Stephen King on Setting Your Monsters Loose

Writing is and always has been my passion, in all forms, whether blogging, poetry, or, my newest endeavor, novel-writing. Like any art, it takes practice and dedication to learning about the craft from those who have come before you.

In learning, I like to teach, so each week I will take a piece of advice from the greats, both living and dead, famous and not, and apply their lessons to my own work and share my thoughts and progress with you.

This week I have chosen a quote from one of the greatest authors of our time, Stephen King.

3389Stephen Edwin King was born the second son of Donald and Nellie Ruth Pillsbury King. After his father left them when Stephen was two, he and his older brother, David, were raised by his mother.

Stephen attended the grammar school in Durham and Lisbon Falls High School, graduating in 1966. From his sophomore year at the University of Maine at Orono, he wrote a weekly column for the school newspaper, THE MAINE CAMPUS.

In the fall of 1971, Stephen began teaching English at Hampden Academy, the public high school in Hampden, Maine. Writing in the evenings and on the weekends, he continued to produce short stories and to work on novels.

In 1973, King’s first novel Carrie was accepted by publishing house, Doubleday. King had thrown an early draft of the novel into the trash after becoming discouraged with his progress writing about a teenage girl with psychic powers. His wife retrieved the manuscript and encouraged him to finish it. His advance for Carrie was $2,500; King’s paperback rights later earned $400,000.

King and his family moved to southern Maine because of his mother’s failing health. At this time, he began Salem’s Lot . Soon after Carrie’s release in 1974, King’s mother died of uterine cancer. His Aunt Emrine had read the novel to her before she died.

After his mother’s death, King and his family moved to Boulder, Colorado, where King wrote The Shining. The family returned to western Maine in 1975, where King completed his fourth novel, The Stand.

In all King has published 54 novels, including seven under the pen name Richard Bachman, and six non-fiction books. He has written nearly 200 short stories, most of which have been collected in book collections. Many of his stories are set in his home state of Maine. His books have sold more than 350 million copies, many of which have been adapted into feature films, miniseries, television shows, and comic books.

“I try to create sympathy for my characters, then turn the monsters loose.”

— Stephen King

Monsters are everywhere. We know they can be found in horror movies and macabre art, but did you know you can see them in the news, and I’d bet money there are a few you have encountered in your own past. I know I have. Writing for me has been a way of discovering who the monsters are and learning how to defeat them.

In the real world, the monsters are hard to spot, and they often live inside people who look a lot like good guys too. In the real world, they can be nearly impossible to fight, you may not even know how, and you may be fighting alone. In the real world, monsters hurt you, they win, they get away with it, and they hurt you again. In the real world, the monsters live inside of you too.

In writing, we get to make it easy, we get to win. We get to give the monster all the worst parts of ourselves, and we get to defeat them in all the gruesome and bloody ways we’ve fantasized about. In writing, we get to be the monsters we know we are, and we still get to call ourselves the hero too.

It sounds easy, but it isn’t. I’m used to non-fiction, which may seem messier but at least it’s easy to write. Fiction is more organized but the surprise is I don’t know how to function in a world that isn’t as as convuluted as the one I’ve grown up in, even when it’s a world I’ve created.

Learning to write villains is going to take time, but they don’t really mean much if my characters don’t make you feel bad for them now do they? Characters have to be relatable for that to happen I suppose. We have to see a little of ourselves in them.

I’ve always wanted my characters to be the same kinds of characters I have always related to, female, queer, and of color. I’d love for her to be empathetic, afraid, and lonely. I want her to feel like there is nowhere she fits in but I want her to have an incredible capacity for love. Now that I am trying to do it though, I am worried these kinds of characters cannot elicit sympathy from most people. I am also wondering if I care.

I worry I am going to write a book that is based too much on myself and all I have been through, but maybe that is what I need to do. It feels right, or does it feel easy? I don’t want to create a hero only I can feel sorry for and I don’t want to create a character I’m afraid to sic the monsters on.

It’s hard to figure out what parts of myself to put into the story and what parts of myself to leave out. It’s hard to figure out how much of this is for me and how much should be for other people. It’s hard to know if what you feel for your characters, monsters, and story is what other people will feel too. It’s damned hard to figure out how to make them feel the way you do.

I have no answers for you today, only questions, frustration, and doubt about what this book is supposed to be.

I have no way to find the answer, except to get back to writing it.

***

So yeah, I have a newsletter :)

Featured image via tvlookplay

Biographical information via Wikipedia and Goodreads

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Lisa

Hello! My name is Lisa. I find the human condition fascinating and I often write stuff about that. I blog at zenandpi.com but you can also find me on Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram, and if you like what I do, consider signing up for my newsletter. Thanks :)

2 thoughts on “Stephen King on Setting Your Monsters Loose”

  1. Lisa, I love your analysis of the monsters and delicate line fiction must walk to be relatable. I’m hoping to explore writing fiction after I turn 40, and have faced my remaining fears. I think that your character could be relatable for sure. Maybe you just need to give her a flaw that’s one you don’t share to create distance. Maybe she’s more controlled and calculating where you are tender and unassuming? PS I can’t wait to read what you write.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I would feel sympathy for those characters, so only two of the first three qualities you mentioned apply to me as well. And if your first novel is secretly autobiographical, that’s fine. What you bring to the story and what readers take away from it is always a different, unique experience anyway. And if your first novel is secretly autobiographical, that’s fine. What you bring to the story and what readers take away from it is always a different, unique experience anyway. The important thing if you have a story to tell is to tell it.

    Like

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