8 Things I Learned From Stephen King’s “On Writing”

1.  Don’t make a conscious effort to improve your vocabulary. One of the worst things you can do is dress up your words because you think you should use longer ones, shameful of your shorter words. Usually the first thing that pops up in your head is right.

2.  Elements of Style is a very useful book. Avoid the passive tense. With action verbs, the subject of the sentence is doing something. With the passive verb, something is being done to the subject of the sentence.

  • For example, passive tense:  The tree was chopped down by the ax.
  • Action tense:  The ax chopped down the tree.

3.  Adverbs are not your friends. Always include ‘s even if the last letter of a word is s. Easy books contain lots of short paragraphs including dialogue paragraphs and a lot of white space.

4.  In fiction, the paragraph is less structured; it’s the beat instead of the actual melody. Fragments can streamline narration, create clear images, create tension, and vary prose. The key is not to worry about grammatical correctness but to make the reader get lost in your story, to make them experience what your characters are doing/feeling.

5.  If you want to be a writer, read and write a lot. Every book has a lesson. The good ones teach you writing style, good narration, plot development, etc. The bad ones teach you what not to do.

6.  Stories consist of narration (moves fiction from point A to Z), description (creates a sensory reality for readers), and dialogue (brings characters to life with conversations). Where is plot? Nowhere. Stories pretty much make themselves. The job of the writer is to give them place to grow and transcribe them. Lean heavily on intuition.

7.  In fiction, a situation comes first. Then characters. Your job is to narrate it. Good description is a learned skill–hence why you should read and write a lot. You learn only by doing. Thin description leaves the reader feeling nearsighted. Overdescription buries readers in details. The trick is to find a happy medium.

8.  Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the readers.

For anyone who’s read Stephen King’s On Writing, what lessons did you learn?

Keep smiling,

Yawatta Hosby

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15 thoughts on “8 Things I Learned From Stephen King’s “On Writing”

  1. Great summary. I love that book. One of my favorite writing books. One of the lessons I took from it was to not write in fear. In other words, sometimes we worry that something we write might offend. King says that in order to write a convincing character–say, a killer–you have to be willing to write the things that he/she would actually do or say. As soon as we omit stuff out of fear, then we’ve censored ourselves and have stopped writing honestly. I try to keep this in mind as I draft my own killer. The character does evil things, and I feel uncomfortable pushing him to the limits, but according to King, unless I do, I won’t be writing honestly.

    • Hey Carrie,
      I like that tip of not writing in fear. I like to push myself, talking about dark places or incidents. But I definitely wonder what my critique partners think about me…sometimes writing the bad guys is more fun than the heroes.

      Keep smiling,
      Yawatta

  2. Pingback: 8 Things I Learned From Stephen King’s “On Writing” « Armand Rosamilia

  3. Pingback: 8 Things I Learned From Stephen King’s “On Writing” « Armand Rosamilia

  4. This is one of my favorite writing books, I reread and reread it. My take is similar to Carrie’s comment, to tell the truth without worrying about consequences. If I hold back because I’m worried about reactions to what I’ve written, I’m not being true to the story.
    Another thing this book taught me, I don’t have the oddest childhood after all. Oh, and it’s also probably a good idea to quiz your kids about babysitters. 😉

    • Hey Stephanie,
      It’s cool that “On Writing” is one of your favorite writing books. My friend let me borrow it–that’s why I took notes, so I could remember the key points before returning it.

      It’s the best feeling to have readers show reaction to your work. I agree in order to get that, we should write honestly.

      Odd childhood, huh? I’m curious LOL.

      Keep smiling,
      Yawatta

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