I decided to reread Stephen King’s The Tommyknockers in December as an appetizer for the 2019 Hail to the King reading challenge. And what an appetizer it is! Fortunately, I got through it with all of my teeth intact. Yes, fair warning, if teeth falling out is a trigger for you, this might not be the book to read. Otherwise, read on.Continue reading
Today, December 16th, is the birthday of both Arthur C. Clarke and Jane Austen, two literary greats.
Clarke’s work had the greatest impact on my own. I discovered Clarke through his short stories and novels at an early age. Rendezvous With Rama, 2001, and his other works shaped my interests in science fiction. For the longest time 2001 and the sequels were the future. I remember how strange it was when I found myself living in 2001,then 2010, and it wasn’t—of course—the future that Clarke described. I was born near the end of the Apollo missions and was a child in the Mojave desert when the Space Shuttle started flying. Clarke’s work (and that of other science fiction writers) led me to believe we’d be back to the Moon and beyond. By 2010 that seemed much less likely but my enthusiasm around space exploration hasn’t dimmed. I was so excited when Huygen's Probe finally showed us the surface of Titan or New Horizons revealed Pluto and Charon—and soon Ultima Thule (in 15 days!)Continue reading
The Hail to the King 2019 Challenge has ended.
Here's something just for fun: You're invited to join me in a chilling reading challenge for 2019—Hail to the King 2019.
The challenge itself is simple: Read a Stephen King book each month in 2019 and share your thoughts on the book. Whether that's on your blog, social media, Goodreads, or Amazon reviews—share your thoughts. I'll be posting my thoughts here on the blog and I hope you'll join me with comments and discussion on each post.
I've created a free PDF with the titles selected for each month. Pop your name into the box below to join my Reader's group, Readinary and download the PDF. You're welcome to unsubscribe at any time, but I hope you'll stick around.
Early Start Bonus—The Tommyknockers
I plan to kick off the challenge with an early bonus book for December—The Tommyknockers.
The challenge is a mix of titles I want to reread and titles I haven't read yet. It's also a mix of short story collections and novels. After I put together the list I realized there was one title that I hadn't included that I wanted to reread—The Tommyknockers. It has been a long time since I last read the book and I wanted to revisit it. So it gets to be an early release title for the challenge.
Why Stephen King?
Stephen King is a superb storyteller and one of my favorite writers. Reading King's stories inspires me and teaches me to be a better storyteller. Plus they're just so damn good.
Why a book each month? Why not try to read all of Stephen King's books in a year?
Tempting. If I did that, I wouldn't have time to read much else. It would take reading more than one book each week—I read just about two books per week, so it would take up most of my reading time. I figured that's probably true for other people too. A book a month seems a more reasonable challenge and also creates the possibility to do the challenge again each year with a new mix of titles.
Do we have to follow the calendar you created? What if I don't want to read a particular title?
I'll send Annie Wilkes to pay you a visit, you dirty bird!
No, read what you want. It's all just fun. No one is grading you.
You ever have one of those days where something just delights you, unexpectedly transforming your whole day? It might be that the cute human you like flirted with you when you bought your favorite caffeinated beverage. Or it could be that you discovered a hilarious way to indulge your inner 80's slasher. No? That hasn't happened to you? Which one?Continue reading
I got this writing exercise from one of my mentors, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, at a workshop I did a few years back. I found it very instructive. It's simple to explain, and much harder to do.
Punctuate This | Rules
The concept is simple enough.
- Open the Excerpt section below. It contains a short excerpt from a book—but only the text. No punctuation. No paragraphing. No capitalization. Nothing except a straight block of text. I did keep the spaces.
- Copy the excerpt into your word processor. You can do that either by typing or just select, copy, and paste.
- Add the missing punctuation and paragraphing.
- After you finish, go ahead and expand the Original section to compare your punctuation and paragraphing with the original work.
I've also included links to the original books in the examples, if you'd like to get a copy. These are affiliate links, so I get a small percentage from purchases, which I really appreciate.
Punctuate This | Questions
As you study the results and compare your work with the original work, consider some of these questions. You may want to write your thoughts down, if that helps.
