I Tripped on a Metaphor Named Stephen King

STRUGGLING WITH my next The Caffeine Chronicles blog entry reminded me of my writing roots and greatest writing influence.  It brought me back to my early university days when I was left out whenever my college friends would talk about a Stephen King book and which macabre or gory scene didn’t make it in the latest movie adaptation.  At the time, I had dozens of Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books (lol. what my high school library had tons of) and other minor novels tucked under my “Already Read” belt, but nothing as heavy (literally and figuratively) as a Stephen King book. Needless to say, I was forced to read my first King novel just to reel me back into a clique I was never out of in the first place. I simply didn’t relish doing umpire duties in my friends’ back and forth Stephen King ball play.

And catch up I did.  I started with King’s earliest novel Carrie and read every book the guy had written up to From a Buick 8, when I felt that perhaps I have outgrown the horror novel genre. The crux of the matter is, somewhere between, I happened to read Different Seasons. It changed my life forever.  Different Seasons is a collection of 4 King novellas (short novels) titled, in order of my preference: The Breathing Method, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, The Body and Apt Pupil. The last 3 were adapted into film.  Shawshank Redemption went on to become the greatest movie I have ever seen (receiving the all-time highest IMDb rating for a movie at 9.3/10) and Stand by Me (The Body), still one of the best coming-of-age movies out there.

Going back to my story, Different Seasons was my initiation to the exquisite writing style of Stephen King.  To say that I was awed is an understatement.  His rich setting descriptions and brilliant character development are standard Stephen King fare, but the emotions he painstakingly builds up, like slowly chipping at a ton of bricks then dropping it on your head at the right moment, is divine.  In fact, I was so inspired by Different Seasons that I found myself wanting to write like the author.  Suddenly I was no longer writing bland and gratuitous poetry like the very first poem I wrote titled “Watermelons are Cute.” My girlfriend adored it though. At some point, when I thought I was ready to be published, I joined The Malate Literary Folio, De la Salle University’s official literary magazine, as staff writer specializing in short stories before being named Associate Editor a year later.  All the while I was trying to write in the style of the Master of Horror, sans the horror.  No wonder my short stories were too long.

Being the editor of the magazine shortly landed me a part-time job as speechwriter of an Under Secretary of the Department of Health on my second year as undergrad.  When I soon found writing speeches about hospitals and health programs too taxing for a Marketing major, I resigned and got myself a part-time job as a writer for a business magazine.  Four months later, I received an invitation to work full-time at Leo Burnett, initially handling PR accounts due to my writing background, which I accepted.  It was a dream job where I can hone my business skills and still practice my writing craft.

But somewhere along the way I lost Stephen King amid the clutter of advertising copy, press releases, video scripts, etc.  Looking back, I think I owe the buck-toothed horror writer whatever little I have today.  All these because of wanting to feel that I truly belonged to my circle of friends and because of an unassuming book I bought from a book sale stall.  Because of King’s prose, I never experienced how it was to search for a job or be between jobs. Writing opportunities just happened to knock at the perfect moments of my career. I will never be half the writer he is and that is why he is probably sipping daiquiris on his hefty book royalties right now, while I am still here wallowing somewhere in middle management, inching, struggling my way atop the corporate jungle.  But I am constantly reminded of Stephen King whenever I struggle with something I want to write.  He will always be the metaphorical push behind my pen.

I still buy some of his new books from time to time.  I ached for a literary outlet so I started a blog to rekindle that fire. If you happen to stop by my blog, I’d like to think that perhaps you might see some of that old Stephen King fire burning.  Of course, I cannot even touch the legend’s writing prowess, it is just to say that his writing style had been my blueprint early on.  Old habits die hard.

A writer friend once asked me:  “Your prose and poetry usually exhibit very intense emotions.  How do you do it?”

I never recognized it then as I realize it now. But I learned it from studying Stephen King’s prose.

“Whatever you write, short or long, it has to have a heart,” I replied.  “If, after the first draft, you still can’t find the heart in what you wrote, then be prepared to re-write it all over again.”

Below is an example of Stephen King’s brilliant prose, which made me smile and shake my head in envy long ago.  Note that you will not find a single flowery word — often a beginner’s mistake.  This quote from The Body, in my opinion, is the heart of the novella; and it’s beating very fast.  It is the lead character’s reflection on his and his buddies’ traumatic experience many years ago as little kids when they discovered in the woods the dead body of a boy (hit by a train) and the tin pail he was holding at the time of the accident.

