Another Story, Another King


POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

Another Story, Another King

By Nandy Ekle

I am truly a voracious reader. Not the fastest on earth, but definitely in the top when it comes to reading any and everything. And I remember nearly everything I’ve ever read. As a kid in school, of course I read the assigned readings (or at least scanned them). I ordered as many books as Mom would pay for from the scholastic reading order forms. I read biographies and ghost stories, fact books and mysteries, Little House on the Prairie, Encyclopedia Brown, Zilpha Keatley Snyder stories, and A Wrinkle in Time. In high school I read Harlequin romances and Braum Stoker’s Dracula… everything I could get my hands on.

So deciding which book to review for this blog is a heavy task. I’ve thought of all things Poe, a book I truly love by Diane Setterfield titled The Thirteenth Tale, all the Stephanie Plum books, all things Harry Potter (another absolutely brilliant story). And I’ve thought about the fantasy phase I went through which included Mary Stewart’s Merlin Series, and The Forever King by Molly Cochran and Warren Murphy, and Stardust by the extremely brilliant Neil Gaiman.

But I have to confess that I keep coming back around to Stephen King. And since I’ve already rambled on about The Shining (I’ll never stop rambling about The Shining), I’m going to talk about my second favorite of his books, The Eyes of the Dragon.

Now, while I don’t believe this book is on the same level as The Shining, it is, as I’ve stated, my second favorite King book of all time. 

Reason number one: the story of why he wrote it. His explanation is that his daughter asked if horror was the only thing he knew how to write. Couldn’t he write something nice for a change? So he came up with The Eyes of the Dragon, an original fairy tale, which he dedicated to his daughter, Naomi. 

Reason number two: his style of writing in this book is so totally different from all other books he’s ever written. When reading it, the narrator is actually telling the story to the reader, interjecting his own emotions at certain points. He does this very effectively, enhancing the story to the nth degree and adds to the atmosphere of the story amazingly. When you read the book, the writing style is actually reminiscent of JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit.

Reason number three: Well, without saying, the way the story circles back around is pure genius. 

Read The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King. You’ll be so glad you did.

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The People – Part 4


POSTCARDS FROM THE MUSE

The People – Part 4

By Nandy Ekle

This week, let’s spend some time in that mysterious realm of psychology.

I am not a psychologist, never took more than one or two classes college, but I am observant. And when I need to know something, I know how to find out. Plus, I have spent a lot of time since before graduating high school reading about different theories. And, as a confirmed introvert, I am a people watcher on the highest level. So take my views as you will.

There are a lot of theories that, in my opinion, are pure silliness. If you think long and hard about anything, you can turn it into a huge overpowering mountain. But there’s also a lot that, again, my opinion, are wrapped in truth. 

It helps to know what kind of personality your character has. Sometimes I don’t even realize the depth of my character’s soul until I am well into the story (being an avid “pantser”). But when you think about it, it follows that a person with a serious goal will make the decision to do whatever it takes to meet that goal. But we also know that every single personality type that has ever drawn breath has issues and hang-ups. And this is a great place to draw conflict from. 

Back to The Shining (if I ever taught a writing class, that book would definitely be the text book for my class). Jack’s surface goal is to keep his family afloat. Having lost a job because of his issues is the surface conflict. But it’s so important to him he is willing to take a menial job just to make sure his family is taken care of. Not only that, he puts up with being humiliated to even be in that position. Now, deep down there’s even more to it. He is humiliated with himself. He has not been able to keep his family afloat because of his own bad decisions, and he knows this. Which feeds his “demons.” 

But deeper down, it’s more than his family at stake. Because of the “demons”, he will forever fight (not trying to be a spoiler), but his actual goal is his own healing. And we all know that healing comes from pain. So he must go through ultimate pain to get to the healing. And this terrifies him. (READ THE BOOK)

Your homework, think about your character’s surface goal and what will he give up to attain it. What inner issues stand in his way? Is he covering up something deeper? Is there one last little shred of himself he is not willing to let go of to reach the pinnacle?

The People – Part 2


POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

The People – Part 2

By Nandy Ekle

Last week we talked about giving our characters layers. We talked about the surface layers. So, as promised, we will go deeper into character development. A little knowledge of psychology is helpful, but the main tool is to know people around you. And people watching is an excellent way to gather information.

For one of my short stories, My Sweet Prince (in the anthology One Murderous Week, available in print from any bookstore), my main character came to me after driving home from a weekend trip. I stopped at a convenience store for a cup of coffee and the store clerk was sitting on a stool behind the counter, chewing a wad of gum and reading a romance book. And suddenly I could see several layers behind her eyes. Here was this young woman working all night long in a store. She likes to read romance books, probably as an escape from a dull job pulling a boring shift. The gum smelled like bubble gum. Personally, I like to chew gum to help stay awake when I need to. But I also noticed a bruise on her arm. The bruise could have come from anywhere, and that was the whole point. I really knew nothing about this woman other than the little clues I could see in my fifteen minutes in the store.

