As many of you know, writing is a challenging process that can yield an overflowing cup of reward on many levels, but only if it is done well. There are very few writers who are born with the skill to move you with a work of total fiction, but it’s not an unattainable skill. With the right tools and teachers (and most importantly, the right attitude) anyone can write a worthwhile book and maybe even sell more than ten copies of it. But let me warn you; as hard as you try to write the perfect mystery, rom-com or science fiction epic, as glowing as the reviews of your work will be, as many weeks as it can hang on to that coveted number-one spot in The New York Times . . . you, my friend, will never be as good as Stephen King.
Stephen King is the best storyteller ever. Not probably, is. Period. End of story.
And no, I don’t want to discuss it because it’s not even debatable. Do you want me to go over how many millions of books he’s sold over the course of nearly 40 years, and how many of those titles were made into immensely popular movies? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
As you probably have guessed, I’m particulary fond of his short stories, and have only started on his most recent collection, Just After Sunset. Last night I read a story called “Rest Stop” that thrilled me as Stephen’s tales often do. In it, an author named John Dykstra who writes action-thrillers under the name Rick Hardin, is driving home on the interstate when he stops at a rest stop for a bathroom break. Just as he’s stepping into the men’s room, he hears a woman being violently beaten by her jealous man. As the sounds of sobbing, swearing and hand-on-face become louder and more distressing, Dykstra, a decent, practical man, finds himself compelled to stop the savagery, but isn’t sure if he can. He only knows the longer he waits, the more likely the woman would be killed right there in front of him. Having dismissed more rational courses of action, he assumes the identity and personality of Hardin, his hard-boiled, adventure-loving psuedonym. That should give you enough of a taste to make you go out and buy the book so you can see how it ends.
At the end of the anthology, Stephen provides a “notes” section to give his perspective on each story and how they came to be. He says that “Rest Stop” is based on an actual incident that happened to him in 2003 while driving on the Florida Turnpike.
It was that note that sparked the epiphany that I’m writing about now.
When you need those meaty plot points, those character quirks, those colorful settings that your fiction requires, your first step is to go outside. Step out of your house and your comfort zone and experience life. Okay, seeking out danger may be a little dicey, but like Mr. King sometimes you just step into those situations and a good story drops right into your lap. And when these things happen, take note of what the room or the space was like, what the people looked like, what sounds and smells were in the air and so forth, and more importantly, how you felt . . . and even more importantly, how all of those things changed as the situation unfolded. Great stories, like life, are in a constant state of motion.
The point is, life should always be your first inspiration. With that idea as your guide, writer’s block should be as easy to cure as a headache. Speaking of which, mine’s gone, thank you.
DARRYL DAWSON is the author of The Crawlspace, released in October 2009. Fear of Writing was very proud to once have him as a student of the Fear of Writing Online Course, where he unleashed his style of horror on us in all the best ways. You can experience more of Darryl’s writing on his blog, Darryl’s Crawlspace. To find out what makes him tick as a writer, be sure to read Darryl’s bio.