Stephen King’s A Memoir of the Craft On Writing, Got Talent? Plot Not!

A Memoir of the Craft On WritingIs being a competent writer rather than a great writer okay?

Yes, says Stephen King in A Memoir of the Craft On Writing. Competent writers stand a chance of becoming good writers. And in most cases, that’s enough.

Yes, really.

Most writers, according to King, will not become great writers, but they can become darn good story tellers. And good stories are what the public – and therefore book-buyers – want. They always have, and they always will.

Welcome to the circle, all ye good story tellers. But be prepared to work your tails off.

A Memoir of the Craft On Writing

Though I’m reading Stephen King’s A Memoir of the Craft On Writing for the second time, it seems like the first.

That’s because I’m coming at it from a different place, with a different attitude.

You see, now that I have thirteen years of writing fiction under my belt, I come closer to understanding what King is trying to say.

Especially when it comes to talent and plot.

Got Talent?

Miss A Writes a Song
mrsdkrebs / Foter.com / CC BY

King says that writers form themselves into a pyramid of creativity, with bad ones at the bottom, competent ones in the middle, really good writers at the next level, and the great writers – “the Shakespeares, the Faulkners, the Yeatses, Shaws, and Eudora Weltys” – at the top.

He believes it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer and a great writer out of a good one, but that it is possible to make a good writer out of a competent one.

On my first reading of A Memoir of the Craft On Writing, I took objection to King’s opinion on bad, good, and great writers. In fact, I got mad. How dare he? With enough hard work and dedication, anyone could become a great writer.

As a more experienced and therefore humbler writer, I know that I am not, and will never be, what King calls a “genius, divine accident, or fortunate freak.” I’m either missing the genetic capability of becoming a top-level talent, or my feet aren’t planted in the right soil. I’m okay with that. In fact, I’m quite happy to leave this lofty height to the Shakespeares and Faulkners of the world.

What my experience has taught me, however, is that I am a competent writer. And hopefully, during my life time, I will prove to be a very good one.

But becoming a good writer, King cautions, takes more than simply mastering the fundamentals of grammar and style. It also takes “lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help.” At least that’s how he puts in when he’s playing nice.

When he’s putting it “King style,”it goes more like this:  “…if you don’t want to work your ass off, you have no business trying to write well – settle back into competency and be grateful you have even that much to fall back on.”

Ouch.

On the bright side. If you have talent, you won’t consider writing as work (at least not all the time), but a natural expression of yourself.  And if you work really hard and are really lucky, you might become Stephen-King-good or Dean-Koontz-good or Jodi-Picoult-good.

Everyone’s entitled to dream, right?

On to plot.

Plot Not!

Day 40
Love.Sasha.Lynn / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

According to A Memoir of the Craft On Writing, plot not.

Huh?

King believes that novels consist of only three parts: Narration, description, and dialogue.

He distrusts plot. For one thing, he says, our lives are largely plotless (no matter how carefully we may plan), and for another, plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible.

Though I love my plotting charts and diagrams (I use colored post-it notes and markers), King has a point here.

Like Robert Olen Butler in, From Where You Dream, King believes that, at the very least, the first draft of your story should emerge from the unconscious (while driving, showering, blow-drying your hair, dreaming), not from the mind. Story should be surrendered to rather than willed. He believes that good story comes from writing honestly – not by forcing characters to fit a plot, but allowing them to say and do what they would naturally say and do as situations arise.

Situation, not plot, should drive the story.

According to King, if you pay attention and tell the truth, the rest of the story will take care of itself. “And why worry about the ending anyway?” he says. “Why be such a control freak? Sooner or later every story comes out somewhere.”

King sums up his advice on good storytelling by saying that practice is invaluable and that honesty is indispensable. “Skills in description, dialogue, and character development all boil down to seeing or hearing clearly and then transcribing what you see or hear with equal clairty.”

Good advice from a: Genius? Divine accident? Fortunate freak?

You decide.

As always, thanks for stopping by.

Stephen King's A Memoir of the Craft On Writing