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*A Book Review*

On Writing

By Stephen King

by Michael C. Gray

November 30, 2007

The ability to tell a great story is a highly-prized skill. In On Writing, one of the world’s great story tellers tells how he became a best-selling novelist and shares some insight on how he goes about developing his best-selling novels.

Since writing stories involves both technical and creative skills, Stephen King appropriately calls it a craft.

Stephen King’s success was painfully won. He grew up in a single-parent home. His mother had low paying jobs. He loved reading and writing stories, and his mother and his wife (who is also a novelist) encouraged him. While trying to become a published author, he worked doing laundry for hotels and became a high school English teacher. He collected many rejection letters that he knew were bringing him closer to his goal. Finally, he broke through with Carrie, and has since published many successful novels that were made into motion pictures and television mini-series.

Life hasn’t been a bed of roses since King became a successful writer. He was hit by a car in a serious accident in which he was almost killed and almost lost a leg.

Stephen King doesn’t make a "plot outline" when he writes a story. He doesn’t know how a story’s going to end when he begins writing it. It’s almost like the story has a life of its own, and he’s acting as a midwife to bring it into the world.

Usually the theme or message of the story isn’t clear to him until he’s finished it. Then he will emphasize his message when editing and polishing up the story. King is very careful about who he shares a developing story with to avoid having it killed by negative comments. His closest confidante is his wife, Tabitha.

The technical failing that King says to avoid like the plague is having too many adverbs. For a good example of what not to do, King cites Tom Swift books. "‘I’m afraid to sky dive,’ said Chow, pluckly." King admits this is a personal challenge, and removes as many adverbs as he can when editing and polishing his stories.

The information King shares can also be applied to promotional copywriting. The purpose is different – to sell an idea, service or product instead of to entertain. But almost nothing creates involvement and maintains attention like a relevant story. Some headlines of classic story advertisements that come to mind are "Often a bridesmaid, but never a bride!", "The diary of a lonesome girl", "Ever hear the one about the farmer’s daughter?" and "They laughed when I sat down at the piano, but when I started to play!"

If you have an interest in writing more effectively, On Writing by Stephen King is well worth studying.

Buy it on Amazon: On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft.

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There are a few books of basic wisdom that endure for generations. George S. Clason's book, The Richest Man In Babylon, is one of them.


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Michael Gray, CPA
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