Elements of Author's Own Life in Stephen King's Novels
To help Stephen King form the plots of his books, he ties in elements from his real life. By doing this, he can make a connection from the start of his books to his life. Stephen King has changed his writing in the different genre of books he has written. King went through life changing events that typically shaped his way of writing.
Stephen King was born on September 21, 1947, in Portland, Maine. At age two, his parents, Donald and Nellie, split up when his father left them. This mother struggled taking full care of his older brother and him alone. Their mother took on every possible job that came her way, even if they were low-paying jobs, to support her children. Ironically, the reason Stephen began to write was because of his father. His father had left fantasy horror fiction book behind, making Stephen eager to read them all. His favorite like of books were the science fiction and monster types. The collection of book that triggered his interest in writing were the short stories of ‘The Lurker in the Shadows’ by H. P. Lovecraft. He was motivated to write his own stories when he was only seven years old. At age 12, he was writing short fiction stories. While attending high school, he wrote stories for the school newspaper and sold copies to his friends. Even though he was not successful in selling in stories, he did win first place prizes for his writing. Because he never gave up, at eighteen, he published his first story in Comics Review.
He attended college at the University of Maine. There he graduated with a Bachelor of Art degree in English. The year after he graduated from college, he married Tabitha Spruce, who was also a writer. They were happily married and eventually had three children together. Their children are Naomi Rachel, Joseph Hillstrom, and Owen Phillip. Joseph and Owen did pursue their parents dream as writers and were successful. Naomi grew up to be a reverend. Furthermore during this time, King took on a teaching position. However, this did not work out for him. He found a job at a laundromat but continued to keep up his writing. Finally in 1971, he employed as an English educator at Hamden Academy in Maine. But still keeping a few part-time jobs for extra money. He enjoyed writing stories, however, he was not receiving a lot or even any money at all. He never gave up, he was given extra copies to magazine authors and people just to show people what he can do. He was working on an important story but was worried it wasn’t going anywhere. It was 1973, when Stephen King sold his very first novel, a tale of a tormented teen who gets revenge on her peers. This novel was called Carrie, which later on transformed into a movie. Since this happened, it booted kings confidence. A famous quote he wrote in this novel said, “People don’t get better, they just get smarter. When you get smarter you don’t stop pulling the wings off flies, you just think of better reasons for doing it.” This encouraged him to pursue into full time writing. It became a huge success in 1974. He quit his full time job and side jobs to commit to writing. Because of the book Carrie, he received the title of one of the top horror story writers.
King’s writing is unlike others who write fictional stories. He puts himself in the story, to help explain what the characters might be going through during that time. He focuses on the surroundings of the event happening during the story. He centers on the feelings going through the characters head or the emotional they are feelings. And typically, he mostly uses his own life experiences into his story telling, which is called semi autobiographical. For example, he would sometime use his childhood neighbor as a plot in his stories. Sometimes he would use locations were he used to go when he was little. This would help him connect with his stories. Similar to Carrie, he tries to use common, ordinary, people in his stories and face them with frightening threats and attempt to help them overcome them. King has a way of approaching his writing. His stories are based on good and evil or fantasy and horror. Example of these books were: The Stand, Lord of The Rings, and Salem’s Lot.
Whenever King had the opportunity to write he took advantage of it. He would write everyday to make sure it was putting the most effort he could into his writing. However, there were a few days were he would take a break from writing. Those days were his birthday, Christmas Day, also the Fourth of July. To try not to miss the ideas that popped into his head from time to time, he would work on multiple stories at once. Many people do not know that during the time 1977-1984, King wrote five novels under another name (Richard Bachman). King did admit to doing this, also his publisher believed it is because he wrote enough books under his real name.
