Stephen King On Screenwriting? Really? Hmm…

The King

By Lesley J. Vos

“Oh, no! Him. Again…”

If it was the first thought that came to your mind after reading the title, you should continue reading the article by all means.

More than that, it’s your matter of principle now.

Only the lazy wouldn’t write about King; the fact is, he is one of the most-mentioned writing specialists on the Internet. Just google something like “Stephen King writing advice”, and you’ll get dozens of search engine results, telling about the master, his writing tricks, his book On Writing, his tips on productivity, etc. One of those articles can be found here, at TVWriter, too.

But this one is not about Stephen King, a writer; it’s about Stephen King, a screenwriter.

Stephen King is one of the most productive modern writers: over his career, he has written more than fifty novels and two hundred short stories. Moreover, his screenwriting efforts include about twenty works, such as Storm of the Century, Cat’s Eye, Under the Dome, and others. He worked on the screenplay for Cell, adapted his novels Children of the Corn, The Shining (that was called one of the scariest movies in the 20th century), The Stand, and Pet Sematary, among others.

As far as you see, Mr. King has the right to give advice and share his thoughts on screenwriting without any scruples. The interesting fact is, he used to consider screenwriting the work for idiots and, as he said, he “saw many scripts that were written by idiots.”

Have you ever thought why so many books of Stephen King had been turned into movies?

He explains this phenomenon with the fact his creative sense was formed by visual imagery. And as we all know, everything in a movie is on the surface: screenwriters do their best to make audience understand and see what happens on the screen; and King’s novels and stories make us “watch” movies in our heads while reading, because the visual images he creates in stories are so detailed and bright, aren’t they?

By the way, maybe this is one of the reasons why Stephen King’s fans don’t like movies made after his books: a picture they had in heads while reading appears to be much brighter than one they had while watching a movie.

That’s what Stephen King says on screenwriting:

“I had been writing novels full-time for a year and a half, and I said to myself, ‘I want to learn how to write movies. I want to try, anyway.’ So I got a book about writing screenplays and I read it. It was bullshit. But at the end, it had a sample screenplay from The Twilight Zone that showed me what the form was. And that wasn’t bullshit. That was something real. So I took the Ray Bradbury book, Something Wicked This Way Comes and I wrote a screenplay. I learned what I was doing. It wasn’t for anybody except for me.”

As we all know, King often uses books for inspiration: he reads a lot, and the works of others help him develop plots of new stories. For example, in his interview with Goodreads, he mentioned three authors that helped him develop the plot of his most recent novel, Revival:

Arthur Machen;
H. P. Lovecraft;
Mary Shelley.

The reading list of Stephen King is quite long; it counts more than a hundred books, most of which can be found on his bookshelf.

Writing a script differs a bit: you can’t come up with a good script after watching several movies and learning the principles of dialogue creation. Most of us would become screenwriters then, right?

King concludes:

“For a long time, I felt that movies were a lesser medium because it is like skating on the surface of the narrative. Every now and then, a movie will be reduced to a voiceover and I go ‘No, no, no! You’ve clearly mistaken this medium for something it’s not.’ I came to realize that films have a language of their own and you have to learn that language. It isn’t enough to say ‘I’ve watched movies my entire life.’ You have to write a couple.”

To make a long story short,

Write without fear. Edit without mercy.


Lesley Vos is a writer and blogger at Bid4Papers. Lesley is honored to share her writing experience with others, contributing interesting content to different publications. Check her profile on Google+ to find more of her work.