“Sipping a cup of tea, looking at the sun slanting through the kitchen windows, hearing the TV from one end of the house and the shower from the other, feeling the pulse behind my eyes that means I got through one beer too many from the night before, I feel sure I could find it. I would see clear metal winking through rust, the bright summer sun reflecting it back to my eyes. I would go down the side of the embankment, push aside the grasses that had grown up and twined roughly around its handle, and I would…what? Why, simply pull it out of time. I would turn it over and over in my hands, wondering at the feel of it, marveling at the knowledge that the last person to touch it had been long years in his grave. Suppose there was a note in it? Help me, I’m lost. Of course there wouldn’t be – boys don’t go out to pick blueberries with paper and pencil – but just suppose. I imagine the awe I’d feel would be as dark as an eclipse. Still, it’s mostly the idea of holding that pail in my two hands, I guess – as much a symbol of my living as his dying, proof that I really do know which boy it was – which boy of the five of us. Reading every year in its cake of dust and the fading of its bright shine. Feeling it, trying to understand the suns that shone on it, the rains that fell on it, and the snows that covered it. And to wonder where I was when each thing happened to it in its lonely place, where I was, what I was doing, who I was loving, how I was getting along, where I was. I’d hold it, read it, feel it…and look at my own face in whatever reflection might be left.” — Stephen King

 

(TCC blues)

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38 thoughts on “I Tripped on a Metaphor Named Stephen King

  1. Alas…when facing writers block…go back to the beginning and find your inspiration. It appears you have done just that!! (a.k.a. TCC blues) :) Oh Yes, Stephen King….as masterful as he is prolific…his praises have already been sung so I won’t dare to repeat….just happy to see you writing…impassioned…

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  2. I adore finding other Stephen King fans, but this post was pure homage to the man that inspires me every time I pick up one of his books. The man has struggled just as much as any other starving writer trying to make it in the world, but he captivates your heart and your mind when you read his work. He has a vision for everything that is wrong with the world and brings the beauty in horror.

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  3. I’ve been staring at this little comment box for a few minutes trying to find the words to express what I feel about King’s style but for some reason I can’t seem to find the words. Then I realized why! You just did it for me! :) He isn’t my muse writing-wise because I’m not a writer but I’ve been a long admirer of his writing as a reader – his unique style; I can’t stress unique enough because I think he paved the way for a specific type of writing, a certain pace, a certain point of view, a certain unease at times. Anyway, you explained it much better than I ever could!

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    • i find it difficult to describe myself. if you skip a few chapters of other writers’ books, chances are you will still find yourself smack right in the middle of the plot line and you can just fill in the blanks. not with king. choose a random page and you won’t understand a thing. chances are you’ll find yourself in one of his deep characterizations or reflections, most of the time weaving interesting sub-plots.

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        • hi letizia! no, i did not. it is a tragedy that i do not know how to draw or take decent photos. i must admit rather embarrassingly that i often (but not always) forget to add photo/illustration credits for graphics found in google’s image bank. of course, it’s another story if the source is a photographer/photo studio or a known artist. but that can change. my apologies to the true owners.

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          • I thought as you were painting your flat, you were also good at drawing! (I didn’t mean to point out that you didn’t include a credit – farthest thing from my mind!).

            Hope the painting is going well and that you are feeling all better now!

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  4. Welcome back! Reading that was a joy and lateley for whatever reason I haven’t been moved by a lot of what I’ve read lately. So, I’m excited to pick up some Stephan King and hopefully gain some of the inspiration you received from reading his works.

    I forgot that reading is the catalyst for writing, that it can shape style, inspire topics, promote creativity. Thank you for reminding me how it felt to write while I was knee deep in Vonnegut or entrenched in A Clockwork Orange.

    I hope I can live up to self imposed expectations!

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    • thanks, j! i hope you’ll enjoy king as i did. i’d offer he’s not as brilliant in plot as other great writers, but the contemporary prose is exquisite. never derived the same satisfaction from current writers.

      in my case, it is both reading good books and watching great movies. and i love vonnegut too :)

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  5. I also had a long intense romance with Stephen King in high school. I am one of those souls who got suckered into the world of the dark tower and fell in love with the gunslinger. But the book from Stephen King that I really treasured is the collection of short stories he wrote as Richard Bachman. The ‘horror’ in those minuscule stories were about the horrors of the human condition and the dark passenger lying in wait inside of us (ala dexter). Eventually I out grew him and moved on to a much darker Peter Straub and other more literary authors. ( English teachers dismissed his characters as having a mindset of a 14 year old). But I’ve never forgotten Stephen King. He was a big part of my adolescent years.

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    • i remember The Long Walk and The Running Man. horrific indeed. pet sematary was scary. IT i think took me more than a year to finish because i left it so many times but picked it back up every time. if you can still read SK, check out The Breathing Method from Different Seasons. it is about mother’s love. it may not be the best written story out there but i’d dare say, personally, it is the most memorable story i have ever read.

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  6. I can relate hugely to this entry as King’s brilliance with wordplay has given me the inspiration to try my hand at prose. After all a story is not a good story unless the reader can comprehend the essence of it. King’s vocabulary often lacks flamboyance which is actually a good thing. Simplicity is elegance.

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    • king’s novels, particularly the long ones, can be considered “heavy reads” because of the winded prose, but oh, what rich passages he writes. with the use of simple, perfectly-placed, well-chosen words, he rewards patience. thanks for the comment!

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