My favorite inspirational saying said by him was: “Best not to look back. Best to believe there will be happily ever afters all the way around- and so there may be; who is to say there will not be such endings? Not all boats which sail away into darkness never find the sun again, or the hand of another child; if life teaches anything at all, it teaches that there are so many happy endings that the man who believes there is no God needs his rationality called into serious question.” This was said during a book he wrote called It. Stephen King enjoys scaring his audience from his writing. He involves younger and older characters in his stories who also have completely different backgrounds. He stresses the importance of characterization, which means, “The creation or construction of a fictional character; a description of the distinctive nature or features of someone or something.” Although he is very successful, he stayed self-effacing. During an interview with the Yankee magazine he said, “I’m leery of thinking I’m somebody. Because nobody really is. Everybody is able to do something well, but in this country there is a premium put on stardom.” He continued to say, “There is an occupational hazard in being a successful writer, because of all the attention a writer can receive.” During the time of writing a different story he said, “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over.”
Ironically, with writing horror stories, he experienced one himself. On June 19, 1999, King was away in Maine at his summer house. It was there when he was walking around he was hit by a van. He was in critical condition from this accident. He suffered from collapsed lung and small breaks in his legs and hip. It took countless months, which seemed forever to King, to recover. Even after recovery he did not go back to his normal healthy self. The driver who had caused the accident to occur did not suffer any consequences besides being fined. Lucky, many of his writings, transformed into movies. Some including: Carrie, Salem’s Lot, The Shining, Christine, The Shawshank Redemption, and The Green Mile. He was very helpful to those who were trying to become authors themselves. He gave speeches and advice to those who needed guiding. He also gave his help by writing A Memoir of the Craft. This was the best way at giving them advice. He published many books every year during the time of the 80’s and 90’s. Many famous actors and actresses took on characters based on those in Stephen King books. For instance: the film The Shining, starring Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall; Misery, starring Kathy Bates and James Caan; The Shawshank Redemption, starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman; The Green Mile, starring Tom Hanks and Michael Clarke Duncan; most famous, Carrie, starring Sissy Spacek and John Travolta. Writing was not the only interest he had. He was also a big fan of music. Specifically he liked The Rolling Stones, and the Sunshine Band. He enjoyed playing guitar and singing. He even sang with literary stars Dave Barry, Barbara Kingsolver, and Amy Tan to raise money for charity.
In 2002 the first edition cover of a Memoir of the Craft came out. In this writing, a section was called the toolbox. Even though it was not technically based on a toolbox, he did start off this part explaining a real toolbox. There were other reasons why it was called the toolbox. Stephen King, explains to his fellow writers that they must utilize certain tools in order to be successful writers. King’s toolbox for writing contains four levels for tools; grammar and vocabulary, elements of style and paragraphs, description and character development, and tools that help with the revision process. These tools enabled him to create the novels IT, Carrie, and Misery. It was through the use of his toolbox that the characters and plots of these novels developed within the audience’s minds. The first level of King’s toolbox contains common tools such as grammar and vocabulary. These common tools are the bedrock of writing. Writers must be able to manipulate these tools to shape characters, plots, and settings. King instructs his peers that “common tools go on top. The commonest of all, the bread of writing, is vocabulary” (113). A writer must be comfortable with the language that is being used within the work, therefore, they should use words that the audience is familiar with.
In Stephen King’s novel Carrie, the use of grammar and vocabulary are used to shape the characters. By using certain words it is allowing the audience to relate to the story. In this book he said, “Sorry is the Kool-aid of human emotion…true sorrow is as rare as true love.” This scene highlights the use of specific word choice within the sentence. For example, when he uses the word Kool-aid, it’s a sort of comfort because Kool-aid makes everything better. So does the word sorry, when you say it, it makes everything better. The second level of his toolbox contains elements of style and paragraph formation. Such tools develop the foundation that was laid in the first level of the toolbox. It is through this that the writer grabs hold of the reader and brings them into the story. Elements of style was formed in order to pull up the reader into the work, certain elements of style should be implemented. Sentence structure and word usage are imperative to create a story that flows. Stephen King asserts that “Language does not always have to wear a tie and lace-up shoes” (120). The formality of the language depends on the story and the characters, not the audience. In King’s novel Misery, the elements of style occurring structure and language are present in order to draw a connection between the protagonist and the author. The protagonist resembles King as a result of having the same profession and stream of consciousness as the character describes what a writer experiences. “Writers ember everything…especially the hurts. Strip a writer to the buff, point to the scars, and he’ll tell you the story of each small one. From the big ones you get novels. A little talent is a nice thing to have if you want to be a writer, but the only real requirement is the ability to remember the story of every scar. Art consists of the persistence of memory.” This specific scene highlights the basic language that was used as well as the word choice within the sentence structure. Through this, the reader is able to associate the character with King.
