January 17, 2009

On Stephen King's writing...

I'd forgotten how nice it is to take some time off and just relax at the local public library. Two summers ago I was practically an afternoon resident at Mid-Continent. I hadn't been reading that much since I was a little kid. Rediscovering the joy of reading has been cruical in the past few years for me.

I unearthed one of my favorite books from my parent's house while visiting for Christmas: On Writing - A memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. It's one of his few non-fiction books, which is a strange hybrid of autobiography and theories on writing. It was the first thing I ever read by King, and that was back when I truly hated his guts. I was forced to read it by Dr. Egan for Expository Writing. After reading it though, my opinion completely flipped. This was before I really understood the horror genre as well, and reading his book opened a door leading to a universe that I had been so afraid to enter for nearly all of my childhood. Now as an adult, it's someplace I frequently visit.


One of the things I liked best about King's book was his honesty. In the Dark Tower series, in the final epilogue, he mentions that if you've read his books, you really have seen the window into his soul. I truly believe that. After reading this, it feels as if I've truly met him. You might doubt that, but consider this:

My animation professor, Charles, said he had once given an assignment where each student would animate a household object. As the weeks passed and he watched their resulting animations, he was shocked at how much the students had unknowingly revealed about their personality, not only through the choice of their objects, but through their movement. So strong, that he felt was violating their privacy. I believe all art of movement and acting carries this heavy meaning and literature is no exception. This is not to a say a person is a killer because they write a book about one, but rather that the greater themes that they are trying to prove to the readers through the characters and their experiences in the plot accurately reveals the author's own personality.

That was probably what lead me to King in the first place because, aside from the supernatural and horror elements, the greatest traits of his books are the hearts of his characters. There are no one-dimensional main characters here. They are motivated by needs and wants that readers can relate to, so much that my heart aches to see them meet their goals. Even the antagonists themselves are wonderfully structured, and you feel for them sometimes too, even through all that's gone on - though some only to a certain extent, of course.

It was in how King revealed his own shortcomings, his writer's blocks, his days where nothing seems to sound even remotely decent that he's written and "... when you're standing in front of author-struck fans and pretending that you don't put your pants on one leg at a time like everyone else." His book is very human, and that's what I like about it the most.

I share his opinion. Everyone can write. Not everyone can write like a Hemmingway or Twain or Tolstoy or whoever you want to put on a pedestal. But everyone can improve and learn to write better. Charles said it best. You're not aiming for perfection; rather, you're striving forever towards it. It is the vanishing point at the horizon. You will never get there, but you'll always be closer if you keep pressing towards it. For fellow perfectionists like me, this brings hope. We don't have to be perfect, we just have to keep improving as much as we can. We're only human.

Stephen King is such an inspiration to me. Sir, thank you so much for writing. Your stories have brought me joy and have also showed me the ability to cope through the hard times in life when those dark shadows really are following us home. I hope someday I can shake your hand and tell you in person, but if not, I've gotten to know you very well through your works. And because I really can't help myself, I say, "Thank you, sai. Long days and pleasant nights."

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