Bill Denbrough in IT and Paul Sheldon in MISERY (Portrayals of Writers)

Stephen King has had a lifelong fascination with the psychology and craft of being a fiction writer, and as a result he has created numerous characters who are writers. In reading about some of these writer characters, I have found mapped out for me various dangers, joys, and craft challenges of the writing frontier.

Here’s one of my favorite quotes about writing from a Stephen King story. I think it nails exactly how it feels when you’re a writer learning the craft and that inner click-click-click finally happens–you’ve found your voice and have enough skill not to mangle the story while writing it down.  This is from Bill Denbrough’s perspective in Stephen King’s IT in Chapter 3, Section 6 (ISBN 0-451-16951-4):

…his head seems to bulge with the story; it is a little scary, the way it needs to get out.  He feels that if it cannot escape by way of his racing hand that it will pop his eyes out in its urgency to escape and be concrete….after ten years of trying he has suddenly found the starter button on the vast dead bulldozer taking up so much space inside his head.  It has started up.  It is revving, revving.  It is nothing pretty, this big machine.  It was not made for taking pretty girls to proms.  It is not a status symbol.  It means business.  It can knock things down.  If he isn’t careful, it will knock him down….

Then we have the writer character of Paul Sheldon in Stephen King’s MISERY (ISBN 0-451-16952-2), a novel which has an entire writing class hidden within it.  What writing class subjects are hidden in MISERY?  Here’s a list I quickly compiled:

1) An exploration of the dynamics between a writer and fans.

2) The idea of  ‘commercial’ versus ‘literary’ fiction, and how that influences the mindset of writers.

3) The writing process, from idea to finished draft.  We even get to read examples of Paul’s works-in-progress.

4) An exploration of what drives some writers to write.

5) Good plotting versus bad plotting.

6) How writing impacts and changes the mind of the writer.

7) Signs that one is on the right path as a writer.

Here’s an example of 3) from MISERY, Part II Chapter 5:

Paul looked out the window, his chin on his palm.  He was fully awake now, thinking fast and hard, but not really aware of the process.  The top two or three layers of his conscious mind, which dealt with such things as when he had last shampooed, or whether or not Annie would be on time with his next dope allotment, seemed to have departed the scene entirely….

Another part of him was furiously trying out ideas, rejecting them, trying to combine them, rejecting the combinations.  He sensed this going on but had no direct contact with it and wanted none.   It was dirty down there in the sweatshops.

He understood what he was doing now was as TRYING TO HAVE AN IDEA.  TRYING TO HAVE AN IDEA wasn’t the same thing as GETTING AN IDEA.  GETTING AN IDEA was a more humble way of saying I am inspired, or Eureka!  My muse has spoken!

MISERY is a novel I find myself skimming or re-reading once a year for fresh insights into the writing craft.  Let me leave you with an example of 7) from MISERY in Part III, Chapter 7:

The gotta.

It was something he had been irritated to find he could generate in the Misery books almost at will but in his mainstream fiction erratically or not at all.  You didn’t know exactly where to find the gotta, but you always knew when you did….Christ, days went by and the hole in the paper was small, the light was dim, the overheard conversations witless.  You pushed on because that was all you could do….And then one day the hole widened to VistaVision width and the light shone through like a sunray in a Cecil B. De Mille epic and you knew you had the gotta, alive and kicking.

The gotta, as in:  “I think I’ll stay up for another fifteen-twenty minutes, honey, I gotta see how this chapter comes out.”…

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