Friday, 8 February 2008

On Stephen King

Stephen King came up in conversation with my agent, Philippa Milnes-Smith (as I suspect he has come up in many agent/writer conversations over the years) in a discussion about scary novels and the difficulties thereof. I read Stephen King's On Writing last year (I am a bit of a sucker for books about writers and writing) and was surprised to find that he says he is not a big fan of plot.

It may seem bizarre for such an out and out storyteller to say, 'I won't try and convince you that I've never plotted any more than I'd try to convince you that I've never told a lie, but I do both as little as possible.' But is it? I do not think so.

His point is that he begins with a situation - a situation (or a predicament if you like) into which he drops a character or three. Then he writes and sees what happens. Now I think what Stephen King is calling a 'situation', many of us would call a plot, but I think that distinction is still a good one; the idea that a plot will develop rather than be imposed dogmatically at the beginning.

And I think King's view is just as true in the plot-driven world of children's fiction. I certainly know from my experience that books work better when I wind the characters up and let them go than when I move them about like chess pieces. I have made a box for them - King's 'situation' - but hopefully it is a big box and an interesting box and they are free to bump into each other in interesting ways. That way things just happen, and they are often more real and more compelling than that brilliant idea you have had in your head for months (or maybe that is just me). Besides, plot problems are relatively easy to solve. Come up with a dull character and it is like dragging a corpse around.

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