- How do the two different versions sound? What are the differences in the voice of the piece? The character's voice?
- What differences are there in the pacing of the two different versions? Is one faster or slower than the other?
- In what ways does the punctuation and paragraphing reveal character? Setting?
- What else strikes you about the differences between the versions?
Check back. I'll add more examples for you to try in the future. If you want to learn when I've added more, or added other information to the site, sign up for Readinary, my readers' group.
Punctuate This | Exercises
Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton
i took his hand his long fingers curved over the back of my hand we began walking, his hand very still in mine i could feel the pulse in my hand against his skin his pulse began to speed up to match mine i could feel his blood flow like a second heart have you fed tonight my voice sounded soft can you not tell i can never tell with you i saw him smile out of the corner of my eye i am flattered you never answered my question no he said no you havent answered me or no you havent fed he turned his head to me as we walked sweat gleamed on his upper lip what do you think ma petite his voice was the softest of whispers
I took his hand. His long fingers curved over the back of my hand. We began walking, his hand very still in mine. I could feel the pulse in my hand against his skin. His pulse began to speed up to match mine. I could feel his blood flow like a second heart.
“Have you fed tonight?” my voice sounded soft.
“Can you not tell?”
“I can never tell with you.”
I saw him smile out of the corner of my eye. “I am flattered.”
“You never answered my question.”
“No,” he said.
“No, you haven't answered me, or no, you haven't fed?”
He turned his head to me, as we walked. Sweat gleamed on his upper lip. “What do you think, ma petite?” His voice was the softest of whispers.
I read Guilty Pleasures for the first time (of many) years ago when it was still an original Ace paperback. I devoured the series, which at the time I discovered it was only the first few books. Since then, I've collected the books in hardcover, ebook, and paperback formats. I've listened to books. And I made it a point to read all of Laurell K. Hamilton's other books.
I have the latest Anita Blake book, Serpentine, on my stack of books to read. I'm not a fan of the hardware covers. It seems like the publishers have always struggled with how to brand the series. Is it horror? Romance? Erotica? They can't seem to figure it out and they keep changing the branding so the hardcovers don't match. Sigh.
A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
as she woke up in the pod she remembered three things first she was traveling through open space second she was about to start a new job one she could not screw up third she had bribed a government official into giving her a new identity file none of this information was new but it wasnt pleasant to wake up to she wasnt supposed to be awake yet not for another day at least but that was what you got for booking cheap transport cheap transport meant a cheap pod flying on cheap fuel and cheap drugs to knock you out she had flickered into consciousness several times since launch surfacing in confusion falling back just as shed gotten a grasp on things the pod was dark and there were no navigational screens there was no way to tell how much time had passed between each waking or how far shed traveled or if shed even been traveling at all the thought made her anxious and sick
As she woke up in the pod, she remembered three things. First, she was traveling through open space. Second, she was about to start a new job, one she could not screw up. Third, she had bribed a government official into giving her a new identity file. None of this information was new, but it wasn't particularly pleasant to wake up to.
She wasn't supposed to be awake yet, not for another day at least, but that was what you got for booking cheap transport. Cheap transport meant a cheap pod flying on cheap fuel, and cheap drugs to knock you out. She had flickered into consciousness several times since launch—surfacing in confusion, falling back just as she'd gotten a grasp on things. The pod was dark, and there was no way to tell how much time had passed between each waking, or how far she'd traveled, or if she'd even been traveling at all. The thought made her anxious, and sick.
I discovered Becky Chambers' A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet when I read somewhere the description. “Like Firefly — with aliens.” It sounded like something I would like!
I enjoy science fiction with alien species, interplanetary space travel, and interesting characters. This book had all of that and much more. I became an instant fan after reading the first book and picked up each that followed as soon as I could.
A Dangerous Road: A Smokey Dalton Novel by Kris Nelscott
the rioting is finally over and the fires have burned out washington dc is a blackened ruin and so are the west and south sides of chicago pittsburgh newark hartford and trenton have all suffered serious damage so have many other cities jimmy and i drive the green oldsmobile that belonged to henrys church and listen to the news we hardly speak to each other any more there isnt much to say martin luther king jr is dead assassinated in our home town in our neighborhood and both jimmy and i played small roles in his death inadvertent roles of course but roles nonetheless
The rioting is finally over, and the fires have burned out. Washington, D.C., is a blackened ruin, and so are the west and south sides of Chicago. Pittsburgh, Newark, Hartford, and Trenton have all suffered serious damage. So have many other major cities.
