Stephen King Shares 6 Tips About Writing a Bestseller

 

Stephen King Shares 6 Tips About Writing a Bestseller:

1. The basics: forget plot, but remember the importance of ‘situation’

I won’t try to convince you that I’ve never plotted any more than I’d try to convince you that I’ve never told a lie, but I do both as infrequently as possible. I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all our reasonable precautions and careful planning; and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible. A strong enough situation renders the whole question of plot moot. The most interesting situations can usually be expressed as a What-if question: What if vampires invaded a small New England village? (Salem’s Lot). What if a young mother and her son became trapped in their stalled car by a rabid dog? (Cujo). These were situations which occurred to me – while showering, while driving, while taking my daily walk – and which I eventually turned into books. In no case were they plotted, not even to the extent of a single note jotted on a single piece of scrap paper.

2. Similes and metaphors – the rights, the wrongs

When a simile or metaphor doesn’t work, the results are sometimes funny and sometimes embarrassing. Recently, I read this sentence in a forthcoming novel I prefer not to name: ‘He sat stolidly beside the corpse, waiting for the medical examiner as patiently as a man waiting for a turkey sandwich.’ If there is a clarifying connection here, I wasn’t able to make it. My all-time favourite similes come from the hard-boiled-detective fiction of the 40s and 50s, and the literary descendants of the dime-dreadful writers. These favourites include ‘It was darker than a carload of assholes’ (George V Higgins) and ‘I lit a cigarette [that] tasted like a plumber’s handkerchief’ (Raymond Chandler).

3. Dialogue: talk is ‘sneaky’

It’s dialogue that gives your cast their voices, and is crucial in defining their characters – only what people do tells us more about what they’re like, and talk is sneaky: what people say often conveys their character to others in ways of which they – the speakers – are completely unaware. Well-crafted dialogue will indicate if a character is smart or dumb, honest or dishonest, amusing or an old sobersides. Good dialogue, such as that written by George V Higgins, Peter Straub or Graham Greene, is a delight to read; bad dialogue is deadly.

4. Characters: nobody is the ‘bad-guy’

The job boils down to two things: paying attention to how the real people around you behave and then telling the truth about what you see. It’s also important to remember that no one is ‘the bad guy’ or ‘the best friend’ or ‘the whore with a heart of gold’ in real life; in real life we each of us regard ourselves as the main character, the protagonist, the big cheese; the camera is on us , baby. If you can bring this attitude into your fiction, you may not find it easier to create brilliant characters, but it will be harder for you to create the sort of one-dimensional dopes that populate so much pop fiction.

5. Pace: fast is not always best

Pace is the speed at which your narrative unfolds. There is a kind of unspoken (hence undefended and unexamined) belief in publishing circles that the most commercially successful stories and novels are fast-paced. Like so many unexamined beliefs in the publishing business, this idea is largely bullshit… which is why, when books like Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose suddenly break out of the pack and climb the bestseller lists, publishers and editors are astonished. I suspect that most of them ascribe these books’ unexpected success to unpredictable and deplorable lapses into good taste on the part of the reading public. I believe each story should be allowed to unfold at its own pace, and that pace is not always double time. Nevertheless, you need to beware – if you slow the pace down too much, even the most patient reader is apt to grow restive.

6. Do the research, but don’t overdo it for the reader.

You may be entranced with what you’re learning about flesh-eating bacteria, the sewer system of New York, or the IQ potential of Collie pups, but your readers are probably going to care a lot more about your characters and your story. Exceptions to the rule? Sure, aren’t there always? There have been very successful writers – Arthur Hailey and James Michener are the first ones that come to my mind – whose novels rely heavily on fact and research. Other popular writers, such as Tom Clancy and Patricia Cornwell, are more story-oriented, but still deliver large dollops of factual information along with the melodrama. I sometimes think that these writers appeal to a large segment of the reading population who feel that fiction is somehow immoral, a low taste which can only be justified by saying, ‘Well, ahem, yes, I do read [fill in author’s name here], but only on airplanes and in hotel rooms that don’t have CNN; also, I learned a great deal about [fill in appropriate subject here].

© 2000 Stephen King

Inspiring Authors

Top Ten Quotes from Recognized Experts

1.   A blank piece of paper is God’s way of telling us how hard it is to be God. – Sidney Sheldon

2.  If you can tell stories, create characters, devise incidents, and have sincerity and passion, it doesn’t matter a damn how you write. Somerset Maugham

3. To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme. – Herman Melville

4. Rejection slips, or form letters, however tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil—but there is no way around them. – Isaac Asimov

5. Any man who keeps working is not a failure. He may not be a great writer, but if he applies the old-fashioned virtues of hard, constant labor, he’ll eventually make some kind of career for himself as writer. – Ray Bradbury

6. Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer. – Barbara Kingsolver

7. I went for years not finishing anything. Because, of course, when you finish something you can be judged. Erica Jong

8. Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good. – William Faulkner

9. You learn by writing short stories. Keep writing short stories. The money’s in novels, but writing short stories keeps your writing lean and pointed. Larry Niven

10. No one can write decently who is distrustful of the reader’s intelligence or whose attitude is patronizing. E. B. White

Write What You Know

Mark Twain famously said: “Write what you know.” In this video, author Nathan Englander explains that Twain’s advice “write what you know” isn’t about events — it’s about universal emotions like love, loss, and longing. When you write what you know, you reveal your thoughts, ambitions, ideas and personality through your writing in a way that’s unique via your first hand experience. If you add a personal touch, your content will be more engaging by providing your personal insights and knowledge on the subject matter. You should write about your experiences, but also the issues you feel passionate about. Focus on what you love (and the things you hate). If you follow Twain’s advice, your content will be appeal to your audience on a more personal level. Find innovative ways to revisit meaningful moments in your life, and then write the story that only you can write. By doing it this way, you will find your voice faster and reach more people than if you try to imitate someone else or follow a trend.

 

Let’s end with a quote from the late Richard Carlson, author of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: 

It’s as though our thoughts are the ink in the pen of life, and we are the illustrators.”

Ray Bradbury on Writing Persistently

Ray Bradbury on Writing Persistently. American novelist, short story writer, essayist, playwright, screenwriter and poet, was born August 22, 1920 in Waukegan, Illinois. He graduated from a Los Angeles high school in 1938. Although his formal education ended there, he became a “student of life,” selling newspapers on L.A. street corners from 1938 to 1942, spending his nights in the public library and his days at the typewriter.

We highly recommend Ray Bradbury’s novel entitled: Zen and the Art of Writing