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Literature / On Writing

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On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is a memoir by Stephen King, with a collection of essays about writing and about his life. It explains how he became a writer, and his philosophy.

Tropes for this memoir include:

  • Addled Addict: King freely admits that he was not functional as an alcoholic or a cocaine addict. He started blacking out, throwing up whatever was in his belly, and spending the rest of the next day hungover. While his output was sometimes good, the quality wasn't.
  • The Alcoholic: King says that he became this after he got drunk for the first time as a seventeen-year-old. He didn't kick it until his wife and friends staged an intervention.
  • Didn't Think This Through:
    • Dave had one moment in childhood where he convinced "Steve" to work on a giant magnet that was made with a more powerful battery and a lamp cord. When King plugged it in, it ended up blowing the power out in their building and the one next door. Miraculously, the boys weren't caught.
    • King made a newspaper called The Village Vomit, satirizing all of the teachers and giving them embarrassing aliases, which he not only distributed at school, but put his real name on. One of the teachers who was a hardass found out and busted him. He had to serve detention and was denied an Honor Society position.
  • Driven to Suicide: One of the real-life girls who inspired Carrie did this when she married and had two children. She apparently went into the basement and shot a bullet into her abdomen. King suspects that her being bullied in high school had something to do with it.
  • Everyone Is Jesus in Purgatory: invokedKing promotes taking advantage of this in your own works; his message is, don't shoehorn in symbolism, instead look at your draft and polish up what naturally shows up as a recurring theme to make it really stand out. He uses the recurring motif of blood in Carrie as an example. In short: If you see not-actually-symbolism showing up prominently, encourage it to grow and make it actual symbolism.
  • Foreshadowing: Lampshaded when King was doing The Stand; he said he started taking long walks, and would explain later why that little habit got him into trouble. The C.V. reveals that when he was taking a long walk, a truck hit him, and nearly killed him.
  • The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: In his conversation with Bryan Smith, the man who almost killed him, King reflected he could have come out of one of his own novels.
  • Irony: King did consider going to Vietnam, but his mother persuaded him to go to college instead. It turned out that he was ineligible for the draft anyway because of his poor vision and punctured eardrums.
  • Know Your Vines: Once when King was a child, he had to use the bathroom while he and his brother were playing. Dave told him to wipe his ass with nearby leaves, which turned out to be poison ivy. The end result was he spent several weeks getting calamine lotion and bath treatments. This was referenced in Carrie where the same thing happens to her.
  • Rags to Riches: Steve and Tabby were taking shifts at the laundry and donut shop respectively; even though King got a teaching job, it was more work than for the salary he was paid. After he sold Carrie and received $200,000 in royalties, they were soon able to buy a proper house and take care of all their expenses.
  • A Rare Sentence: When discussing grammar, he reminds readers a sentence is just a subject and a verb, so "Plums deify!" is a complete sentence no matter how nonsensical it sounds.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure:
    • Principal Higgins was this when King got drunk for the first time. He saw the kid post-hangover and merely warned him not to catch the "bug" again, since he didn't want to ruin the class trip for everyone.
    • King's guidance counselor. He heard about the Village Vomit incident and knew that King was a budding writer. So he reached out to the local newspaper and found an editor wanting someone to cover school sports events. While King wasn't a sports fan, he said his mentor ended up teaching him important writing lessons, and he got paid five or six dollars a week for his time.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Deconstructed. One of the girls who inspired Carrie was mocked for wearing the same clothes every day for several years, even as they started to wear out beyond repair because for some reason her parents weren't into buying shirts and dresses. Then after Christmas break, she came back with a new outfit, shaved legs, and a permanent. King said she looked "resplendent," but the girls responded by bullying her further. In the end, it didn't matter since she also had to wear them for the rest of the year and no one wanted to be nice to her.
  • Spared by the Cut: in-universe, King was prepared to kill Paul Sheldon in Misery. Then he said Paul surprised him by serving as an Author Avatar and fighting for his life.
  • Wham Line: In real life, the words that changed King's career was learning that Carrie sold for $400,000 to the paperback publishers. King, at first in shocked, asked if it was $40,000. No, Steve, it was $400,000, with half of that going to you.
  • Worst Aid: The way that King describes his eardrums being lanced to drain fluid comes off as this. To him, it felt like he was being punished for being sick; he describes that a nurse lay him on a cot with an absorbent paper, the doctor prepared a long needle, and stuck it in his ear. With no anesthetic! King thought they were done after two trips, and during the third one he absolutely refused to behave because the doctor was a liar and incompetent in his view. Modern medicine recommends anesthetizing pediatric patients before installing ear tubes to drain the fluid, making "small incisions". His mother had the excuse that she didn't know any better but to listen to the doctor about her sick child because it turned out the real problem was tonsillitis and the doctor for that surgery was smart enough to sedate King first.
  • You Won't Feel a Thing!: King hates this trope in real life.
    • As a child, his mother took him to a specialist to treat his infected eardrums. He believed the doctor twice that the large needle going into each ear wouldn't hurt. The third time he was taken, a nurse and his mother had to hold him down.
    • After the truck accident, which led to King's lung collapsing, the paramedics had to reinflate it by inserting a tube. They reassured King he wouldn't feel anything. He braced himself, and indeed felt some pain.