5 of the best writing tips from Stephen King

5 of the best writing tips from Stephen King

Very few authors are as accomplished and influential as Stephen King. With 60 novels under his belt and more than 350 million copies sold worldwide, King’s works have become cultural icons and touchstones of the horror and suspense genre. His impact also extends beyond the literary world – many of his works have been adapted to classic box office hits, such as IT, Carrie and The Shawshank Redemption.

Over the years, King has shared some of the tricks behind his masterful storytelling. Here are some of them.

1. Read a lot

King has no patience for aspiring writers who claim to have no time to read. “You can’t put it off… you gotta read just about everything,” he said during a lecture at Yale University.

A pleasant surprise awaits once you become a seasoned reader, King said. “There’s a magic moment – if you read enough, it will always come to you if you want to be a writer – where you put down some book and say, ‘This really sucks. I can do better than this. And this guy got published’.” 

2. Be concise

King is a strong advocate of compact, incisive prose. “For me, a good description usually consists of a few well-chosen details that will stand for everything else,” he wrote in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. “It’s also important to know what to describe, and what can be left alone while you get on with your main job, which is telling a story.”

3. Avoid adverbs

You may think moderate use of adverbs elevate your work, but King is not a fan. “To put it another way, they’re like dandelions,” he explained.

“If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day… fifty the day after that… and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions. By then you see them for the weeds they really are, but by then it’s – gasp!! – too late.”

4. Edit, edit and edit

According to King, a manuscript is not done before it is marked up, polished and even rewritten multiple times. “Only God gets things right the first time,” he wrote in a blog post. “Don’t be a slob.”

5. Let go of the plot

In what might be his most controversial piece of advice, King said that the best stories are unearthed rather than created.

“I distrust plot for two reasons,” he said. “First, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all our reasonable precautions and careful planning; and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible.”

Instead of trying to build a storyline, he simply acts as a narrator, watching characters react to predicaments. “Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world,” he said. “The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible.”