“I want to suggest that to write to your best abilities, it be hooves you to construct your own toolbox and then build up enough muscle so you can carry it with you. Then, instead of looking at a hard job and getting discouraged, you will perhaps seize the correct tool and get immediately to work.” Stephen King, On Writing
I have a shelf full of writing guides and often pull one out for inspiration and practical advice to apply and share. One of my favorites is On Writing by Stephen King, a spirited, masterful storyteller and craftsman. I was reminded just how helpful this guide is, with it’s nuts-and-bolts, demystifying approach to improving craft, when a writing buddy referred my writing group to a section of the book called “Toolbox”
In it, our boy Stephen compares the writer’s kitbag of tools to the toolbox his Uncle Oren used for building and repair projects. It was sturdy, handmade, and had several levels for different tools. As writers, Stephen observed, we, too, need access to our own toolbox and the tools of our trade. He broke them down into several levels and then discussed each at length. Here’s the structure he came up with:
Level 1: The building blocks of a story: vocabulary and grammar – the nuts-and-bolts of our trade. Having a strong, wide-ranging vocabulary and a good grasp of grammar gives us a foundation for the stories we want to create.
Level 2: Our style – the unique way in which every writer comes at his subject. While this can be hard to define, Stephen used examples to illustrate differences in style and how they affect a reader’s sensibilities, and create atmosphere and intention. One aspect of style is the way we construct paragraphs to create urgency and drive a story forward.
Level 3: Story building – how we create a fictional world that has its own demands and rules – a world that engages readers and is immersive enough to keep them turning the pages of our novels or novellas or short stories. This is where all the elements of a tale come together, carefully constructed like a house.
So many writing guides take an abstract, almost otherworldly approach to craft that they can seem overwhelming and even discouraging. But Stephen’s workman-like approach to writing makes it accessible without making it seem mundane. There’s still a lot of mystery, in his mind, to the way a good story manages to capture our imaginations and emotions. Very refreshing!
So here’s the bottom line:
Writing is a craft.
To craft a story, you need tools.
Tools are available to us all.
With practice, you’ll gain skill.
On Writing is well worth taking a long, fruitful look at. Write on!