Jimmy and I drive the green Oldsmobile that belonged to Henry's church and listen to the news. We hardly speak to each other any more. There isn't much to say. Martin Luther King, Jr., is dead, assassinated in our home town, in our neighborhood, and both Jimmy and I played small roles in his death. Inadvertent roles, of course, but roles nonetheless.
I remember reading A Dangerous Road and thinking that, “I wish I could write a book this good.”
Kris Nelscott wrote a mystery set against a time of protest and progress in America, opening following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. It's not the sort of book that I am likely to write. At least right now. I write mysteries, just not historical mysteries. My Moreau Society series is science fiction. My C. Auguste Dupin mysteries are cozy stories with a cat as the detective. I might write historical mysteries someday. If I do, I'd love to write something so amazing.
Project Pope by Clifford D. Simak
thomas decker was half an hour from home when whisperer stopped him in his tracks decker said whisperer speaking inside deckers mind decker now ill get you this time i will get you decker swiveled about on the game trail he had been following his rifle raised held away from his body ready to snap to his shoulder against the first sign of danger there was nothing in sight nothing stirring the heavy growth of trees and brush came down close against the trail on either side it all hung motionless there was not the slightest breeze, no flicker of a bird there was absolutely nothing everything was frozen as if eternity had clamped down decker
Thomas Decker was half an hour from home when Whisperer stopped him in his tracks.
—Decker, said Whisperer, speaking inside Decker's mind. Decker, now I'll get you. This time I will get you.
Decker swiveled about on the game trail he had been following, his rifle raised, held away from his body, ready to snap to his shoulder against the first sign of danger.
There was nothing in sight, nothing stirring. The heavy growth of trees and brush came down close against the trail on either side. It all hung motionless. There was not the slightest breeze, no flicker of a bird. There was absolutely nothing. Everything was frozen, as if eternity had clamped down.
“Robot believers at the far end of the galaxy endeavor to create a true religion, but their efforts could be shattered by a shocking revelation.
Project Pope highlights many of the themes and concepts found in Simak's work. I reread this book not all that long ago and enjoyed revisiting the characters and the questions raised by this story.
Cujo by Stephen King
he heard its purring growl he smelled its sweet carrion breath tad trenton clapped his hands to his eyes hitched in breath and screamed a muttered exclamation in another room his father a scared cry of what was that from the same room his mother their footfalls running as they came in he peered through his fingers and saw it there in the closet snarling promising dreadfully that they might come but they would surely go and that when they did the light went on vic and donna trenton came to his bed exchanging a look of concern over his chalky face and his staring eyes and his mother said no snapped i told you three hot dogs was too many vic and then his daddy was on the bed daddys arm around his back asking him what was wrong tad dared to look into the mouth of his closet again the monster was gone instead of whatever hungry beast he had seen there were two uneven piles of blankets winter bedclothes which donna had not yet gotten around to taking up to the cut off third floor
He heard its purring growl; he smelled its sweet carrion breath.
Tad Trenton clapped his hands to his eyes, hitched in breath, and screamed.
A muttered exclamation in another room—his father.
A scared cry of “What was that?” from the same room—his mother.
Their footfalls, running. As they came in, he peered through his fingers and saw it there in the closet, snarling, promising dreadfully that they might come, but they would surely go, and that when they did—
The light went on. Vic and Donna Trenton came to his bed, exchanging a look of concern over his chalky face and his staring eyes, and his mother said—no, snapped, “I told you three hot dogs was too many, Vic!”
And then his daddy was on the bed, Daddy's arm around his back, asking him what was wrong.
Tad dared to look into the mouth of the closet again.
The monster was gone. Instead of whatever hungry beast he had seen, there were two uneven piles of blankets, winter bedclothes which Donna had not yet gotten around to taking up to the cut-off third floor.