So, back to Jack Torrence from The Shining. His surface layer was arrogance and anger. And Stephen King made the statement later that he didn’t like Jack’s arrogance. But really and truly, the arrogance was necessary because it hid a deep well of layers that would only work if there was a hard shell to cover them up. He has guilt, anger, shame, confusion, sadness, and self-loathing. And every single time I read the book, I stumble on a layer I had not seen before. The reason it all works so well is if arrogance is all there was, we would never be able to sympathize with Jack. However, if the story opened with all the deeper darker layers instead of the surface, Jack would not have been a believable character.

Next week we’ll talk about some of the psychology involved in creating a believable, likable character your readers will cheer/weep for.

Your homework, think about a situation you’ve been in recently where you meet a group of people for the first time, like a party. Think about one interesting person you met. List the clues you see to tell you something about this person. What is it about this person that stands out in your mind? How can this become one of your characters?

The People – Part 2


POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

The People – Part 2

By Nandy Ekle

If you’ve ever dealt with people—any amount of time at all, even just a moment—you know every single person in the world is made of many layers. Even newborn babies. I remember watching my babies, just a few hours old, sleeping and wondering what they were like. 

Your characters must have layers just like real people do. If they don’t, they won’t be believable. They won’t connect with your reader. Your reader will close the book and say, “Who cares.” So inventing a character takes careful work.

You have the outside layer, the surface. This is what the world in your book sees—not necessarily what the character looks like (unless your story is about overcoming a physical condition). This is the part of your character, your person, that starts the story.

The next layer is something that maybe is not so evident right away. 

Here’s an example. One of my favorite books is The Shining, and the layering is exactly why. When the story begins, we see a man in a job interview. The interviewer is talking away with Jack, explaining the job, and explaining that he knows about Jack’s past problems. The very first line of the book shows us Jack’s attitude toward his prospective employer—he’s arrogant. He’s angry that the problems of the past are drug out into the open when he thought he slayed them. And he’s angry that this prissy little man talks to him as if he is intellectually challenged. So immediately we empathize with Jack. We all know what these things feel like.

But we find out later, only a few pages into the story, that the anger and the arrogance are only shields he has built as defense mechanisms. His inner layers are far more complex and far darker than we have any idea about. 

And we can identify with that as well.

Next week we’ll talk about the deep stuff. 

Homework: Describe in the comments below how your favorite character appears to his/her world. Then describe the first sign that reveals a deeper layer, and what that layer is.

The King


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The King

By Nandy Ekle

 

Anyone who knows me knows I love to read. And I’ve realized the older I get, the more analytical I get. I read everything. I’ve even read things—completely to the end—all the way to the end. One reason is that I’m not a quitter. I hate the thought of an unfinished book sitting around. I may take a break from a book, but I will always come back and finish it.

The other less neurotic reason is that I’m a firm believer there’s something to learn from every single book. Simply the fact that a publisher found a nugget worth latching on to means there’s something there. You may have to work harder to find it in some stories, and you may decide the whole lesson is more of what not to do, but there is something.Another thing people know about me is that I love a story with psychological layers. The more layers, the better. The more psychological the better. And throwing a few ghosts in is the superlative of a good story.

Another thing people know about me is that I love a story with psychological layers. The more layers, the better. The more psychological the better. And throwing a few ghosts in is the superlative of a good story.

And people who know me know that’s why I like Stephen King. And my favorite Stephen King story is, hands down, no questions asked, The Shining. Legend says Mr. King was still teaching high school when they waited out a freakish snow storm at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. According to the tour guides at the Hotel, they were closing up for the season when the Kings walked in while the blizzard was blowing through the mountains. They were handed the keys to the hotel and told to make themselves at home and lock up on their way out. They were not told about the reputation the Stanley Hotel has as one of the most haunted hotels in the nation. After waiting out the storm with the spirits, Mr. King feverishly wrote The Shining in one setting.

Of course, this is legend, relayed to tourists in a place that plays the movie over and over and over 24 hours a day on their very own Shining channel on every television in every room in the hotel. I know because I’ve been there, and I’ve been on their history and haunted tour and heard the story directly from the tour guide.

Whatever part of that story is true, Mr. King says the book was a turning point in his writing career. And I know just enough about psychology, ghost stories, and writing to understand exactly why he says that. In the Introduction which he added with the date February 8, 2001, Mr. King states he reached a point where he knew he had to make the decision to reach higher than he had done before. And he did. And the result is a story with so many layers, so many issues, such strong characters, that this novel is easily his masterpiece.

