Dear Mr. Stephen King, I Read You Differently Now

Whether you enjoy Stephen King’s books or not, his gift for storytelling is tough to deny. Over the years, I have devoured many of his novels, the most recent being Under the Dome in 2009.

But ever since publishing a book and diving into the writing craft—albeit still in the shallow end—I read books differently. I think all writers do.

Image credit: Microsoft Clip Art

Image credit: Microsoft Clip Art

So I decided to do something I rarely do: reread a novel.

The Shining now re-haunts my nightstand for three reasons:

  • To reacquaint myself with the Torrance family in anticipation of the novel’s sequel, Doctor Sleep, coming out in September.
  • To see if King’s writing shines as brilliantly to me today as it did in the past.
  • To see if his words still scare me. I’ve long maintained The Shining spooked me more than any other book. Ever. Ooh, so scary for Carrie.

But that was years ago. High school to be exact. Back when I wore sad clothes and ugly shoes. Then again, some things never change.

Yes, these are my shoes. I'm sorry.

Yes, these are my shoes. I’m sorry.

Here’s what I am discovering from rereading The Shining:

From a Writer’s Standpoint:

  • King spends pages and pages setting up the story and developing the characters, and although this is great for the reader, it’s a luxury new authors can’t afford. Try this as a newbie and watch your manuscript disappear in a pile of agent slush. Nowadays, it’s “get to the story quickly or else.”
  • He writes using an omniscient narrator, meaning King switches between Jack’s, Wendy’s, and Danny’s points-of-view within the same scene, and at times the narrator describes events the family can’t know. Others have called The Shining’s narration third-person limited, but if this were the case, each scene would come from a single character’s viewpoint, and the reader would not be privy to those details in which the character is unaware. Although an omniscient narrator is not my preference, it works in a story about a haunted hotel, where characters’ thoughts tumble together like clothes in a dryer.
  • In my opinion, King took liberties when narrating from Danny’s point-of-view (tiny spoiler alert ahead). Five year olds do not understand the sophisticated words and concepts that Danny does (meshing cogs, quell, lassitudinous—really?). But the child is gifted, not to mention telepathic, so that eases my criticism a bit. Use of the omniscient narrator further increases the plausibility. Well played, Mr. King, well played.
Image credit: Microsoft Clip Art

Image credit: Microsoft Clip Art

From a Reader’s Standpoint:

  • The good: King retains his power of sucking me in like a wet vac and tossing me into his world.
  • The bad: King no longer scares me.

In fact, books and movies in general no longer scare me. That sucks. I used to love the feeling of needing to look up to see if anyone was “there” while I flipped the pages or stared at the screen. Guess I’m too old and pragmatic now.

But at least Mr. Rubin is not:

Though a brave, strong, sensible man in real life, my husband is the family jumper in scary-movie land. On a good night, a small cry accompanies his fright-induced spasms.

But don’t worry; Mr. Rubin’s sense of self is much too strong to be dampened by this girly trait. In fact, not long ago, as we watched the opening scene of Paranormal Activity 3, Mr. Rubin repeatedly jerked his legs up and down.

“What are you doing?” I asked, perplexed and annoyed.

“Just warming up for the jumps to come,” he replied.

Ah. Smart man. No need to risk a torn hamstring…

Do you read like a writer? Do scary books and movies still work their magic on you? Are you a strong, confident wuss like my husband?

300 Responses to “Dear Mr. Stephen King, I Read You Differently Now”

  1. donofalltrades

    Under the Dome was a good read until the ending which I felt like he phoned in a little bit. Some of his stuff has been a bit goofy, but I still enjoy his story telling. Have you read any Dean Koontz? A couple of his books have been really good in my humble opinion. What was the name of the King book that basically involved a fat bastard attorney getting some with his wife in the woods before having a heart attack and dying while she was handcuffed to the bed? It’s been driving me nuts that I can’t remember now. It was pretty effed up, if I can say effed up on your blog.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      It was called ‘Gerald’s Game.’ I never read it, and I’m not sure if I will, but it does sound messed up. Might be too dark even for me. I have read some Dean Koontz. ‘Watchers’ was my favorite. ’77 Shadow Street’ was a stinker.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Like

      • donofalltrades

        Watchers was awesome! He has a series with a character called Odd Thomas that I really like as well. Worth reading since I know you have so much time.

