Stephen King has written 54 novels and 200 short stories (so far) that have sold over 350 million copies worldwide.
He’s obviously on to something.
In 2010, he even graciously published On Writing, his manifesto on the literary craft. It’s one heck of a how-to/biography book and I highly reccomend you get it immeditetly.
Until then, here are the secrets to writing just like the aptly named King of Horror.
How to Write Like Stephen King
1. Oust the Outline:
The King don’t need no stinking outline. While he has used outlines before for books like Cujo, mostly he avoids them. He prefers to explore the story as he writes (and edits) it. This gives him narrative freedom to roam, experiment and test out story lines.
Key Takeaway: Ditch the outline.
2. Writing “What If?”
So if Stevie doesn’t use outlines, what does he use? As it turns out, a question. He professes to ask “What if?” to get the story ball rolling. He asks, “What if pets came back to life?” and “What if giant alien spider clowns attacked a town?”
Key Takeaway: Ask “What if?” to develop Kingish story ideas.
When you have your idea, check it against the Napkin Test.
3. Sleep with Stephen King (not like that!)
Stephen King readily admist to getting many of his story ideas from dreams. He describes his “muse” as men working in the basement and writing as excavating ancient stories buried in his subconcious. Interestingly, many famous top performers across a wide range of fields have used similiar “sleep” stratgies to come up with groundbreaking ideas.
Key Takeaway: Trust your subconscious. Think about story ideas as you fall asleep at night. Your subconscious will work on them while you dream. Keep a notepad by your bed so that you can scribble down “dream ideas” right after you wake up – or you might forget them!
“Writing is self-hypnosis.” – Stephen King
4. Write to a Word Count:
The King of Horror commits to 3,000 Words per day. Everyday. Even on his birthday and national holidays. 3,000 or bust. This keeps his craft alive and developing, his works coming and his mind focused. They don’t call him the King for nothing.
Key Takeaway: Choose a word count that fits your writing speed and style. I tend to write slower, so I’m happy with 1,000 words a day. Bonus Tip: Try to choose a word count slightly above your “comfortable” zone. For me, that would be anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 words. For you, it might be 5,000 or (Lord help you) 10,000.
5. Rock It Out
What does Stephen King listen to while he writes? Rock music that’s what. There is nothing like men screaming at you unintelligibly to jumpstart your muse.
Learn to love rock music. Play it often and loud. Especially late at night. Experiment with different music genres and styles to see what – if any – music kickstarts your creativity. Also try silence. Silence is good.
6. Read Voraciously
As prolific as he is, Stephen King reads one book each and every week. He reads for enjoyment, not to study his craft, but he says that he is always picking up ideas, techniques and storytelling tricks anyway.
Key Takeaway: Read a book a week. Read widely and often. Read for the love of storytelling.
7. Keep it Simple Stephen (K.I.S.S)
How does he write? As he puts it, with “Simple words and fresh images.” Which, I might add, is a perfect example of the simplicity of his writing. He is a master because he keeps his sentences and words simple, understandable and straightforward. This is clarity and readers love him for it. Fresh images make his stories compelling to experience.
Key Takeaway: Err on the side of simplicity. Tell the story.
8. Walk Out Those Plot Problems
What does Stephen King do with pesky plot problems? You might imagine he stares them down with his penetrating gaze while laughing manically. Which is probably pretty darn accurate; however, what he confesses to do is to walk them out. He stops writing and starts walking, allowing his subconscious to unravel the plot problems.
Key Takeaway: When you get stuck mentally, move physically. Go do something – anything – differently.
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