I am a big Stephen King fan – my favourite storyteller of all time. Another favoured writer is also a Stephen. The other Stephen is Stephen R. Donaldson of the Thomas Convenant The Unbeliever fantasy series. Style wise these two writers are light years apart. Yet both are able to create fictional characters that stick with you forever.
SRD runs a Gradual Interview feature on his site where he picks questions to respond to. Over the years that he has done this, SRD has shown a razor sharp dry wit and self deprecating humour. He has on occasion answered questions about his thoughts on the more famous King.
There are other references to King over at the SRD Gradual Interview but I found Donaldson’s observation of King’s writing skill in terms of description very insightful in this Q/A.
Question: Do you have any rules-of-thumb in your own writing, such as “Well I need to describe the scene, a room (say) in Revelstone, so I’ll force myself to describe it in x number of words/sentences, then move on to something juicy happening…”? Or do you work on a more intuitive level? I guess what I’m asking is, what advice do you have for a writer who is having trouble seeing the forest for the trees?
Answer: I think this is a huge challenge for any writer. Yes, writers move through the story far more slowly than readers do. Yes, this causes enormous problems of “translation” (accomodating the reader’s perspective within the writer’s): “pace” is only one of the difficulties. And yes, reading your own prose *as if* it had been written by someone else is both numbing and, ultimately, impossible. And no, there aren’t any “rules”. Each writer solves the problem(s) in his/her own way. (Try to imagine a Patricia McKillip novel “paced” like a Stephen King novel. But don’t give yourself an aneurysm. )
I think of my own approach as “trained intuition”: I do it “by feel”. Years and years of practice and study permit me to proceed *as if* by reflex. My only advice if you can’t “see the forest for the trees” is: look at a different forest; stare at different trees. Instead of obsessing about your own work, study someone else’s. Observe, for example, how Stephen King “slows down time” for the reader whenever he writes a Big Scene (which, incidentally, is one of the keys to his success): the faster and more urgently events move, the more words (details) he uses to describe them. The more you’re able to see in other people’s work, the better qualified you’ll be to make decisions about your own.
Here he reinforces the concept of King having his feet planted on the ground.
Question: You have several times spoken highly of Stephen King and his writing skills. Have you ever had the opportunity to meet the man?
Answer: Yes, I’ve had that pleasure several times. I don’t really “know” him, but he has always treated me with exceptional courtesy. And he gives off a good “vibe,” for whatever that (purely subjective) perception is worth.