Tuesday, April 26, 2011

From "On Writing: a Memoir of the Craft"

By Stephen King

Do all opinions weigh the same? Not for me. In the end I listen most closely to Tabby [1], because she's the one I write for, the one I want to wow. If you're writing primarily for one person besides yourself, I'd advise you to pay very close attention to that person's opinion (I know one fellow who says he writes mostly for someone who's been dead fifteen years, but the majority of us aren't in that position). And if what you hear makes sense, then make the changes. You can't let the whole world into your story, but you can let in the ones that matter the most. And you should.

Call that one person you write for Ideal Reader. He or she is going to be in your writing room all the time: in the flesh once you open the door and let the world back in to shine on the bubble of your dream, in spirit during the sometimes troubling and often exhilarating days of your first draft, when the door is closed. And you know what? You'll find yourself bending the story even before Ideal Reader glimpses so much as the first sentence. I.R. will help you get outside yourself a little, to actually read your work in progress as an audience would while you're still working. This is perhaps the best way of all to make sure you stick to story, a way of playing to the audience even while there's no audience there and you're totally in charge.

When I write a scene that strikes me as funny (like the pie-eating contest in "The Body" or the execution rehearsal in The Green Mile), I am also imagining my I.R. finding it funny. I love it when Tabby laughs out of control —she puts her hand up as if to say I surrender and these big tears go rolling down her cheeks. I love it, that's all, fucking adore it, and when I get hold of something with that potential, I twist it as hard as I can. During the actual writing of such a scene (door close), the thought of making her laugh—or cry—is in the back of my mind. During the rewrite (door open), the question—is it funny enough yet? scary enough?—is right up front. I try to watch her when she gets to a particular scene, hoping for at least a smile or—jackpot, baby!—that big belly-laugh with the hands up, waving in the air.

This isn't always easy on her. I gave her the manuscript of my novella Hearts in Atlantis while we were in North Carolina, where we'd gone to see a Cleveland Rockers-Charlotte Sting WNBA game. We drove north to Virginia the folowing day, and it was during this drive that Tabby read my story. There are some funny parts in it—at least I thought so—and I kept peeking over at her to see if she was chuckling (or at least smiling). I didn't think she'd notice, but of course she did. On my eight or ninth peek (I guess it could have been my fifteenth), she looked up and snapped: "Pay attention to your driving before you crack us up, will you? Stop being so goddam needy!"

I paid attention to my driving and stopped sneaking peeks (well ... almost). About five minutes later, I heard a snort of laughter from my right. Just a little one, but it was enough for me. The truth is that most writers are needy. Especially between the first draft and the second, when the study door swings open and the light of the world shines in...

1: Tabitha King, Stephen King's wife, also a novelist

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