The genius of horror writer Stephen King

witch on telephone pole

Looks like somebody overindulged on Halloween ale! Scary! Image courtesy of krosseel, Morguefile.

It’s been puzzling me for a long time…what IS it about Stephen King’s books that scare the daylights out of me, yet compel me to read them?

I’m not generally a fan of the horror genre — real life is spooky enough sometimes, thank you very much — but I like Edgar Allan Poe (after all, Eddie was a local boy, so to speak, since he had ties to Virginia and Maryland) and Stephen King.

Some of it is the vivid and chilling imagery that King creates. The best writers make it so easy for you to visualize the scenes in their books.  In King’s case, it mostly makes me want to pull the covers over my head at night and have a flashlight close by, just in case.

Maybe a part of it is also because King has written about underdogs and I root for them. Firestarter is my absolute favorite King book. This book features a father and daughter on the run from a government agency. Andy McGee, the father, once participated in a government experiment which gave him and his wife Victoria special powers. Their daughter, Charlie, developed the ability to create and control fires through her thoughts. (Guess that would be handy on cold winter nights, hmmm? Instant bonfire for toasting marshmallows.) Arnie Cunningham of Christine is also an underdog, at least initially.

Another part of it is that King understands the writing world. His guide book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, has a great how-to section that has some valid points about how you can convert yourself from a competent writer into a good one.

I had to laugh when I saw his definition of a talented writer on Wikipedia: “If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.” Hopefully, the same principle will apply if you pay something other than the light bill. 😉

I saw Stephen King in a TV  interview years ago and was impressed. He’s got a great sense of humor and is an intelligent guy. But I think you’d have to be to churn out all those novels and keep them coming. I marvel at his talent while I envy it at the same time. Lucky guy.

Happy Halloween, people! I hope it’s a good one for you.



Filed under Writing

19 responses to “The genius of horror writer Stephen King

  1. My opinion? King is an amazing writer. If you don’t read any of his work, you’ve missed something remarkable. Sometimes his words are so lyrical it’s more poetry than prose. There aren’t many living writers who write at that level. I can’t think of any off-hand but allow the possibilty they exist. I’m not a horror fan and don’t generally read his horror stuff, but I do read his other fiction. It’s thrilling to read something so well-written, elegant and beautifully crafted.

  2. I’m not particularly a horror fan myself but I do like his stuff! My favorite Stephen King books are the “The Stand” and “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft!”

  3. Lesley Dawson

    Stephen King is fabulous! He writes such a darned good story and writes the characters well too. You can see lots of his interviews on YouTube and I agree, he has a really good sense of humour. 🙂

  4. I am always amazed that people can keep writing good stuff often. Personally I feel like I peak and wane repeatedly. Wonder if Stephen King ever feels like that.

  5. I agree. He is genius. I don’t know how he keeps putting out so many great books. If we knew, I guess he could bottle that secret ingredient and sell it!

  6. He’s a staggeringly good story-teller. He’s able to keep a reader totally engaged without the “strings” showing – someone like Dan Brown can keep a reader hooked, but the means by which he does so are so transparent it’s embarrassing (Really? Another chapter ending with someone opening something and saying, “Oh my God! This can’t be!”?).

    Even his non-horror works this well (like The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, or 11/22/63), which I think is the real proof that it isn’t just the gore or horror that makes his books work so amazingly well.

  7. King has a knack for getting the reader instantly immersed in the characters of his stories. In a review for ‘Full Dark, No Stars’ I wrote about one of the 4 stories – I have never been a farmer but I fully understood the desperation of the farmer’s life in “1922” – and for the next half hour, as I read the story, I was a farmer.

    • If the writer is talented enough, that’s definitely the case. With writers such as James Herriot or Dick Francis, I have never been in the veterinarian world or involved in horse racing, but I have a better understanding of what those worlds are like after reading what they’ve written.

  8. Gee, do you think that technical stuff I wrote, for which I was paid, means I can write? Don’t think I have ever read a full length piece by King, but have seen fils based on his work, ‘Misery’ and ‘Stand by Me.’ Also read short pieces by him. Good writer indeed. Dianne

  9. That’s films, not fils of course.

  10. I found another King quote that is appropriate to your website and writing:
    Fiction is the truth wrapped in a lie.

  11. Impybat

    Love Stephen King! I started reading “Pet Semetary” as a kid while babysitting my nephew, and that was the book that kicked it off. “Carrie” is my all-time favorite book that I go back to re-read every so often. I received “Misery” for Christmas in high school and tore through it in two days during school break. Likewise “Four Past Midnight”–The Langoliers, SHUDDER. “Night Shift” I re-read until the pages fell out. (Check out the story about the army men coming to life, it’s my favorite.) “The Stand” and “The Shining”, both epic. “Cujo” made me more terrified of rabies than I thought possible. I could go on for many more paragraphs describing what I like best about each novel. His work is bloody disgusting yet compelling with memorable characters. Great post, Eagle-Eyed!


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