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Writing Advice from the Bookshelf: Stephen King on Description

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Excerpt from On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

On Writing

Description is what makes the reader a sensory participant in the story. Good description is a learned skill, one of the prime reasons why you cannot succeed unless you read a lot and write a lot. It’s not just a question of how-to, you see; it’s also a question of how much to. Reading will help you answer how much, and only reams of writing will help you with the how. You can learn only by doing. . . .

For me, good description usually consists of a few well-chosen details that will stand for everything else. In most cases, these details will be the first ones that come to mind. Certainly they will do for a start. If you decide later on that you’d like to change, add, or delete, you can do so—it’s what rewrite was invented for. But I think you will find that, in most cases, your first visualized details will be the truest and best. You should remember (and your reading will prove it over and over again should you begin to doubt) that it’s as easy to overdescribe as to underdescribe. Probably easier.

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Work Cited:

King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. New York, NY: Pocket Books, 2000. 170–171, 172–173 Print.

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