I’ve got something special for you today. The awesome Becca Puglisi, co-author of the The Emotion Thesaurus and the awesome writing blog The Bookshelf Muse, stops by to tell us about a writing master, Stephen King.
The Bookshelf Muse is one of my go-to sites for writing, and The Emotion Thesaurus has been an amazing asset. I love having the book at my fingertips when I’m writing a tough scene. Take it away, Becca!
My Favorite Teacher? Stephen King
I read my first Stephen King book when I was 14, in the back of a travel bus on a youth mission trip (hiding under the sheets, no doubt, because my reading material would not have been approved). Night Shift, it was, and honestly, that story about the mutant rats in the sewers scared me so bad that I gave the book back to my brother and didn’t revisit Stephen King for ten years. But when I did…The Shining. Oh my, yes. And that was the beginning of my stalkerish writer-crush on Stephen King.
He’s a polarizing author—either a writing genius or a hack. People moan about his craft, the shock value, and the content. But in many ways, King is a masterful writer whose techniques can benefit us all. Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned:
- The Importance of Tapping into Reader Emotion. Want readers to connect with a story? Make them feel something. King is clearly an expert at writing in a way that makes readers share his characters’ emotions. If fear and unease aren’t what you’re going for, what is? Know which emotion you want the reader to feel, and convey it through your character.
- Don’t Hold Back. One reason I think King is successful at evoking emotion is that he goes all out to get it. He puts his characters in the most awful situations possible. And then he makes it worse. Look at poor Carrie. Her life is a nightmare. She lives with a religious freakshow of a mother who abuses her and undermines any chance she has at normalcy. That’s bad enough, right? Apparently not. Prom + pig’s blood + spontaneous combustion = annihilation and self-destruction. If there’s anything we can learn from King it’s that we can always make things worse for our heroes. Always.
- Make your Characters Real. Take away their circumstances, and King’s characters are fantastically relatable. A frustrated writer struggling with alcoholism and personal demons. A group of boys on the verge of manhood, seeking adventure. The grieving father who would do anything to get his son back. Readers respond to these characters because they recognize them in themselves and the people they know. However unique your story circumstances may be, make the characters regular people and your readers will warm to them.
- Keep at It. King survived a life-altering hit-and-run accident in 1999 that nearly finished his career. But he recognized that he had a choice: give it up altogether or adapt. He chose Door #2: writing less prolifically than before, but still writing. If writing is your passion–what you were meant to do–then figure out a way to make it happen, no matter your circumstances.
- Be True to Yourself. Stephen King has withstood his fair share of derision. He’s gifted, no doubt about that. He could most likely succeed at writing any genre he chose. But he remained true to himself, writing the stories he loved without caving in to the criticism of others or taking it too much to heart. Don’t give in to the naysayers and ambulance-chasers who tell you to write what’s mainstream or profitable. Stay true to yourself. Write your own stories.
Any Stephen King fans out there? I’d love to hear which of his stories are your favorites, and why.
Becca Puglisi is one half of The Bookshelf Muse blogging duo, and co-author of The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression. Listing the body language, visceral reactions and thoughts associated with 75 different emotions, this brainstorming guide is a valuable tool for showing, not telling, emotion. The Emotion Thesaurus is available for purchase through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and Smashwords, and the PDF can be purchased directly from her blog.