I love Stephen King's work. I've gone back and reread his books. In Cujo, King creates a character, a monster, that sticks in popular culture alongside other horror movie creatures. The book shows off King's talents for creating characters and intense situations. It isn't the easiest book to read, it hits a bunch of triggers for me as a parent and as a pet-owner. It's also hard to put down, hard to get away from once you've started reading.
Welcome! I've written some of my favorite stories with simple writing prompts that have encouraged my imagination to come up with things I probably wouldn't have come up with otherwise. Check back each week for new writing prompts, or sign up for Readinary to receive my weekly emails and get the prompts in your inbox along with my latest posts. I've also set up a simple submission page you can use to suggest writing prompts.
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I've started rereading Julie E. Czerneda'sWeb Shifters series beginning with the first book, Beholder's Eye. Czerneda is one of my favorite authors and I enjoy going back and experiencing her character's stories again. She writes my kind of science fiction—a universe filled with a variety of intelligent species doing their best to get by each day. It's space opera and tons of fun. Let me tell you why I think this book is worth your time.
Beholder's Eye is the story of Esen-Alit-Quar “Es”, a member of a long-lived species of shape-shifters. The youngest of the Web, Es undertakes an assignment to learn about the people of Kraos. Her first assignment. That's the purpose that drives her kind—to learn of and preserve the accomplishments of intelligent species. Only it goes wrong when Es discovers a plot to murder the members of a human first-contact team and intervenes.
Not only that, but Death stalks the Fringe, leaving empty colonies and ships in its wake. Es and her human friend Paul embark on adventures that lead Es to break all of the rules of her kind.
Reinventing Shape-shifters: The First Rule of the Web? You Don't Talk About the Web
Shape-shifters inhabit the stories told in most cultures at one time or another. From skinwalkers, spirits, and Tengu to current day tales such as the shape-shifting changelings on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine or The Thing. Unlike Star Trek's Odo, Es can't take the shape of inanimate objects. She can become intelligent species, becoming indistinguishable from the actual species. Kurt Russell isn't going to uncover a web-being by sticking a hot needle in a blood sample! Also unlike The Thing, the web-beings don't imitate individuals. They are individuals.
If a web-being like Es became a dog — that is the dog they would be every time they became a dog. Don't like being a pug? Tough, that's who you are. Learn to accept it. What happens to a web-being's form persists. Going with the dog example — if someone docked your tail it would still be gone the next time you shifted into that form. Injuries to a form have to heal in that form. You don't get to shift and shift back to magically heal your wounds. The memory of the damage persists.
Even though this isn't hard science fiction, Czerneda plays by her rules, particularly when it comes to a shape-shifter's mass. If a web-being was running around as a 50 lb. dog suddenly wanted to shift into a domestic tabby cat, they would have to shed energy (mass) to shift into the smaller size. Uncontrolled shifting to their natural web form can have explosive results. Likewise, to shift into a larger form, a web-being needs to assimilate organic matter, converting it into new web mass.
I really love Czerneda's inventiveness in her science fiction. It's terrific.
The Fantastic Characters of Beholder's Eye
Esen is one of my favorite characters in science fiction. The youngest of her Web, she is curious and compassionate. She's immediately likable. I particularly like how Esen's perspectives change in different forms. Her thought processes and behaviors reflect the species that she becomes. At the same time, Esen retains that core element that is Esen. This is sort of like watching Tatiana Maslany play multiple characters on Orphan Black.
The human contact specialist Paul provides an interesting Watson to Esen's Holmes. Skilled in languages, curious, and determined not to give up on Esen, Paul is another great character. The story stays in Esen's point of view, so we don't get inside Paul's head but we do get to see his actions and the consequences.
Ersh, the eldest of Esen's kind, ancient and intimidating, provides a nice counter to Esen. The same is true with the other members of Ersh's Web, but it is Ersh herself that is most often in Esen's thoughts as she breaks the rules established by Ersh. They have a complex relationship, and through Ersh we have a chance to see what Esen might become someday.
Death and Acting Captain Kearn are the main antagonists in Beholder's Eye. Death stalks the colonies and ships before discovering the existence of Ersh's Web and more enticing prey. Acting Captain Kearn, convinced that Esen and Death are one in the same, becomes focused on tracking down Esen in order to stop the killings and prove himself.
