Visions of Paradise

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Secret Windows

I am reading Stephen King’s Secret Windows, a collection of fiction and nonfiction, much of which is geared toward writers, similar to his memoir On Writing. I enjoyed that earlier book a lot and this book seems nearly as interesting. Stephen King’s nonfiction is always worthwhile reading, in spite of his somewhat strong opinions about storytelling apparently being the only worthy aspect of fiction.

I am not a particularly avid fan of King’s fiction, although it does have several good aspects to it. What bothers me is his shameless manipulation of emotions and the frequent, often dominant, horror/thriller aspect of it. I think he could be a fabulous science fiction or fantasy writer if he would abandon his horror tendencies and broaden his interests a bit.

I generally find the biggest weakness of horror or thriller fiction to be the fact that the payout is often exclusively emotional rather than cerebral. While I realize that sense-of-wonder is also an emotional response to a story, I rarely enjoy fiction in which sense-of-wonder is the only reward. For my taste, a complete story should combine several diverse aspects such as sense-of-wonder, good plotting, strong characterization, beautiful writing, a well-developed world, and a thoughtful theme. The more of those aspects that a writer aspires to, the greater the potential success of a story. And while a story can certainly be enjoyable by succeeding on only one or two of those levels, when a story succeeds on three or four of them, or rarely all six, then it is truly a masterpiece worth recommending to everybody I know.

As good as Stephen King is as a writer, he rarely aims higher than one or two of the above levels, at least in his fiction that I have read, and that automatically limits his fictional pleasures for me. Of course, I have not read much of his recent fiction, so I would be interested in any recommendations of King fiction–or indeed any horror fiction–which succeeds on more than one or two levels. If the stories seem sufficiently interesting, I might try reading a few of them.


  • I suppose you can try out his Dark Tower sequence though personally, haven't finished reading that lot yet. It has a number of points you mentioned.

    Likweise, how about his post-apocalyptic opus, The Stand?

    By Blogger banzai cat, At 1:58 AM  

  • I read several early King books, and while I enjoyed The Stand, I thought Different Seasons contained his best stuff. Ironically, there was no real horror in the latter book, which reinforced my opinion that King is too good a writer to spend all his time on horror and thrillers.

    By Blogger adamosf, At 4:03 PM  

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