Today I was catching up on blogs that I try to read regularly, and one of those is my friend Steven M. Moore’s blog. On February 14th, Steve wrote a blog entry titled “Experimentation.” In that entry Steve writes this:
” Writers should never stop experimenting. I don’t mean silliness like writing a crime story in reverse (Deaver) or a mystery where the ending comes first (Garcia Marquez). Or a horror story containing a monstrous clown who eats people (King)—OK, maybe that was fresh and new at the time, and played off on some people’s clown phobias. No, I just mean telling a story in a new way with new characters or old ones in new situations.”
I agree with everything Steve says, except where he characterizes Stephen King’s IT as a story about a clown who eats people. I thought it was about much more. It was about Bill Denbrough confronting his college English professor and saying that not every story has to have a deep or hidden agenda or meaning; that sometimes a story can just be a good story. I think that’s an important theme in King’s writing in general. He is a storyteller; he tells scary tales without worrying about deeper meanings all the time.
It was also about the interaction of a group of children who have to overcome their own fears and limitations and preprogrammed reactions to defeat this monster which first manifests as a clown (Pennywise) and later as something else entirely. It was about those same people, grown up and with all the baggage that being an adult brings with it, reuniting to once again fight the monster that, by adult standards, can’t exist. I don’t think King starts with the premise that he’s going to write a story about a clown eating people; rather, he starts with the idea that he’s going to write a story about this group of kids who fight something that adults can’t and won’t believe in.
His post made me think of what I was writing about. I’ve started with the “monster” in a bunch of my stories. It was a living cave in THE CAVE. It was a voyeur and serial rapist terrorizing guests without them really being aware of it (you’ll have to read it if you want to find out how that’s possible) in THE INN, and it was a hellish plane of existence that is powered by human suffering in RECIPROCAL EVIL.
But in all those stories, it’s the people I’m writing about that I’m really interested in. If I could just write about them without the scary stuff and the drama, I’d be happy, but what sort of story would that be?
Recently I’ve been writing four different stories. One started with the idea that the moon might be knocked out of its orbit and come crashing into the Earth. But what’s the terror in that? If it happened, the real interesting story is in how people react to that. Now being the writer that I am, it’s a real horror story, even featuring a werewolf. And bad people. The bad people are my standard go-to villains; the werewolf is a bit of a stretch for me, and that’s a good thing.
I’m also writing about the vampires I wrote about in The Striker Files. I finished one story, and am writing a second currently taking place in Paris, France. (Hope I can pull that one off.) Again, it’s about the people. I had to rewrite because I was forcing the people I was interested in into the story with no real reason for them being there. Now I’m on track, I hope.
The space opera I’m writing isn’t far enough along to know what it’s going to end up being about entirely beyond the grand idea, but the last thing is a post-apocalyptic thing where only children are left. It’s set in four separate midwestern locations, and it’s all about the people and how they react to this surprising tragedy that they really don’t understand and aren’t really equipped to cope with.
My point is that a good story is rarely about something as simple as a clown eating people (sorry, Steve, just using your blog quote to sort of drive my post, even though it really doesn’t have anything to do with your point in that post). It’s usually about the characters, and if you can’t see yourself in one or more of those characters, it probably fails.
PS. Go take a look at Steve’s blog. Not only is he an excellent novelist, he writes a very entertaining and informative blog filled with reviews and thoughts and other interesting information.