There are many other wonderful characters and fascinating aliens in this novel (and series).
Julie E. Czerneda is a fantastic science fiction and fantasy author. This series remains one of my favorites and I enjoyed it as much (or more) this time through. With the release of the first book in the new series, I'm going back through from the beginning to reread the earlier books. There's nothing like dropping back into a beloved story. I hope you'll check out the entire series!
I love Stephen King's characters. I once sat on the floor reading Dolores Claiborne instead of packing for a move. I hadn't planned to sit and read the entire book. I picked it up, flipped to the first page and started reading.
“What did you ask, Andy Bisette?
Do I “understand these rights as you've explained em to me”?
Gorry! What makes some men so numb?
No, you never mind—still your jawin and listen to me for awhile. I got an idear you're gonna be listenin to me most of the night, so you might as well get used to it.” (King, 1993)
I started reading and I did sit and listen to Dolores for awhile. A long while, the sort of thing I haven't done many times, just sit and read a book through front to back in a single rush. Yes, the pages are a bit narrower than some, and the lines are generously spaced, but it still comes in at 305 pages in the hardcover edition I read. King started writing the book the year I finished high school and it came out the year I finished college—and I still don't understand how he creates such compelling characters.
Studying the Masters
With this series of posts, we're going on a journey to study and learn characterization from the masters of fiction writing. I've written over twenty novels. I have degrees in writing fiction and in library and information science. I'm still learning about writing. I hope I never stop learning about writing. I want to do better. I always give it my best—I want to push that to higher levels.
I'm starting with a personal favorite. I love Stephen King's work and have collected his books for my private library. This is an initial foray into a longer journey of exploration and discovery. We're going to start figuring out a plan to tackle these questions, to uncover new questions, and figure out an approach.
This series isn't going to stop with Stephen King. I plan to bring in other authors' works. Compare genres, different time periods, and also look at non-fiction works on writing amazing characters.
I hope you'll join me in this process and share your experiences in the comments. I'd love to hear from you as we dig into this topic.
As we go through this post, I recommend that you grab copies of the books in print or e-book to follow along. I do use affiliate links to titles in this series, which provides a bit of support for this blog if you go through the links included. Don't want to buy copies? Visit your local library, or check out their options to check out e-books online.
It's not required, of course. I'll include quotes as we look at each, but you'll need access to copies if you want to do the exercises.
Introducing Stephen King's Characters
Here's the question: how does King introduce us to his characters? In those first few pages of a book or a story, what does it look like? What does King do?
Okay, this book starts off with a news article about a rain of stones. It introduces two characters (the widow Margaret White and her 3-year-old daughter Carietta).
After the article, as the novel opens, it isn't a single character, but a group of characters that are referenced.
“Nobody was really surprised when it happened, not really, not at the subconscious level where savage things grow. On the surface, all the girls in the shower room were shocked, thrilled, ashamed, or simply glad that the White bitch had take it in the mouth again.
Carrie had been going to school with some of them since the first grade, and this had been building since that time,—
What none of them knew of course, was that Carrie White was telekinetic.”
What's Going On Here?
The novel has multiple openings. The newspaper, the opening that references what happened and flat out states that Carrie is telekinetic, and then the novel moves into the locker room to show what happened.
It's an opening rich with sensory details as King takes us into the shower room. And its when we get our first look at Carrie.
“Carrie stood among them stolidly, a frog among swans. She was a chunky girls with pimples on her neck and back and buttocks, her wet hair completely without color.”
And it goes on. The description picks up steam and moves. King takes us from the establishing shot of the shower room into a description of Carrie and deeper until we're into Carrie's thoughts and sensor details. Until we're right there with Carrie, the details washing over us until another character appears.
“Miss Desjardin, their slim, non-breasted gym teacher, stepped in—”
Okay, let's stick with Carrie and figure out what's going on.
Type the opening of Carrie from “Nobody was really surprised…” all the way to “…they all saw the blood running down her leg.”
