Writing is my passion. When I bought author Stephen King’s well-known book ‘On Writing’, the reference of which I had read in another article, I missed its interesting subtitle ‘A memoir of the craft’. I had not imagined it will be so gripping, and even if I had had read the subtitle, I would not have imagined that one can write such an interesting and a complete book on writing.
King begins with a chapter called ‘C V’ and you wonder where he is taking us; he tells his life story, not in a few pages but full 118 of them! He then proceeds to weave his memoir and insights on the craft of writing beautifully. King provides good guidance to aspiring writers, answering their questions as if he had heard them from us.
How to write a good fiction story? There is elaborate and interesting guidance on situation, description, dialogue and characterization. That is followed by the questions every budding author wants to ask but usually is afraid to ask. Some answers may be obvious, yet he explains them well. ‘When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest.’ This is so true of any project, big or small. He offers some good tips on revising the work and also suggests that you should allow ‘some rest time’ (‘sort of like bread dough between kneadings’) between completion of the draft and revision.
And ‘is the story is coherent?’ Let me quote an incident mentioned in the book: ‘Not long after finishing Psycho, Hitchcock screened it for a few friends. They raved about it, declaring it to be a suspense masterpiece. Alma (Hitchcock’s wife) was quiet until they’d all had their say, then she spoke very firmly: ‘You can’t send it out like that.’ There was a thunderstruck silence, except for Hitchcock himself, who only asked why not. ‘Janet Leigh swallows when she’s supposed to be dead.’ True!
King has arranged this book methodically, and it is replete with great suggestions. ‘When I rewrote my fiction the editor remarked, ‘Not bad, but PUFFY. You need to revise for length. Formula: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft minus 10%. Good Luck!’
In final analysis, everyone will write in his or her unique way, but some golden rules must be followed. I have quoted only a few, and the book contains dozens of them, literally, and that is why this book is a darling of all budding writers.
Reading an excellent book like ‘On Writing’ does not make you a good author, and King is aware of it. He mentions that there is no substitute for ‘Practice’, meaning reading a lot (‘turning off that endlessly quacking box is apt to improve the quality of your life as well as the quality of your writing’) and writing too, and ‘Honesty’ (Write what you like, then imbue it with life and make it unique by blending in your personal knowledge of life, friendship, relationships, sex, and work.’)
Even those who do not wish to try their hand at this art will find ‘On Writing’ interesting and one of the reasons must be that it draws on life experiences. We remember what Mark Haddon said, ‘Reading is a conversation. All books talk. But a good book listens as well.’ Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ is one of them.
(‘On Writing’ by Stephen King, HachetteIndia, Rs 599, though on Amazon you will find it for almost half that price. Disclaimer: Amazon is not paying me for the mention, but this is out of concern for readers, like me, who buy books and read.)
Vivek S Patwardhan
“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.” **** “Aroehan: Creating Dream Villages in Mokhada by 2025: “No Malnutrition Deaths, No Child ‘Out of School’, Reduction in migration by 50%.”