When you get stuck, just write like Stephen King

Stephen King










In this occasional series we are looking at the styles of various writers who have gained entrance to the pantheon of notable, and usually extremely popular, authors.

I have been remiss not to have written something already about Stephen King who holds a unique spot among American writers.

I came late to the Stephen King party, but not all that late.  The first of his books I remember reading was his 1979 novel The Dead Zone.  I followed that with Firestarter, which according to King’s official site was released in September 1980.

That’s it. Those are the only two Stephen King books I have read.  I did see the movie version of Carrie.

So, I am far from a King scholar.

However, the practice we are utilizing is to let the books speak for themselves.

I downloaded a sample of The Dead Zone for use in this post.  I don’t feel bad about that because I bought a paper back copy of it when it first came out, so I have already paid my dues when it comes to the book.

The first thing I noticed when I looked at the sample was the prologue.  It surprised me a little because I expected, or maybe remembered, the sense of jumping right into the action.  Maybe the point here is that a prologue need not be something less intense then the body of the work. The Dead Zone’s prologue, by the way, has two parts and appears to run to about three or four thousand words.  That’s a pretty big chunk before the reader even gets to Chapter One.

Judge for yourself.  Here are the first couple of paragraphs of the prologue to The Dead Zone.

By the time he graduated from college, John Smith had forgotten all about the bad fall he took on the ice that January day in 1953.  In fact, he would have been hard put to remember it by the time he graduated from grammar school.  And his mother and father never knew about it at all.

They were skating on a cleared patch of Runaround Pond in Durham.  The bigger boys were playing hockey with old raped sticks and using a couple of potato baskets for goals.  The little kids were just farting around the way little kids have done since time immemorial–their ankles bowing comically in and out, their breath puffing in the frosty twenty-degree air.  At one corner of the cleared ice two rubber tires burned sootily, and a few parents sat nearby, watching their children.  The age of the snowmobile was still distant and winter fun still consisted of exercising your body rather than a gasoline engine.

My initial reaction to that passage is that somehow King has managed to establish the sense that something bad is about to happen although the words are innocent and almost ordinary.  How he did that is beyond me, but he did it.

Maybe that’s why he has sold a three gazillion books.


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