Friday, May 16, 2014

4 Things Stephen King Novels REALLY Taught Me

I'm a fan of Stephen King. I'm not a die-hard fan who's read everything he's ever written but I do have a bookcase of his works that I reread once in a while. I've always loved horror and fantasy but his stories involve much more complicated concepts than just things going bump in the night.
So I started thinking about what I've really taken away from his novels and why I have always enjoyed them so much. WARNING! There may be spoilers for those who haven't read some Stephen King novels.

1. Some of the scariest monsters are human.

Vampires and sorcerers and all manner of scary creatures reside in the pages of Uncle Stevie's works but often the most horrifying events occur between members of our species. A good example is James "Big Jim" Rennie from Under The Dome. Here is a character who has no problem manipulating and even murdering people for his own gain. King does a phenomenal job creating these believable characters that we can relate to but also these believable characters that we loathe. Isn't this true in real life as well? 
In The Mist, we see what fear can do to normal, rational people: turn them into spineless sheep who will rally behind anyone who may have a solution, however immoral or insane it may be. This theme is used in many of his works including one of my favorite Castle Rock stories, Needful Things.
They may be just stories but I think they reflect how society reacts to stress and panic quite well.

2. Anyone can die.

I remember reading Cujo in high school and when I asked an adult I knew if they had read it, she made a disgusted face and said, "When I read the part about the boy dying, I threw it in the trash." I'm sure the horrified expression on my face was something to see. Throw a book in the TRASH! Because you didn't like the fact that the little boy died?
Let's face it, our favorite characters can't live forever. As much as I cheered for Peter at the end of The Eyes of The Dragon, I was upset but not put off by the death of Jake in The Dark Tower VII. And this poor kid died twice! It may be upsetting when one of your favorite characters dies but come on people, is it really a reason to discontinue reading a book or series that you were enjoying so much before the death?
I like that Stephen King isn't afraid to kill off a main character, even someone he's made you get quite attached to. People you love really die. Children get cancer everyday. Tomorrow I could be hit by a car. Death is a part of life. A painful part to be sure but a real one. 
And sunshine and rainbows everywhere all the time isn't what I consider a great, entertaining read.

3. Happy wrap-it-up endings are nice but that's not always the case.

Continuing with the theme that doom and gloom are more believable, our protagonist doesn't always get to ride off into the sunset at the end of a book. I like it when they do (hell doesn't everyone?) but it just can't happen every time. At the end of 'Salem's Lot, Ben and Mark survive the vampires and escape but both are mentally exhausted and nearly broken. They still have to go back and kill every person in the town and that is certainly nothing to look forward to.
If you continue on and read the real ending of The Dark Tower VII, you find that Roland has traveled all this way to find the dark tower and once he enters the last room, he is transported back to the very beginning of the first book only to begin the quest anew, with no memory of having done it before. Man, that sucks.
Things can't always end well and sometimes it doesn't really end at all. And I'm okay with that.

4. I want to be a fantasy writer.

One of the biggest influences for my interest in writing fantasy and science fiction is Stephen King and the magical worlds he has created. I'm drawn into these places and fall in love with these characters every time I read one of his books. And I buy them so I can visit these stories again and again. 

I want to be able to do that with my own stories. I want my readers to be unable to put it down, to thirst for the next chapter, to hunger for a sequel. I know I'll never be quite as talented as Mr. King, but I want my worlds to be known, if only for my own enjoyment.
I'm been a writer for some time now. I've had a couple works published but I still struggle to get a fantasy story in print. It can be daunting sometimes but I will continue to write and edit and rewrite because when you have a story inside you, it's something you can't contain. You have to let it out and you can only hope that others will love it the way you do. The way I love Uncle Stevie's works.