Why? So you get what it feels like to type the opening, how it looks when you type it into Scrivener or Word, or whatever you use. If you hand-write first drafts, hand-write the opening. You'll learn so much more than just reading it. We're not trying to copy King, but we are figuring out how he breathes life into characters. It's only a bit over 400 words, easily done in 10-15 minutes.
Point of View (POV)
King doesn't stick to a fixed point of view (check out this Wikipedia article for definitions of narrative point of view). King moves all the way from the newspaper to the locker room, deep into Carrie's thoughts, and then back up and out until he references “they all saw” and back up to an excerpt from a scholarly piece about Carrie. We've gone for a ride with King all the way down and back up the other side. It's a third-person mode, subjective, omniscient POV.
King relishes in details, in opinions, calling Carrie “a frog among swans” and “the sacrificial goat” and more. Ouch.
The other girls are described as a group. Through the sensory details, we feel it from Carrie's perspective surrounded by the pack.
Miss Desjardin, the third character named (after Carrie's mother and herself), warrants a description of her own—and it's not Carrie's view of the teacher. We've come back up enough that we learn that Miss Desjardin won the whistle she wears in an archery contest.
One other character is named, Sue Snell, getting a single line. Enough to indicate that we'll see more of Sue later (King drops back down into Sue's thoughts after the break for the article).
Thoughts on Carrie
In On Writing, King talks about writing Carrie, and the challenges that led him to throw it away. Fortunately, Tabitha King rescued it from the bin. Stephen King reflects on lessons learned from writing the book.
“The most important is that the writer's original perception of a character or characters may be as erroneous as the reader's. Running a close second was the realization that stopping a piece of work just because it's hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea.” (King, 2000)
The point of view technique King uses in Carrie—third person, subjective, omniscient—has a cinematic feel to it, don't you think? It starts from a place of commentary, drops down to show the shower room, moves into Carrie's thoughts and feelings, then pulls back again as Miss Desjardin shows up and the incident develops.
The omniscient narrator isn't an objective camera. King writes with attitude, with opinions about the characters and the situation. King includes sensory details in the environment and it all brings the scene to life as the POV tightens in closer and closer to Carrie, down into her perspective. This is a point of view that moves from one character to another and isn't limited third person. The narrator tells the reader right away that Carrie is telekinetic, stating that none of the girls who have gone to school with her know.
The whole thing, the article to the break, is only about 600 words, maybe two and a half pages. King manages to create suspense, tension, and a vivid sense of Carrie in that space. King has given us a description of the teacher, Miss Desjardin, and clearly conveys her own dislike of Carrie. The section also introduces Sue Snell, and it's Sue's perspective that we return to after the next article.
Summary of Carrie's Introduction
- Short, 600 words
- Third person viewpoint
- Describes physical details of two characters, Carrie and Miss Desjardin
- Moves from a wide establishing shot down to Carrie's thoughts and feelings, and back up to the wide shot again.
Meet Paul Sheldon in Misery
Next, let's take a look at an all-time favorite Stephen King novel, Misery, and meet Paul Sheldon (we'll also meet Annie Wilkes). We're going to look at the first two chapters and see how King introduces and brings these characters to life.
yerrrnnn umber whunnnn
These sounds: even in the haze.”
Short chapter, huh?
What's Going On Here?
Let's take a look at the next few lines.
But sometimes the sounds—like the pain—faded, and then there was only the haze. He remembered darkness: solid darkness had come before the haze. Did that mean he was making progress?”
Unlike the opening of Carrie, this time King starts down deep. Right down in the unnamed (at this point, because he doesn't even remember his own name) character's perspective. We're with this character, just as clueless, not knowing what's happened, except there are sounds, haze, darkness, and pain. And “he.”
[Typing Exercise Two Sidebar
Type the first two chapters of Misery from “umber whunnnn..” all the way to “…they all saw the blood running down her leg.”
This one is longer than the last exercise, about five pages, but it's worth it to see how the characterization builds as Paul becomes more aware.]
The POV here is again in the third person. It's subjective, and it limited. Very much limited, just as Paul's mind and senses are limited in the beginning. The chapter sticks to that viewpoint the entire way through. Unlike Carrie, King hasn't pulled back to describe where Paul is, Annie, what has happened, or made any mention of what is coming for Paul like a swinging—
Well, I don't need to go there right now.
