Stephen King has written over 61 novels, with even more short stories published in collections. Still writing today with many of his stories being made into films and shows, King is one of the most renowned writers alive today. One such story-turned-film is The Body, originally published in 1982 in a collection of four short stories called Different Seasons. Rob Reiner directed the 1986 film Stand by Me, and the adaptation stays relatively true to the story. The Body, though, is a prime example of why Stephen King is as acclaimed as he is today: he writes about what he knows best.
I’m not saying that Stephen King had three friends that he searched for a dead body with along the railroad tracks as a kid, nor am I saying that King has encountered the uncountable horrors he’s written up over the years. I’m not implying that King is a mass murderer or a twisted human being to have written all of the horror stories that he’s written. In The Body, though, the reader should be quick to note that the perspective character/narrator of the story is a writer, grown up and reminiscing on his life and sharing it with the world. This is no coincidence – in fact, King goes out of his way to write another short story within The Body called Stud City by the narrator, Gordie Lachance, just to emphasize that he is a writer and his brother’s death haunts him.
Stephen King, in fact, has written many protagonists as writers – other than Gordie Lachance in The Body, Bill Denbrough in IT, Jack Torrance in The Shining, Paul Sheldon in Misery, and a few other main characters have been professional writers. Sometimes it almost feels like Stephen King is being less creative than he could be by writing characters that are writers, but King writes what he knows. As a writer, one of the most genuine professions he can write of is writing. What makes a good story is not that it’s entertaining or thrilling or written with terrible details – it’s the truth. In fiction, while a story doesn’t need to be true, it needs to be real enough to believe for us to buy into the world an author is creating.
Perhaps I’m overgeneralizing to all writing, but certainly the key to writing good horror is the persuasive element to the audience or reader that what they’re reading is real enough to happen to them. That’s what creeps into a reader’s mind at night – and King uses the reality of writing that he knows to bind the fiction he’s writing to some sort of reality. He also does this, of course, through location: a good many of his stories take place in Maine, where he is most familiar with. While they are fictional towns, nobody can deny that Stephen King writes about what he knows best to create a compelling narrative that people will buy into, both emotionally and literally by buying his work.
Looking at Stephen King today, I’m encouraged by these strategies Stephen King uses as someone who wants to make a career out of their creative content. While King certainly dives into fantasy and unreal worlds and environments, at the heart of it all, he is writing his own story in different ways. As a writer, I find it is both the most impactful and simple, yet difficult, to tell my own story and experience rather than disconnect myself from my creative writing. Stephen King succeeds by both inspiring and scaring me with his writing, and he makes a decent paycheck while doing it.