I am re-reading the book for the umpteenth time because this is my Halloween tradition. Read my blog next week for a specific review of this amazing masterpiece of writing.

Congratulations. You have just received a postcard from the muse.

 

The Constant Reader


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The Constant Reader

By Nandy Ekle

Anyone who reads Stephen King recognizes what a “constant reader” is. If you haven’t heard this phrase before, it’s the term of endearment Mr. King gives his fans, especially those of us who have been around since the 1970s, when Carrie came out, followed by Salem’s Lot, and then The Shining.

So what is it about his work that we crave? Some of his stories are unbelievable, some border on absolute silliness. But I find myself devouring even these as if they were coated with the fudge syrup I pour generously on my ice cream.

Well, I can tell you exactly why this genius’s words keep me glued to the page. And it’s exactly what I just said. He’s a genius with words. When a writer can make you gag with disgust after one sentence, that’s talent. If, after reading a page or two from a book, you find yourself hiding all the alphabet letters from the refrigerator, you’ve been immersed in greatness. If a hotel becomes a living character in a novel, and standing in the door of the hotel makes you feel like you’re shaking hands with a celebrity, that’s the work of a word genius.

My personal favorite Stephen King book is The Shining. In my opinion, this book is a masterpiece. I’ve read it more times than I can count, and I find a new layer every time I open the cover. The last time I read it I noticed something I had never noticed before. The first three or four chapters are back story. However, he does not info dump on us, the readers. What he does is place us inside the characters’ heads. We see, hear, feel, taste, smell, everything they do. And it’s in this state we learn why the characters are the way they are. And it is so real that it took me 30 plus years to analyze it.

In some places during the reveal of this backstory, Mr. King writes continuously without the interruption of punctuation. I believe the absence of commas, periods, and even spaces between words gives the feeling of swirling, as going down a drain.

And that’s incredible.

So, hear’s to you, Mr. King from a consummate Constant Reader.

Congratulations. You have just received a post card from the muse.

Experiment


POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

 Experiment 

By Nandy Ekle

 

Voice. How do you have a voice in writing? Voice is an author’s uniqueness. This has to do with word choice and the direction you take your story. I might write with a very formal voice and my characters are very prim and proper, but you might write using more casual words and ideas and your characters more like every day people walking around at the mall.

Style is the way you tell your story. This can include punctuation, or the lack of it; where and why a writer breaks for a paragraph; or the length of chapters.

It’s no secret that I read a lot of Stephen King books/stories. I can read one page of a story and pretty much tell you if it’s something he wrote or not, even if it’s something of his I’ve never seen or heard about before. And that’s because of his voice and style. However, there are a few of his stories that have surprised me, and in a good way. In fact, one of the reasons I love certain King books over some of the others is because the voice and style is so different.

The Shining. I don’t know how many times I’ve said it, but I will continue saying it until I can’t say it anymore. This book is incredible because of the style (among a million other reasons). As a student of writing rules, I can point out where each rule has been broken. But each rule is broken for specific reasons, and it was absolutely done in absolutely the right place at absolutely the right time. There are places in that book where reading the words and the placement or absence of punctuation actually made me feel like I was caught in a whirlpool going down a drain. Amazing illusion!

The Eyes of the Dragon. The first time I read this book I had never heard of it. “Hhhmmm,” I said as I took it off the library shelf. At the time I was feasting on the fantasy genre, and that’s where this book fits. I was wonderfully surprised because      Mr. King uses a much different voice for this story. He actually sounds a little like          J. R. R. Tolkien in The Hobbit. I definitely suggest this book for anyone who wants to study voice and style.

Dolores Claiborne. Not so much a shift in voice form Mr. King, but a substantial shift in style. He wrote this story in the voice of a woman, and as a woman myself, I will tell you he did an amazing job of it. But as far as not sounding like Stephen King, well, he does. You see, Dolores is a woman who has a rough and hard demeanor. That’s actually what the story is about. Survival. The thing that makes the style so different is he did not break into chapters. The whole story is told in one long narrative. And, again, that was the right thing to do. There are times when stopping to change chapters is more distracting than anything else. The result is this book is a very fast read, in spite of the thickness of the book.

Okay. Now it’s our turn. A couple of exercises here. First, try to write part of your current work in progress in the voice of your favorite author, and the style they use the most. This will teach you to think like they do, which can be very helpful. Next, take a piece of your current WIP and use an opposite voice and completely different style. This will help you decide if you actually have the right thing in the right place at the right time.

Now, show off a little bit and post your experiment in the comments below.

Congratulations. You have just received a post card from the muse.