by Stephen King
8 hours/$35.00/September 2000
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Nobody can deny that Stephen King has some knowledge of how to write a successful novel, certainly not if success is based on the number of readers who purchase and enjoy his writing. Another question is whether King understands his success and can explain that success to others. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is King's attempt to codify some of his knowledge of his craft and pass it along to others.
In fact, much of On Writing is exactly what the subtitle says, a memoir of the craft. Rather than explaining how to write, King spends a considerable amount of time giving autobiographical information on his own life, including his early desire to write and his experiences which, he feels, led him to the life he currently has. He also spends quite a bit of time discussing a recent turning point in his life: being struck by a van while walking in Maine. In between these personal memoirs, King examines the craft of writing.
Even while giving advice on writing, King notes, several times, that what works for him will not necessarily work for anybody else. King explains that he feels plot is not particularly important. He merely places his characters in situations. Other authors will state that plot is necessary in any popular work, and for them, it may be.
The most basic lesson which On Writing includes. Each author must find the techniques and styles which work best for them. All King, or any other instructor, can offer beyond the mechanics of writing is advice based on their own experience. King is up front about this, explaining that this book can't hope to make a great writer out of a good writer or a competent writer out of a bad writer. At best, it can raise a competent writer to the ranks of good writers.
The audio version of On Writing is read by King, himself. Just as he notes in the book that he only listens to unabridged books on tape, On Writing is unabridged, providing the listener with eight hours on six cassettes of King reading his own words. King's delivery is dry, not quite as dry as National Public Radio, but he could have used a little more inflection in his reading.
On Writing is more King reminiscing about his own life as a writer rather than the writing manual which many readers might expect. Taken on those terms, it is an entertaining, interesting and, at times, illuminating book.
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