Monday, June 20, 2011

Stephen King isn't as scary as you think he is.

I grew up in a neighborhood with sewers.   After the made-for-television film of Stephen King's novel It stalked our living rooms, I noticed that formerly fearless friends no longer saw that clean patch of concrete hugging the curb as an acceptable gathering place.   Commonplace manholes had transformed into cursed portals to fear overnight.   This is the power of prose.   I remember spending a day of spring break as a teenager stretched out in my backyard reading It.   Horror is not my preference, but I loved the film Stand By Me which was based on King's novella The Body.   I decided to give It a try.

Zoom.   That book is a hunk of pages, but I was done in record time.   King's writing style is economical and his pacing is genius.   It's like getting on a well-oiled machine and zipping along a track.   Weeeee.   Even if you don't care for his subject matter, there's a lot to learn from his style.

Pick up a copy of his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.   My favorite bit of advice is to prune adverbs from our writing.   An adverb can be a blinking neon arrow that says, "This verb is weak."

Now and then, you will need adverbs, but be merciless when it comes to those that water down your writing.   Once you are on the lookout, bad adverbs become very, very, very obvious.   It's also great fun to teach the workbook lessons on adverbs and have students get the right answers and then revise the sentences that remain.   Sure, they are grammatically correct, but we can do better than that.   Really.

If you need to brush up on your adverbs, here's a link to Schoolhouse Rock's instructional film

Thank you to one of my Christopher Newport University college professors who helped shape my writing style, Dr. Roark Mulligan, for donating a new copy of On Writing to my classroom.