        Gerald’s Game! Thank you! It was just awful. More gore than any real plot or suspense. Geez, even Seneca Scourge was better. Lol!

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        • Carrie Rubin

          I’ve been meaning to read the Odd Thomas series. In fact, I just picked up Odd Apocalypse on vacation when I thought I’d need a paperback for the beach (since it’s not wise to bring an iPad in the sand…). I see it’s not the first in the series, though. Hope that doesn’t matter. But I haven’t started it yet, so there’s still time. So many books, not enough minutes…

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          • donofalltrades

            No, read them in order! For real, they’re very good! I’m glad things are going so well for you by the way! Keep it up and become really famous so I can tell people “yeah, I know her.” Lol.

            Like

            • Carrie Rubin

              Um, yeah, I’ll get right on that… (the famous part, that is.) As for the Odd Thomas tip, thank you! I’ll read them in order.

              Like

            • Carrie Rubin

              I don’t know, but I’m guessing not, although I did hear Amazon was thinking of selling used e-books. Haven’t really wrapped my head around that one yet. But no worries, I’ll head to the library. Thanks anyway!

              Like

  2. 4amWriter

    I have never read King’s fiction, only his book “On Writing.” I’m curious to know if his more recent stories are written the way he’s always done it, or if he’s updated his style and gets quickly to the story? Back when The Shining was published, writers weren’t pressured to get to the action by page 5. So, is he pressured today, or not because he is Stephen King?

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    • Carrie Rubin

      Good question. I haven’t read his latest yet, “11/22/63”, so I guess I’ll find out then. But “Under the Dome” was only a few years ago, and that one had lots of characters that took a good number of pages to introduce. But being vested in the characters is what makes the reading process so enjoyable. Hard to care about the plot if you don’t care about the people in it.

      Like

  3. iamtheinvisiblehand

    Hi
    Good to know there are more SK nuts out there…seriously, the heat he gets because his writing is mainstream you’d think he was EL James…

    I’ve been a serious King fan for +20 years now and he rarely disappoints (read “11/22/63” yet?) and even though he doesn’t scare me as much these days, the truth is I’m a full-blown coward and I always pick up his books with a little bit of fear and make sure something else is on (tv or radio) while I am reading.

    But more than the fact that Mr. King is the master of thrillers, what I truly admire about him is his uncanny insight on what makes human beings tick. His characters’ feelings, thoughts, and actions are so well thought and seem so logical you’d think these people actually exist. I mean, take Thad from “The Dark Half”: not only was he afraid of his dark half, he secretely admired him because he was so many things he’d like to be – he was confident, skilled, fearless- all things Thad wasn’t. How about the people from the town in “Needful Things”? They were all consistent with their actions throughout the entire book, meaning that King felt no need to cut corners in order to make them fall into the story: the story was carved right around them all.

    About the movies made based on his books, I must say that Frank Darabont adapts them beautifully and truly captures the essence of them. kubrick did a good job, as well as whoever directed “Stand by Me”.

    Sorry this reply was sooooo long, I get carried away when the subject is Stephen King.

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    • Carrie Rubin

      I share your passion. I haven’t really read his fantasy novels–I prefer the horror novels. But I feel that calling them horror novels does them a disservice, because they are so much more. As you say, his character development is top notch, and to do that well takes time, which is one of the reasons why his novels tend to be longer. So hard for newbie authors to get away with that. I haven’t read “11/22/63″ yet, but I’d like to. I have it on the ever-growing list. 🙂

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    • Carrie Rubin

      It is. And you’re right, the internal editor tends to critique shows and movies on the screen, too. Maybe that’s why I never get scared anymore. I’m too busy analyzing…

      Thanks for commenting!

