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April 2017

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Thinking burns calories

I just finished Under the Dome and started Angels and Demons. Truly, it isn't fair to Dan Brown to make him follow Stephen King. It wouldn't be fair to most authors! But there is a particular contrast when the author is one like Brown, who isn't a skilled writer. Like Michael Crichton, he manages an interesting story/plot, but his characters are shallow and he uses too much exposition. (We don't need to have alllll the facts of your research given to us, guys. Especially not in one big chunk, like a history lecture. At least Brown doesn't go on for entire chapters, like Crichton does...)

The problem with audiobooks is that faults in the nuts-and-bolts writing really stand out. I want to start self-recording my own stories for that reason, listening to them in the car with a recorder handy to make "notes". King has few faults as a writer, whatever you might think of his subject matter. There are plenty of good authors who do have faults - Funke and Rowling, to name two - but who I enjoy anyway, because their faults are minimal, not like a thumb in your eye. I might mutter something now and then, but usually I'm OK. With Brown, I'm continually saying, "Show, don't tell," or "We don't need all that right now," or "Of course she's sexy and gorgeous and brainy, uh huh uh huh." But I've just started the book, so I am hoping it improves.

I won't say that King doesn't ever put a foot wrong. There are several of his books that actually bored me. But damn, even when he's at his worst, the man can write. If I were rich, I'd pay anything just to sit with him and watch him work, or listen to him talk about how he works, how he picks his words and decides when to go from narrative to thoughts to action. I've read his book On Writing, but that was like a Hershey's Kiss when I wanted a giant Special Dark bar.

I have to say, however, that I've been reading some stylistically terrific books lately. The Thirteenth Tale, the Gemma Doyle stories, and In the Woods come instantly to mind. I can't figure out if there is simply a better level of writer being published in the past few years, or if I'm just lucky to have more friends and coworkers who are recommending good books to me. Anyone got an opinion on that?

Comments

Since you've read "On Writing", what's your opinion of it? Is it worth buying? I used to like Stephen King a lot as a teenager and recently I've been re-reading some of my old favorites. Some have stood the test of time better than others and I haven't read anything of his since "The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon" (which I thought was a massive letdown). So I don't know what his style is like these days. But I've been interested in "On Writing" since, like you, I think that the man has always been a very capable writer, whether or not a particular story has grabbed me or not.

So what should I expect from the book?
The book is pretty much autobiographical rather than being all about the craft, although it includes many wonderful things like his simile of a story being like a buried city that he is digging up. It's like having a long talk with him, and while there is little there to improve your writing (if that's what you're reading it for), there is encouragement to believe in yourself, and it is a terrific read. It was not what I expected, but I've read it three times and loved it.
I've never read a novel by King, but I like his shorts.

As for Brown - yeah, I complain about him lots, but validation is reading a parody and having someone else agree with said faults, so it's not so terrible.