The use of paragraphs is critical for organization and separation of ideas. King said, “…argue that the paragraph, not the sentence, is the basic unit of writing – the place where coherence begins and words stand a chance of becoming more than mere words” (134). It is through the paragraph that the reader understands the purpose of the writer. Paragraphs have a life of their own as they exhibit ideas and combine notions to create a story line. For King, “Paragraphs are almost as important for how they look as for what they say; they are maps of intent. In fiction you read and write, the move you’ll find your paragraphs forming on their own. And that’s what you want. When composing its best not to think too must about where paragraphs begin and end: the trick is to let nature take its course” (187). It is what makes the story up, not what the result is. Through paragraphs, the reader is allowed to see the story unravel in such a way that lets them become part of the story.
The third level of Stephen King’s toolbox contains description. This element creates individuality as the story comes into play. In description it is necessary to draw the reader into the story. In the novel Carrie, description plays apart in the story by giving you a vivid description of situation that everyday people are going through. Character development plays a role in this novel by producing a character that people have an emotional bond with they feel the pain that she is going through. “Jesus watched from the wall, but his face is cold as stone and if he loves me, as she tells me, why do I feel so alone.” This quote is connecting with people in high school going through the same thing. Description is allowing the reader to have a ritual of the book. It is necessary to find the amount of description that is right. For king, “Good description is a learned skill, one of the prime reasons why you cannot succeed unless you read a lot and write a lot. It’s not just a question of how-to, you see; it’s also a question of how much to. Reading will help you answer how much, and only reams of writing will help you with the how. You can learn only by doing.” (157). Through description, the reader is able to get a visual of the story. By using description, you translate what you see in your mind into words on the page. Character development refers to the development of producing a believable character in fiction by giving the character deepness and personality. “I try to create sympathy for my characters, then turn the minters loose” (172). Through the characters King’s developing he tries to create an emotional bond between the reader and the character. By doing that he’s trying to make the reader identify with the character’s pain.
The fourth level of the toolbox contains instruments that will aide a writer in the revision process. The revision process is impressive as it adds the final touches to the work, corrects any mistakes that may hinder the reader’s comprehension, and perfects recurring ideas. In Stephen King’s novel IT, the elements of time frame, recuperation and omission are present to help a writer during the revision process. “No good friends, no bad friends; only people you want need to be with. People you build their houses in your heart”. By using sentence fragments and by using incorrect grammar properly. It is the stream of conscience. The use of time frame is where something has taken or will take place. If you send too long on your piece, King believed the story begins to take on an odd foreign feel. For King, “The first draft of a book – even a long one – should take no more than three months, the length of a season.” King is saying that you shouldn’t spend that long on your story, then it begins tot are on a foreign feel.
King suggests six weeks of recuperation time after you are done writing. Recuperation is the recovery or regaining of something. King states, “When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest.” When you do find your mistakes, he says that, “You are forbidden to feel depressed about them or to beat up on yourself. Screw-ups happen to the best of us.” Omission is a tool referring to the author to exclude someone or something from the story. Writers often have a difficult time of letting go of words they spent time writing. King advises, “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even where it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” This quote is telling you even though revision is the most difficult parts of writing, you need to leave out the boring parts in order to move the story along.
Stephen King utilizes certain tools to be a successful writer. The four levels of tools allowed him to create the novels IT, Carrie, and Misery. Through the use of his toolbox King discusses that the writers needs to write as often as possible and read other author works. During the time King started writing, not many authors succeeded with novel horror stories. Many wrote short story based on fictional horrors, but King was on the first to succeed. Unfortunately, in 2002, he retired from writing. The reason to this was because he believed he did and said everything he wanted to during his career
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