Building Tension

Someone asked me once what my “reading guilty pleasure” was.

I had to think about that. Did I feel guilty about any of the books I read? Well, not really. Do I ever feel guilty about spending my time reading? Nope.

So, I reframed the question. What was something I enjoy reading that others might not expect of me? The answer was automatic.

Stephen King.

I love reading books by Uncle Stevie (as he refers to himself in On Writing: a Memoir of the Craft). Yeah, he uses cuss words (including the big F-Bomb). Sure, there’s…ahem…scenes of intimate nature. Of course there are creepy, scary, terrifying baddies. But there’s also darn-tooting good storytelling in those 800-1500 some pages.

Also, reading his books in hardcover is a good arm toning workout.

standCurrently I’m reading The Stand. The edition I purchased with a gift card (Thanks, In-Laws!) happens to be un-cut. In other words, all the stuff that got edited out from the originally published book was put back in by good old Uncle Stevie and rereleased.

Here’s the thing about Stephen King; he writes forever-long books, but he has become a master of sustaining tension throughout. He gives just enough ka-pow to keep the reader going because he promises to give a bigger bang later followed by an even bigger bazinga later on.

King is the…well…king of building tension. He writes with restraint (in that respect, at least). He is a brilliant storyteller, regardless of what one thinks about his books.

Reading Uncle Stevie’s books – whether it be Hearts in Atlantis, The Green Mile, 11/22/63 (holy hannah, was that a good one), etc – I become better at building tension in my stories. Of sustaining it throughout the storyline so that the core is firm and not flabby.

Now that I think of it, reading his books is like an ab workout. Hm. Maybe I should use his books as a weight the next time I do crunches…

Do you read Stephen King books? If not, that’s cool. We can still be friends. What other authors/musicians/artists/scientists inspire your work?

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18 thoughts on “Building Tension

  1. Love Stephen King books! Have you read The Long Walk? I recommend it. The other author I buy his books the second they are released are Jonathan Kellerman. He, too, is GREAT at building the suspense. He writes psychological thrillers. (He does tend to go on a bit in descriptions of things). And, of course, I’m still waiting for October for another certain author’s books. πŸ™‚

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  2. I haven’t read Stephen King (yet) — maybe I will someday — but I know what you mean about tension. I’m blogging about an author today who’s good at building emotional tension — Sarah Waters, and her novel I’m tearing through is “The Paying Guests.” Contains mature themes, but so far an amazing story with rich emotional details and a surprising criminal plot twist.

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    • Rachel, if you’re not into scary stuff, King has plenty of that. His later stuff isn’t as creepy as his earlier. 11/22/63 is smart, smart, smart.

      I want to read Sarah Waters. I should add her to my list, huh?

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  3. Actually, Susie, YES, I DO read Stephen King from time to time, and it’s about time again! So I’ll snatch up a copy of 11/22/63 asap!! Every once in a while I’m just up for a good reading scare, and he’s usually the one to deliver! Sometimes they’re not scary at all, like Green Mile. Just well-crafted, like you said! πŸ™‚

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  4. I love Stephen King but some of his not as traditional stuff. Like the first book and I LOVED it was Lisey’s Story and then i read all the Tower books and they were so good and it was soooooo interesting to read a series and see his own life develop in them.

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  5. What amazes me about King is how real his characters can feel, particularly kids. The interactions that the friends had in It had me reminiscing strongly about my childhood – although thankfully there were no terrifying clowns in my neighborhood!

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  6. I started collecting Mr King’s work back in the late 70s when my sister brought home The Shining. At one point, I had everything he had published. Then I got rid of it all … because I found that I could not filter the foul language out of my head. He is the best writer I have ever read, period. But I cannot have his books in my house. Because I am drawn to them like an addict to a needle. His rhythm, his style, his folksiness, his masterful way of building up the suspense until it feels like the blood is going to burst from your eyeballs … and my brain starts injecting certain phrases into my stream of conversation, and my soul draws back in alarm as though burned with a welder’s torch.

    Not too long ago, I succumbed to temptation and borrowed 11/22/63 from the library. Because it addressed one of the seminal themes in my young imagination: what would happen if JFK had not died? The build-up was, indeed, well done. But overall, I was disappointed. Because I am a history fan, I was expecting more detail regarding the ramifications of VietNam, LBJ, RFK, the Mob connections, the sociological impacts of his failure to get any significant legistation approved during his first term. It felt cursory, as if to say, we can either have the great American tragedy, or *spoilers* we can have the universal tragedy, and there is no middle ground. Too simple, too black-or-white. I wanted more depth, more detail, more … something. But that would have required exploring and detailing a myriad of possible futures, one for every time Jake went back. And that would have resulted in tedious 10,000 page book (at least). And the story of Jake and Sadie would have been lost in the shuffle.

    I did enjoy the ride, though. Except that it took me a couple weeks to get those bad words out of my head. All the while terrified that they were going to come out of my mouth at the wrong time. In front of impressionable children.

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