      Like

  4. August McLaughlin

    Great stuff here. I read very differently nowadays. When a book turns off my “writer brain,” I know I’ve found a goodie.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      It’s a treat to turn off that inner writer, but even in a great book, I find it takes me longer to read, because I’m stopping to admire a passage or consider an author’s technique. Speaking of books, I have two I need to finish for a book club, and then I hope to start on yours. I’m looking forward to it.

      Thanks for the blog share on Twitter, by the way. I appreciate it!

      Like

  5. Brian B. King (BKnovelist)

    Yes I read like a writer now. I enjoy reading like a writer too. I get a lot more out of movies and novels, and not just entertainment.

    Nope movies and books don’t scare me anymore. I really don’t appreciate many of the scary movies, but if I think it will have a good story line, I’ll watch it or read it.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Sometimes I enjoy reading like a writer, but sometimes I just want to shut that part of my brain off and get lost in the story. With a good book, I usually can, but even then I’ll stop to marvel at a passage or dissect the writer’s technique. But I learn from the process, so I guess that’s always a good thing.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Like

  6. Maddie Cochere

    So, you’re saying now that I’m older, some of these books might not scare me like they used to? Hmm… I’ll have to test that theory. Best part of this post for me? Mr. Rubin warming his legs up for the jumps to come. Hahaha!

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  7. Lori D

    Hey Carrie, I just got to reading this blog post, and you’ve got my mind going with thoughts on the subject. I think you hit the nail on the head as to why I haven’t been enjoying reading as much lately. I think I’m reading more like a writer these days. I find flaws that I know just wouldn’t fly if I wrote them. Sigh.

    Having said that, when I first started writing to be published, my writer’s group jumped on me about pov. It seemed like everything I read back in the day had omniscient pov’s, and that’s how I started out writing. They told me that it’s not acceptable in modern published works to get in the minds of all characters at any time. That’s how I remembered most of the books I used to read. I had to learn how tone down all the characters that wanted their say, and keep it to two for the WIP I’ve been working on.

    Another woman in my writer’s group just could not grasp the more modern concept of pov. She would jump from head to head of her characters, sometimes not even breaking paragraphs for a different pov. I then learned how confusing it was by reading her head hopping, and I quickly fixed my own.

    I’m thinking that only a very seasoned, highly adept writer like King can pull off the multi-pov writing.

    Thanks for bearing with my long comment. It was interesting to read your writer’s vs reader’s pov on The Shining.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Glad you enjoyed it and I appreciate the comment!

      I’m not a fan of head-hopping, but you’re right, this was often done in older novels. King didn’t do it in every chapter, and I had to wonder if he actually just made some POV errors (forgot whose head he was in). But I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt and say he used an omniscient narrator, because, well, you know, he’s Stephen King…

      My first novel was all written from one character’s POV. My current WIP is written from three POV characters, but I switch chapter to chapter and at the beginning of the chapter, I mention whose chapter it is. It seems several thrillers do this, so I’m hoping it won’t be confusing or jarring.

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      • Lori D

        That’s exactly what I’m doing with my WIP. Except, I have two characters and I alternate each chapter with the two woman. It’s interesting to learn other people’s processes.

        Like

  8. Andrea

    Good observations, and I feel the same way. Books and movies were still *real* to me until my 30s, but finally the time came when I’d look back at a scary movie or book that I avoided as a child and they make me laugh. You know what’s helped me most? The fact that movie magic now makes things SO much more plausible and real than they looked 20 years ago. I see a scary movie and think wow the pictures grainy or how funny that they didn’t have the simple special effects of more recent years. It separates me from the idea that its real and suddenly it’s not scary.

