Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Stephen King and Unnecessary Words

Debra L Schubert's recently posted (here and here) about Stephen King's On Writing, an interesting book to struggle with, and one from which I have already posted a short excerpt over on White Flow

Here's one of the key ideas she pulled out:

7) Eliminate ALL unnecessary words. Seriously, all of them. This is different than "Kill your darlings" (which SK did NOT pen, btw). This refers more to the excess words we writers place in sentences because we're so darn smart, lazy and enamored with description.

This idea is very dangerous if you misunderstand it. Sure, eliminate words that don't do anything. Pay close attention to intensifiers like "very" and "excessively", which often weaken the construction of the sentence they are in. Pay attention to meaningless verbal tics, to avoid... like... extra STUFF... that... like... slows down the STORY.

On the other hand, look at popular authors like George R.R. Martin and J.K. Rowling -- and, ahem, Stephen King -- and tell me, please tell me, that there are no words that an editor could cut if she wanted to...? Tell me that every single word and paragraph is there in service to the story...?

It just ain't so. Words do not merely impart meaning. They also add to cadence, to flow, to the sound of the sentence in our mental ears, to meter, to flavor. So-called extra words can be useful to calm the pacing during a reaction scene, or to give a sensation of floating to the reader.


Words are exceedingly delicious. Make your sentences tempting, not just "sufficient".

Hat tip Spy Scribbler.

Oh, King also made a dubious differentiation between plot and story. Which, I believe, is a factor in why his novels are so long.


Shawn S. Deggans said...

Jay Lake talks a bit about this on his 'story a week' handout (http://www.jlake.com/resources/writing-more.pdf) in reference to writing fast--you can edit the voice of the author completely out of the work. Personally, I find I'm still at the point where I really, really need the line-by-line work. My sentence structure still comes out jumbled and quite a mess, but I have been learning to trust what I initially write.

Dal Jeanis said...

Thanks for reminding me of that document. I want to be Jay Lake when I grow up. Too late to grow up this year, though.