Welcome to my adventures and experiments in creativity. Where writing is like running: sometimes I know where I'm going, and sometimes I see where the mood takes me.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Because, Yeah, I Could Do A Better Job Myself

A presumptuous note about Stephen King

Many authors can finish a novel within 500-600 pages, often less. Some stories need more than that though, which is fine. At 933 pages long, Needful Things is certainly a fine example of current bookbinding techniques, but it is not unusual in the Stephen King canon. The Stand, for example, is one of his finest works and every bit the modern epic. While that story spans the entire United States of America, Needful Things is rather more localised, so far focussing on the single town of Castle Rock in Maine, and the titular shop gracing its high street.

“So far” because I’m only just over half way through it and, honestly, struggling a little. It’s good, certainly, but also the very definition of a ‘slow-burner’ because it only properly grabbed me between pages 300 and 400(!). The intriguing and creepy central premise kept me going, but it’s hard to believe other people wouldn’t have given up well before the chapter that sees two women and a dog lose their lives.

The setting is crucial, for a group of people travelling across a continent are bound to encounter new people here and there (in The Stand, the majority of the population is wiped out by a virus). When you set your story in a small town, and spend a LONG TIME describing the arthritic troubles of one of the main characters, it feels like the picture has been painted. The main thrust of this argument, then, is the fact that at 450 pages in, your favourite author and mine chooses to introduce a new character.

450 pages! For pity’s sake!

Some writers see wars start and end, or tear entire galaxies asunder, in less paper than that. Here, for nearly the entire first half of Needful Things, Ace Merrill doesn’t get a mention. Not even a namedrop at page 75 to foreshadow his later appearance. Honestly. Anyone would think novelists just make it up as they go along sometimes.


  1. If you read George R.R. Martin you'd be even more exasperated - those are seriously long books.

    The Stand was a good book though!

  2. Hi Milo, I think I remember you linking to a piece about Martin's fictional universe, and how many of his fans get restless with the long waits between books. A bit like King's own 'Dark Tower' series (which is both brilliant and finished!), but at least he largely sticks to self-contained stories!

  3. Ha! Classic King. Insomnia is another example, as is Under The Dome.

    It is NEARLY always worth the wait; Dreamcatcher was probably my least favourite, and when you look back at Carrie and The Shining - shorter books that you seriously consider trying to read in one sitting simply so that you don't have to put them down - sometimes you have to wonder why?

    Your title says it all. We could have another difference of opinion regarding From A Buick 8 though... ...