Thoughts on Misery
The form and structure of King's writing in this introduction to Paul is driven by Paul's own experiences. The first chapter, short, confused sounds and little else. The text drifts, long blocks of text without paragraphs as Paul drifts in the haze. As Paul's awareness increases, other moments intrude. King's descriptions of Paul's resuscitation, the stink of it, “she raped him full of her air again,” characterizes Annie before we actually see her for the first time, and leads up to the chilling end of the second chapter.
We've also learned quite a bit about Paul. Not physically, but we get a sense of who he is, and some history and background. It's tied into what he is experiencing, memory informing the sense of the constant pain.
Summary of Misery's Introduction
- Not too long, 1,224 words
- Third person viewpoint
- Introduces Paul Sheldon and his number one fan, Annie Wilkes.
- The form and structure reflect the limitations of Paul's experience.
Now: From a Buick 8
Let's take a look at one more example from Stephen King before wrapping up this initial dip into introducing characters. In this case, Sandy Dearborn.
“Curt Wilcox's boy came around the barracks a lot the year after his father died, I mean a lot, but nobody ever told him get out the way or asked him what in hail he was doing there again. We understood what he was doing: trying to hold onto the memory of his father. Cops know a lot about the psychology of grief; most of us know more about it than we want to.” (King, 2002)
What's Going On Here?
At first, it might seem as if this opening is similar to the opening of Carrie, but that isn't the case. It also isn't down deep within a character like Misery. The first paragraph tells us something about Curt Wilcox's son (but not his name), tells us that the narrator is a cop, and sets a voice for the story.
[Typing Exercise Three Sidebar
Type in this opening, just the first couple pages and change, right up to the scene break on page three. That's from “Curt Wilcox's boy came around…” to “…Michelle Wilcox was short a husband.” Clocking in at 874 words, it shouldn't take too long to type that in.]
The section starts with Now: Sandy at the top of the page, giving us both the time and the name of the character narrating the story. Unlike the other two examples, this is told in a first-person POV. Sandy tells us what happened, relating the events and background, with subjective opinion and knowledge that comes from looking back at the events described.
In Misery, the POV is limited to Paul and it rides his confusion and pain. It's right there and happening. The POV in Carrie moves about, free to dip in and out, to describe and tell the reader things that the title character doesn't know. Here, we only get what Sandy chooses to share, and that's at a distance. We're not living the events, as descriptive as they are told. Sandy tells us what happened to Curt, basing part of the story on court testimony. The opening goes on to page 24 when Sandy starts to tell Ned about the Buick.
Thoughts on From a Buick 8
The fact that Sandy is sitting there, telling the story about telling the story of the Buick, adds distance to the events. It frames the story. How could it be otherwise? It seems right the way King wrote it, as if there isn't any other way to tell the story. Maybe there isn't. If we imagined it in a limited third-person POV, whose POV would we use? Curt, destined to become roadkill? Sandy, or the other cops? The story does move between different POVs as Sandy tells the story, bouncing between now and then like a time traveler. King wrote it the way he wrote it because that is how he wrote it. Nothing more than that, I believe.
It's a question, though, when writing. If you hitch along figuring it out as you go, it most likely won't even be a conscious answer. The words and voice will come spilling out of your fingers in the most satisfying way they can. If you're more of a planning sort, your accountant brain might weigh and measure the advantages of different approaches. When it comes to first person POV stories, there's a finger on the scales that keep the story a bit at a distance. It isn't as deep as the third-person limited POV, and not as free-wheeling as the third-person omniscient POV.
Summary of From a Buick 8′s Introduction
- Short, 874 words
- First-person viewpoint
- Introduces Ned and Curt Wilcox, the narrator Sandy Dearborn and mentions other characters.
- The POV distances the readers from the story.
It's Nice to Meet You
I know we've hardly exchanged a few words in this brief introduction to Stephen King's characters. With so many books and characters to pick from, I could have gone on. If you haven't done the exercises yet, I encourage you to do so. Your fingers provide a two-way access to your subconscious. By typing in work by masters like Stephen King, you're teaching your inner neural network. You'll pick up techniques that you're not conscious of–only to see them emerge in your own writing, with your own words later on.
