Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Truthful or a Big Fat Liar?

Just when I learned from Stephen King to be truthful in my writing, I get an award for being a bald-faced liar!   Kim Kasch presented me with this one:

Thank you, Kim.  (If you want to know more about the award, check her blog.) 

Being a fiction writer, lying does have it's positive side.  After all, isn't fiction just a book of lies?  So, why does King advise us to be truthful?  I'll explain in a moment.

The advice I'm speaking of is from King's book On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft. Remember the books I got for Christmas?  I promised several of you that I would let you know what I thought of it...  (Sorry it took so long.)

I loved it.  As a memoir, I'd give it a ten, but as a handbook for writers, I'd place it a tad bit lower on the scale.  King shares a lot of personal history in this book, beginning with his beginning.  He wrote about his childhood and his earliest stories.  He talked about his love of writing - why he does it.

I had forgotten about the terrible accident that almost killed him.  In the last pages, he gives his account of what happened, and then he ends the book with a list of his favorite books.

In between the history and the accident, he packs his version of the nuts and bolts of writing.  It is brief, and, to be totally honest, I didn't learn a lot... BUT, it was definitely worth my time!   King states time and again that to be a good writer, one needs to read a lot and write a lot.  He even gives examples of why it's good to read bad books!   The book taught me that I already had enough knowledge about the craft, and now I need to put that knowledge to work.  He also gave my confidence a boost in some areas that I previously questioned...

In a recent post, A Christian Writing in a Secular World, I wrote about a dilemma I faced with the language of my antagonist.  He said a very naughty word!  Against some well-meaning friends' advice, I decided to leave it as written... He said it, not me!  I didn't feel I was being truthful with my readers to tone it down.  He is an evil person.  Vile.  Angry.  He does not say 'Oh, fiddlesticks!'  

According to King, " are breaking the unspoken contract that exists between writer and reader - your promise to express the truth of how people act and talk through the medium of a made-up story."  Like I said, I already knew that.  I just needed someone to tell me I was right.  Someone with authority.  I think Stephen King would be considered an authority on writing.

When I read, even a memoir, I get lost in the story.  I'm submerged up to the gray matter in the words on the page.  If I were reading a novel and, right in the midst of a violent scene, the bad guy hollers out, "Oh, poopy snickers!" I think I'd be violently yanked away from the story!  Have you ever been pulled out of the fantasy and into reality by an untruthful dialog?

King also reinforced my thoughts on scraping a big chunk of my WIP.  I'm writing stuff that nobody cares about.  It isn't essential to the story... it's more like a side trip that ends up taking you way off course.  That may be fine on a sunny day when time is not important; it's not good in the middle of a book.  I was struggling to get the story back on track because I wasn't anywhere near the track!  Sometimes it's just better to turn around and go back.

If you're looking for a technical manual on writing, King's On Writing isn't it.  Still, I highly recommend the book, especially for beginning writers, and/or for fans of Stephen King.  He is honest and open, sharing his personal journey, and the wisdom he has gained in his vast career.  It's an easy, enjoyable read.   I think you will agree that it's worth your time.


Amy DeTrempe said...

Thanks for sharing what you took from King's book. I write inspirational and sweet and have struggled with the language and actions of my bad guys. I agree completely that "poopy snickers" just doesn't cut it, especially if he is almost evil.

Shelley Sly said...

I just read "On Writing" and I loved it. You're right, the writing advice isn't really anything new, but the memoir is beautifully written. Stephen King is an authority on writing, and I agree with that quote you posted. I'm thankful to find someone (you, not Stephen, although him too) who shares the same views when it comes to authentic language in a novel.

zz said...

Lily, I'm glad you found some confirmation for your little "foul language" in fictional writing predicament. I've kinda skipped my way around it by not writing any foul language at all, but it doesn't feel realistic. I think that we just have to do what we think it best for our writing. I really think that whatever you do with art, there are going to be people that criticise you - in this case, christians will criticise your writing if it portrays worldly stuff and non-christians will criticise you if it's too pure and christian. So we may as well do what feels right to us!

Sharon McPherson said...

Enjoyed your review. Another of your recommendations I'm going to read. You should be on commission lol.

Susan R. Mills said...

I totally agree with your take on this book. It was great, but as far as teaching me something new, it didn't offer much. He is still the 'King' of fiction though.

Brannon Hancock said...

Three books-on-writing recommendations, if you haven't read them already:
The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield
Walking on Water by Madeleine L'Engle
The Echo Within by Robert Benson (all his books are spectacular, and in one way or another are about writing and spirituality)
I have copies of all these if you want to borrow any of them.

Marla said...

Ok, Miss Lily, I am ordering the book tonight.