Stephen King’s Words of [False?] Wisdom

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: Superstition by Stevie Wonder)

This will be a real short one.

I’m reading through Stephen King’s book On Writing, which so far has proven full of interesting tips and tidbits. Today, however, I came across one thing which totally jarred me, which I wanted to share.

“Plot is, I think, the good writer’s last resort and the dullard’s first choice.”

In a section where King describes the basic elements of a story, he makes a special point to bring up plot as the enemy. Plotting out your novel, he says, is the best way to make the story itself fall flat. The twists and turns of a good book (or at least King’s good books) come from a situation he’s put his characters in, which he then observes.

(Interestingly enough, he also writes about the “What if…” question as a great way to start the concept for a book, which is how I usually start mine.)

The reason it jarred me is that I have always had my book – hell, my entire series – developed in terms of plot, at least vaguely, before I set my fingers to the keys. I found early on that if I don’t have an endpoint in sight, it’s really hard for me to actually complete a work.

That being said, I still let my characters ramble around on their own paths. I’ve had entire chapters that surprised me because a character made a decision I didn’t expect. But there’s always been that light on the horizon, the end of all things where the story will eventually, in the course of its own time, progress.

When you’re starting out as a writer, you’ll hear a lot of (probably contradictory) advice coming from different sources of authority. If you’re confident enough to be able to, I’d advise you to read all of them for exactly what they’re worth – advice from people who’ve made it – and then choose what to follow and what to ignore. You will only ever be able to write the way you write; if that’s plotting out everything to the last tree branch beforehand, then you go Glen Coco.

Despite this, I still find the advice intriguing. I think I’ll try to write something short soon where I don’t know anything more than that initial “What if…” question, and see how it turns out.

Until then!

Yours fully,

-R.R. Buck



2 thoughts on “Stephen King’s Words of [False?] Wisdom

  1. Reed, I completely agree with you, at least when it comes to longer works. For me, anything longer than a short story (less than 20 pages in my mind) needs to have a definite goal in mind. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the entire ending, but I need at least a vague idea of where the story is going to end up. Otherwise, it gets kind of out of control and ends up sprawling all over the place in a complicated, messy heap. The story loses its sense of structure and so I lose my motivation.

    I definitely believe that the destination shouldn’t be strictly planned out so your characters can have room to wander and grow. Even when I do have a plan, it usually goes out the window.

    But I do think it’d be a cool idea for a short story. I’d be down to see it!


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