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    • Carrie Rubin

      Some of the older scary movies just seem so hokie now. I think the scariest films are those that leave a lot to the imagination like the Paranormal Activity movies. But even then I don’t really feel scared. Guess there are too many horrifying things in the real world…

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      • Andrea

        True… I have to admit though, I only made it through 60% of PA 1. Those movies freak me the heck out! My friend Sam got this cool phone app soon after watching that movie. You leave it on all night and if any noise happens it automatically records it. No. No thank you. I do NOT want to find out what happens or what I say/do at 2am. No. lol

        Like

  9. Lucas J. Draeger

    Great topic, Carrie. It’s impossible not to read like a writer, isn’t it? This is what I love about reading on electronic devices, because I can highlight phrases or passages or words that really thrill me, and I can always go back later and be thrilled again. I don’t ever actually go back, now that I think of it, but the highlighting equates to something of my own personal rating system. If a book I read gets lots of highlights, it’s a kick ass book.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      That is a great feature of the Kindle (or other e-reader). I mostly ‘mark up’ nonfiction books, but I have done some highlighting of the fiction ones as well. It’s also a great way to keep track of typos and errors. I always feel better when I find one in a big-name publisher book. 😉

      Like

  10. Kourtney Heintz

    I definitely read like a writer because I have the terminology to explain my gut reactions now. It used to be I like this book or I don’t. But now I can identify what isn’t working for me. It’s rare that I get so sucked into a book that I turn off the writer and let the reader come out and play. 🙂

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    • Carrie Rubin

      Yes, it’s a rare book where I can do that as well. Even when the book is top notch, I’m still pausing to think about how an author did something or rereading great sentences. I’ve noticed it takes me longer to finish books now as a result. 🙂

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  11. Cakes and Shakes...

    Yeah, he has the power to start off slow because you know that King brand is going to reel you in at some point and you aren’t going to want to put it down till it’s done or your exhausted eyeballs fall out of your head. This has given me the great idea to take a break from taking a break (from thesis writing) and crack one of his oldies, thanks!

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      I have to go back and find some of his that I missed. I went through many years of busy training where I rarely picked up a fiction book. There are some of his I never got to.

      Like

  12. Joanna Aislinn

    Okay, catching up as usual, Carrie. As usual, a great post!

    Interesting, I’m a re-reader of a ridiculous number of books that are favorites. I do better with newer ones, those that don’t spend time setting up the story–time has cut my patience for such expository matters.

    I can’t deal in head-hopping and have no real like of the omniscient POV. (I know it’s a viable one, but it’s just another form of head-hopping, far as I’m concerned.)

    Of course, none of this mattered before my eyes were opened via learning craft. I LOVED all novels Woodiwiss (but can’t read them any more). Guess Eloisa James is my new favorite when it comes to romance. And please don’t give me anything written in the 80s. (I won’t mention names.) That backstory-dumping exposition just makes me want to yawn.

    Have a great day! And yes, very smart of Mr. Rubin to warm up prior to a scary movie. (I just skip ’em. Give me action, drama or romance and I’m good.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carrie Rubin

      It’s funny because I used to soak up the books of some of the best-selling authors, and now when I peruse them, I can’t believe the amount of cheesy dialogue, cliches, and adverbs in them. But most of them tell a great story, and I suppose that’s how they get away with it.

      Isn’t it always easier to critique others’ work than our own? 😉

      Have a good one, Joanna!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Joanna Aislinn

        I think the reader masses aren’t trained to pick up things the way we do–among the reasons we soaked this stuff up, don’t you think?

        And yes, always easier to critique someone else but some things are so obviously not what we learned is ‘acceptable.’ Doesn’t seem fair but it is what it is.

        Socrates talked about a man needing opportunity, no matter how good the talent. He also alluded to opportunity w/o talent got a person further than one with talent alone. My modern day proof of that is Susan Doyle, of Britain’s Got Talent fame. Until she showed up there, no one had a clue she existed.

        Enjoy your weekend!

        Like

        • Carrie Rubin

          “opportunity w/o talent got a person further than one with talent alone”—frustrating but probably true. Sigh.

          A good weekend to you as well!

          Like

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