I have become a recent devotee of Stephen King. Not for his horror novels, although if you like that genre they’re certainly riveting.
Nope, I am reading his legendary “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.” In a word, it is awesome. Part autobiography, part “sitting down to bullshit with an incredibly insightful author who is happy to share his secrets to writing.” I wish I had read it like 10 years ago before I started my novel, but I’m self-aware enough to know that I never would have paid attention. Why should I? I knew how to write!
But now that I’ve started and tossed aside two manuscripts and been mercilessly tortured by my editor on the third (thank you, Corinne), I’ve learned a few things. And Mr. King has been kind enough to package those rules in an elucidating and entertaining format. I’m paraphrasing here, but he advocates:
1. Learn your grammar. I had no idea how little training I had. Sentence structure, tenses, adverb… I thought I could skate by with guessing, but no, that stuff is actually important. And Mr. King explains why.
2. Read–anywhere and everywhere. I love this advice, because he specifically recommended reading on the treadmill. I’ve been doing that for years and my family makes fun of me for not really working out. Now I can say I’m working. The purpose is to study what works and what doesn’t–dialogue, tension, pacing–and figure out why.
3. Write. He’s a pantser (writes by the seat of his pants). He deliberately avoids plotting his book because he never knows where his characters may take him. He recommends writing your ideas, writing every day and getting out a first draft. If you get stuck, take a walk, mull, ponder, put yourself in your characters’ minds and they will tell you where to go.
4. Polish. Once it’s written, then you fine-tune. Add embellishments. Look for, and strengthen symbolism, Read your dialogue out loud to make sure it sounds natural. And don’t be afraid to “murder your darlings,” cutting out the precious gems you’ve written that just don’t work.
There’s much more, all written in a much more interesting voice than I could ever match.
Read it. And let me know what you think.