A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
If I could have a writing masterclass from any author, then I would pick Stephen King.
That may seem an odd choice, since Stephen King writes horror and I write science fiction, but a lot of the important things in writing aren’t genre dependent. Whether an author writes romance or space opera or thrillers, they are using the same tools of words and grammar to build up a plot and characters.
The fact is that all authors are following in a great tradition of storytelling that stretches back to before people had ebooks, before they had printed books, even before the invention of the written word. I always picture storytelling starting with a group of people sitting round a fire, listening to someone telling a gripping story about how he hunted down a mammoth.
I believe you can learn useful things from any author, whatever type of stories they write. For me, the most important thing is the way an author approaches their writing. Some use a plotting approach to writing, while others discover their story as they write it.
An author who follows the plotting approach will make detailed notes on each chapter and scene before they write a single word of the actual story. As a discovery author, I do the total opposite, because I picture my world, throw some characters into it, and see what happens. My approach isn’t always quite that haphazard. I sometimes start with glimpses of key points in the story, but even then those key points may end up happening in a different way than I expected, or may not happen at all.
A masterclass with a plotting author who works out all the details of their book in advance would be no help to me. I could never adjust to working that way. Part of my reason for writing a story is to find out what happens. If I already know every detail, every turn in the plot, and what happens at the end of the story, I lose all interest in writing it.
I know Stephen King discovers his stories in the same way as me, so I’d benefit from a masterclass from him. I know exactly how he writes, because I’ve read his book “On Writing” and found it fascinating. It begins with a section on what Stephen King describes as how one writer was formed.
It isn’t realistic to read about one writer’s journey and expect to copy it. Every writer has different strengths and weaknesses, and life throws different events at everyone, so you can never mimic anyone else. There’s an important lesson in how Stephen King was formed as a writer though. At fourteen, Stephen King already had a stack of rejection slips. He put in a huge amount of work before he achieved the success of “Carrie”.
Stephen King’s book isn’t just a biography. There are useful discussions of the timidity of the passive voice, and the danger of adverbs taking over your writing like dandelions taking over a lawn. There are some great examples of how removing the dead wood from your story can strengthen it. Stephen King even talks about how the true theme of your book may not be totally clear to you until the first draft or even the second is complete.
It’s nearly two decades since Stephen King wrote “On Writing”. The bit about finding agents has inevitably dated a little, since the business side of publishing has changed hugely in the last few years, but the process of writing a book, making your story as good as you can, remains much the same.
If I could have a writing masterclass from any author of my choice, then I’d pick Stephen King, but in a sense I’ve already had that masterclass when I read his book “On Writing”. I recommend the book to anyone who is a writer, particularly if they are a writer who discovers their stories rather than plots them in advance. I recommend it to anyone with thoughts of becoming a writer. I recommend it to anyone who doesn’t expect to ever write a story themselves, but is curious about how books are written and writers are formed.
Just read it!
Janet Edwards is the author of the Earth Girl science fiction trilogy (Earth Girl, Earth Star, and Earth Flight), as well as Telepath, Reaper and Scavenger Alliance. Earth Girl was voted an American Library Association Teens’ Top Ten Title. Find out more about Janet and her books at www.janetedwards.com