I plan to continue this series, looking at how characters are introduced and developed by other writers. I want to keep exploring and learning from writers with more miles on the road than me. I hope you'll join me on this journey of discovery.
Astrohaus, the company behind the Freewrite, launched a new crowd-sourcing campaign today for the Traveler. The e-ink writing laptop, billed as the ultimate distraction-free writing tool reached its funding goal in less than 30 minutes. At the time I'm writing this, the campaign is at 324% funding.
I wrote about setting up a Scrivener laptop as a dedicated writing tool. A dedicated, zero-distraction tool for writing can be a big boon for productivity. Unfortunately, it's easy to give in to distractions on such a device. It's the matter of a moment to open a web browser or other applications. The Traveler looks to be just what I've wanted since first holding an e-ink ereader.
Does it hold up to my hopes? I can't know for sure. Let's take a look at what the Traveler offers.
What is the Traveler?
The Traveler is the successor to the Freewrite Smart Typewriter. The Freewrite is billed as the distraction-free writing tool. It features:
- Mechanical keyboard switches
- An e-ink display—viewable in sunlight
- Long battery life
- Internal storage and cloud-sync
Freewrite – the smart typewriter
The Freewrite met most of the features I wanted in a dedicated writing tool. Except the form factor. I wanted something smaller and more portable.
The Traveler builds off the success of the Freewrite. It expands on the strengths of the Freewrite with a new more portable design.
Creating the Ultimate Writing Tool
Before I saw the Traveler, I had imagined what I'd like in a writing tool. I wanted a compact, clamshell sort of device. E-ink, long battery life, and a plain text file format (with markdown support) that I could easily use with other programs. I wanted it dedicated to writing. I wanted it to work offline but have the ability to sync to cloud storage solutions. In my thoughts about the ideal device, I called it the Write Away. Maybe that's groan-worthy, but I liked the name.
Laptops are more complicated. Wake them up, launch applications, shut off distractions, and make sure you don't use them somewhere with too much sunlight or you can't see the screen. Looking into a computer screen all day increases your exposure to blue light.
I wanted something simple. Something that I could use for first drafts without distractions.
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The Traveler Realizes the Dream
As it turns out, Astrohaus designed a device that fits what I imagined with the Write Away. Spooky, how close their design is, and it's great to see how they've evolved concepts developed with the Freewrite to create the Traveler. The campaign site provides detailed descriptions the features and benefits of using the Traveler. For me, it looks like a dream come true. It might not be for everyone (I've seen comments from people wanting a bigger screen), but to me it looks great.
I can't say that the Traveler is exactly what I imagined—I haven't actually used one yet. The production timeline shows the first batch shipping next year. Even so, I was one of the first ten people to support the campaign. At this point, the Traveler has nearly 600 backers and is approaching 400% funding. I'm looking forward to doing some writing on it next year.
Until then? I'll continue working with my laptop while I picture hanging out in my hammock next summer, a Traveler at hand while I write a new book or story.
One of the pleasures of being a librarian is sharing resources with people. When it comes to making recommendations on books, we tend to talk about “readers advisory.” I think there is also a place for “writers advisory” in libraries—librarians have a long history of working with writers and I think it is a relationship that we should cultivate. For this post, I want to suggest resources for writers thinking about dictation. If you haven't considered dictating your work, take a look at these resources to see how many writers today take advantage of speech-to-text technology to write.
My Experience With Dictation
I've used dictation to write short stories and one complete novel (which I plan to release this year). It hasn't become my default method for writing. I appreciate the advantages of dictating away from the computer, then using software to transcribe the recording.
So why have I fallen off the dictation track? Habit. My habit is sitting with a computer and writing by typing. It's easy to lapse back into those habits.
The Creative Penn Podcast: Christopher Downing on Dictation
This week I listened to Christopher Downing's interview on the Creative Penn Podcast. The interview helped convince me to give dictation another shot. I'm taking a look at Downing's books right now to see how I might use his methods to take advantage of dictation again.
Rather than go over all the points, I recommend checking out the show notes, the podcast, Downing's books, or watch the video.