I hardly ever do: I put the book down and cancelled any further reading of Stephen King.

Not because the book was disturbing (which it wasn’t).

Nor because it was scary (which I kind of hoped it would be).

It was boring! 

Almost halfway through the book, no plot had developed, and the characters kept going around in circles with random conversations which I’m sure tied into the end somehow, but I didn’t care to stick around to find out. The book, I felt, was directionless.

I’m a pretty forgiving guy, so I gave King another shot. And surprisingly I stuck his latest monster of a book out – Under the Dome. 

At 1,076 pages I was surprised at how quickly I read through it. (I talked to one guy before endeavoring on the long trek who read it all in one sitting on a trans-continental plane ride.) It took me a month or two.

Even though I was reading it for permission to tell my own saga of a story of which the details are to remain mute for now, I found myself getting pulled into the story one sub-chapter at a time.

Kudos to Mr. King for having come such a long way from Pet Sematary. The characters were more rounded out, and from page one he set the plot with a giant invisible dome closing in around a small New England town.

Fast forward several hundred pages.

I think I can, I think I can, I think… I…

I don’t know how many times I mentally  told Mr. King to get on with it! And so wrapped up in the town politics and dirty deeds did the book get that I feel like the author failed to look at the title of the book every few pages or so to remind himself what the book was actually about. (Yes, I realize all the events took place because of the dome, but you can only get off topic to much before you lose me completely.)

A big round of applause, however, for taking a seemingly harmless object (a giant dome) and creating plausible reasons for there to be a bloodbath because of its mere presence. When the book was actually about the dome, it really remained as an ominous, silent threat to all those affected by it.

My biggest criticism is that Under the Dome could have been at least 250 pages shorter. I only finished the book because I had already invested so much time into it. So by the time I got to the odd climax, I was just too tired to care, thus I was unfulfilled, and I missed the larger point Stephen King might have been trying to make.

If you don’t want to invest the time or energy in this dinosaur, but you’re curious nonetheless as I was, you may be pleased to know that Hollywood great Steven Spielberg is producing the miniseries based off the book that will be debuting this summer. I may end up being proved wrong, but the good thing about Spielberg producing is that the miniseries won’t likely be as R-rated as the book is – filled with profanity, innuendoes, mild sensuality, and a couple of rape scenes – not that you need to worry about your kids wanting to scale the peaks of this book.

All in all, what Stephen King taught me in possibly the last book I’ll be reading from him other than his book on writing that has come highly recommended – the irony -(didn’t he write a baseball book? How is it?) is this:

Writers, no matter how many characters you have, no matter how big the plot, no matter how grand a scale your story is,

don’t over stay your welcome.

With that, I’ll be taking my queue to exit the stage.

Did you read it? Share your thoughts.

[Image Credit]


About Andrew Toy
I'm in the beginning stages of starting my own publishing company that's unlike anything you've ever heard of in the industry. The direction of AdoptingJames is taking a 90-degree turn and will be more writing/publishing-focused. Stay tuned for huge updates and exciting news!

33 Responses to What Stephen King Taught Me About Writing

  1. Edwin says:

    I have a few of his books and I just realized that I have only finished one. “It”. Hahaha.. whoops.

  2. I haven’t read King in years though he was the writer that got me back into reading when I was a teenager. Might go back to him now.

  3. kloipy says:

    King is my favorite author so I’m biased. But I do recommend you read his non-fiction book ‘On Writing’ if you don’t read anything else. I think you will take quite a lot from it.

  4. tadethompson says:

    When I was younger I loved King and I’d like to think I learned from him, but later…I don’t know. Much respect to the man and ‘It’ remains my most re-read book, but I haven’t been able to get into his later stuff. ‘Pet Sematary’ isn’t one of his best books in my opinion.

  5. My all time favourite storyteller. He just does it with this all American regular kind of way which is quite funny and beguiling that you cannot help but be entertained by him. Although I do avoid his HUGE books.:-)

    • One thing I failed to mention in my post is that I really did enjoy his sarcastic and witty narrative style. Once in a blue moon it even bordered on semi-poetic, and it was engaging. If the story or the characters didn’t keep me reading, it certainly was his bold and creative narrative.

      • He is lovely. Probably the least good looking guy around but full of great stories. I have seen him in many of his movie adaptations. Loved Red Rose. The Shining a true classic. Although I was very young when I started. I may find him below par now.:-)
        My first ever horror novel was way too old for my twelve year old eyes. And it had uh you know graphic stuff!! I was hooked. Sheesh. I sound disturbed!:-/

  6. bgddyjim says:

    Read the gunslinger series and quit reading SK after that – figured there was no way anything else could compare – and let’s face it, King and ADHD don’t go well together.

  7. Tim Scott says:

    I’ve read some of King’s work…The Stand, Skeleton Crew (particularly “The Mist”, which I loved), and the first few Dark Tower books. I enjoyed them, never loved ’em though. I can definitely say I won’t be reading “Under the Dome”, especially after your critique! I will be purchasing “On Writing” however, as I’ve already read a few gems in there.

  8. ByronGordon says:

    That reminds me a little of Raymond Chandler. I’ve heard he once said “Forget the plot. Tell the story. And if you get stuck have a man burst into the room with a gun.” (paraphrased of course)…. but in at least one of his books the story begins to drag and then a guy jumps out with a gun and voila! The circus is back on!

    Still need to read “On Writing”… I think I’m avoiding it because of the number of recommendations! 😉

  9. Bill Jones says:

    Oddly enough, his book on writing is filled with profanity also.

