Plot Driven vs Character Driven ala Stephen King
I’m going to talk just a bit today about the one book on writing I have read.
On Writing ~ A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King.
Now, let me issue a warning. This is a totally secular book. It’s fascinating and most of it just confirmed things I’d already learned, so I’m not telling you to run out and get it. And if you DO, well, it’s written by Stephen King so be AFRAID.
So, with the caveat that I really believe the best way to learn to write is to READ great books--I mean NOVELS, not how-to books, and keep writing yourself, finish a book and start a new one. Apply everything you’ve learned. Keep at it… I will tell you what I took away from King’s book.
I’ve read 2 1/2 half books by Stephen King--3 1/2 if you count the memoir. I read Carrie, Firestarter and half of Misery. It's just not my thing. I remember someone saying once, about Cujo, that if you want to see a woman and child terrorized by a mad dog for hours upon end, nobody does it better.
Like I said, not my thing.
My gut level reaction to King’s success is that he was first. Simply put, he was first. He tapped into the horror genre, created it really, and his real accomplishment was getting away with the edgiest horror of anyone ever to that date.
And the reason he got away with it is: character. (one woman's opinion)
He writes truly mentally scarring horror, but he does it with such a gift for character that we forgive him. (well, maybe not all of us...)
The perfect example of this is Carrie. I don’t know if any of you have ever read it, but many have probably seen the movie. The key to Carrie is that Carrie, when she finally snaps, kills EVERYONE. Get that? Everyone dies. Those who have been bad to her and those who have tried to protect her. She just brings fire and brimstone down on everyone’s head in an out of control murderous rampage.
And that’s the secret. King creates a character we know so intimately that we know why she did this and we can still root for her, hurt for her, wish happiness for her.
That’s his genius. That and unrelenting gore.
And yet in his memoir he talks about story. Story is fundamental. You’ve got to have a story to tell. We talk about book length conflict a lot but to me that is a nuts and bolts way of saying we need to have a STORY to tell. Forget the mechanics and tell me your story.
I’ll add here that the HALF book I read, Misery struck me as this: