To say that Stephen King is a good writer would be an understatement. With nearly 100 books selling over 350 million copies and stories transformed into television series and movies that have left an indelible mark on our pop culture, Stephen King is a capital “G” Great writer. I paid a visit to one of the Vancouver Writer’s Festival events called, “A Tribute to Stephen King,” and found myself in a room filled with people all with the same question: How? How exactly can a single man accomplish all of this? And more importantly, what has Stephen King taught us from his stories?
The night started with a healthy sprinkling of anecdotes by the panellists, with each recalling their first encounters with a King novel. For some, it was a dangerous affair: Amando L. Correa, an award-winning writer from Cuba, rememberers reading illegal copies of Carrie and The Shining which were read by hundreds of people before him. For most speakers, however, their experience was considerably easier, with the books presenting themselves in perfectly innocuous places: a grocery store, or from their mother’s bookshelf as a naive ten-year-old, thinking that the book with a dog on the cover would be a fun read (spoiler, Cujo is not Clifford).
Despite this, many were still victims of the gatekeepers’ prejudice–the same adults who told them to read as much as possible had ironically prevented them from doing just that. The panellists who had experienced resistance in some form while reading King in their youth agreed that had anyone succeeded in stopping them, that they might not have found their passion for reading. His stories teach us that a person should never tell anyone, no matter their age, what they can and cannot read.
The so-called “King” of chills and thrills is with no doubt, an exceptional storyteller. His characters are well developed and complex, with a next-door-neighbour type of realism. The ability that King has to take this mundane to freaky is what makes him stand out as a powerful writer. Incidentally, it is also the same reason why many of us become terrified of things we would never find ourselves scared of- like the nerdy high school girl, the suburban wife, or the lovable family dog. Additionally, his attention to the body and its grotesqueness in things such as blood, spit, sweat, and pus, are strangely enough what makes us come back for more. If Stephen King’s calibre of creepiness has taught us anything about good writing, it is that the devil is in the details: a good story depends on how it is delivered on the page.
To any person who has ever dreamt of becoming a novelist, or at least have taken an intro-to-creative-writing class, On Writing might sound like a familiar phrase. Despite having written dozens upon dozens of tales of doom and gloom, King’s memoir and advice book was by far the most read and talked about that night. The marriage of his own story of resilience and emphasis on developing a proper storytelling technique is what inspired many of the speakers to turn to writing as a profession. But perhaps the most valuable lesson King has to offer comes from his own life: while the most daunting thing is the blank page, there is something intrinsically wonderful and beautiful about facing it. Rejection, sadness, and misfortune- they are all a part of life, but it will never stop it. Stephen King reminds us not to be afraid of what scares us- and to try and try again.
There are very few people who we can say we will be reading a hundred years from now, let alone ten. Simultaneously, there are very few people in history who have achieved this capital “G” greatness: Shakespeare, Dickens, Tolstoy- and now, Steven King. His ability to speak of the whole human experience is what makes his stories loved as both a child and adult, and will continue to do so long after we have left this earth.