  10. amyoung0606 says:

    King is long-winded at time and tends to write for himself as a writer, which is where we as the reader get bored, but you have to imagine what the manuscript was like before an editor looked at it. Most of the time the editor can cut out all of the boring stuff, so some readers may need to invest themselves fully into King’s longer works. I know I’ve had 11/22/63 since it first came out and I have yet to finish it. Not because I don’t want to, but because if I finish it then the book is over! Also, his memoir is AMAZING one of the best memoirs on writing I’ve ever read! 🙂 Good luck!

    • I’ll admit, 11/22/63 has caught my eye because of the seeming emphasis on history. Let me know what you think with it. Sounds like you’re enjoying it so far.

      • amyoung0606 says:

        The history involved compels the story along, and although it drops off a little in the middle that is not uncommon. What is truly phenomenal is the way that King weaves a love story flawlessly throughout the story. The reader experiences it gently over time as the character develops feelings. It feels natural in the unnatural setting. I always love how much I can invest into his characters because they emulate parts of him. And he tackles one of the biggest what if questions. What if someone could stop the JFK assassination or save someone they care about from dying. King knows people and he makes you fear the real people in the world to cherish the life you have.

  11. kenyanvoice says:

    after Charles dickens, king is second and i am biased too, i first heard about pet sematary in a R.L. Stine book where a character was reading it and i went looking for it, so far it has disappointed me and i am yet to finish it but most of Stephen king’s other are quicker such different season, almost all other Stephen king’s book are quicker except his earlier work where maybe he was trying to impress critics.

  12. frasersherman says:

    Like you, I find a lot of King tends to bog down in the details. So yeah.

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  14. I started reading King when his first books came out and nobody knew who he was (yes, I know I’m telling my age 😦 ) . The thing I liked most about his writing was it’s diversity. He didn’t just write about one thing over and over – you never knew what you’d get. I’d have to say that Pet Sematary is my least favorite King book.

    Loved Carrie, loved The Stand. Loved The Eyes of the Dragon.

    Then he got into a weird phase and I kind of stopped reading for awhile. The Gunslinger came out and I read the first part of the first chapter and said ick, nope.

    Years went by and someone suggested I read The Gunslinger and they had so much praise for it that I decided to bite the bullet and try it again. Once past the first book it took off like a rocket and I loved it. (could have gone without the profanity, but… )

    I think the one thing King does that I like least is that he interjects his “authors thoughts” Into the book too frequently. It’s as if he writes this great chapter then feels he has to explain it, which he does in parentheses. I don’t care for that, it makes me feel as if he thinks we readers are too dumb to “get it”, lol. Even tho sometimes what he says is interesting or funny.
    It’s a long series and I really hated the ending, but still a terrific story.

    Next (recently) I read 1963 – LOVED it. It references The Gunslinger in some ways but isn’t part of that story. And it has a great ending, lol. liked that.

    As a writer I thought his book on Writing was fabulous.

    King isn’t Dickens or Faulkner or Hemingway, but he’s King. He definitely has his own voice and his own unique way of telling a story. He owns his space, I suppose would be a good way of putting it. 🙂

  15. B Y Rogers says:

    When King is on, he is on. But he does tend to be verbose and boring. I thought The Stand was quite good until the last 50 pages. His epilogue reminded me of Gilligan’s Island (Just get off the damn pile of dirt already. You’ve been talking about it for five years!) The Dark Tower Series was disappointing yet when he writes as in Shawshank Redemption, it is nearly perfect. Jim is correct, do not overstay your welcome, even in a single scene.

  16. jakk54 says:

    There is much to admire in Under the Dome, which I have as an audiobook. Good characters, believable politics, and a convincing portrayal of how people might behave when put under such pressures. However, I felt the scifi ending was rather a deus ex machina, and in many ways unnecessary, a bit trite and not particularly good science fiction at that. Mr King is wonderful at small town scenarios, and, at his best, really good at suspense. Science fiction never seems to quite work in his books, though. Which is a shame, really.

  17. dpbowman says:

    I started with King in The Eyes of the Dragon. Still a favorite, and one of only two of his I still have. Completely different from his other work it led me to want to read more. I loved The Stand (also lengthy), It, and a few others, but got tired of what I felt was a formula. Almost to the point of satire…”A jock, A weakling, An average Joe, and a handicapped person walk into a plot”…Gave up and moved to Dean Koontz, then James Patterson, then Jeffery Deaver….you get the idea. I guess we all fall into a pattern. We return to what we know, or think we know. For now, I know enough of what King knows. ~Regards, Dan

  18. Matt Dalton says:

    The Green Mile was one of my favourite books, but there have been many that bored me.

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  20. b.h.quinn says:

    I’ve read several King books and I tended to enjoy them more than not. I haven’t read “Under the Dome” because my boyfriend got to it first and his review was “It’s like King saw ‘The Simpsons Movie,’ thought he could do better, then… didn’t.” It’s always disappointing when a decent plot is overshadowed by the disappointment of unfulfilled potential.

  21. dmhenry says:

    I loved Pet Semetary. I didn’t find any of the problems you mention. Couldn’t get into any of his other fiction books that I tried, even the ones I was told were amazing. I love On Writing though. I don’t know how much I learned about writing, but it certainly psyched me up about it.

  22. justmoo33 says:

    My husband had read all of his books. I’ve read a few, and I enjoyed them very much. For example, Duma Key and Salem’s Lot. I don’t like excessively large books, so I don’t think I’d ever get through all of them! I would highly recommend his book on writing – a wonderful insight into his life.

  23. Shirley R Graceya says:

    Nice read… very frank. I liked it. 🙂

  24. Jill says:

    I always say that both one of the best books I ever read (A Prayer for Owen Meany) and one of the worst books I ever read (A Widow for One Year) were written by the same author — John Irving. You can’t have big success without a few failures along the way!

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