Well, maybe not everything, because there’s Norton Juster, Rosemary Sutcliff, Andre Norton, and a few others, too. Plus a number of authors I’m sure I absorbed back in the days when my reading was just reading—no analytical component with one eye on “what’s working here and how can I do it, too?”
But I’ll start with the King and laud the others in future posts, because we hope this will become a blog series. (Thanks for the idea, lovely readers! Good one.)
We can get into the “is he good or is he a hack?” debate if you like, but here are three of the most important things I’ve learned from gobbling up reading Stephen King:
Characters. Say what you will otherwise, and I might not dispute it, but he is a master of characterization. He makes you care intensely about rather flawed people by inserting the reader deeply into characters’ heads and hearts. This is especially important in spec fic, when characters may not be human or, for instance, they’re living in a time far distant, but we still need to be able to relate. Great details help to define characters, and so does pitch-perfect, authentic, distinctive dialogue and language for each character, but I think King’s real secret here is actually…
Honesty. The man does not shy away from squeamish or impolite topics or from splashing his characters’ flaws across the page, not just revealing them. By telling it like it is about snot or animal lust or jealousy or other less-than-attractive human traits and conditions, he earns the reader’s trust both on more mundane emotions and unearthly matters. It’s rare, at least for me, to read a King book without stumbling on something disquieting—and yet, you have to admit you’ve been there or seen it or imagined it yourself. This writing skill is under-valued and under-discussed. (Discuss, discuss!) My next post will dive more deeply into this topic, because I think it’s especially crucial for spec fic, where you’re asking the reader to suspend disbelief even more than usual.
Endings. Which I’ve learned how to accomplish through his mistakes, not his examples! (Though it appears he’s finally overcome this disability; the final ending to The Dark Tower series is, IMO, perfect. Perfect.) Tell the story and then get out. End the darn book. Sooner, rather than later.
Want to argue with me? (I’d love to.) Or who/what/where has inspired you?
— Joni Sensel, who is proud to admit she reads Stephen King