I’m trying something a little different with this post. Although I didn’t feel right reviewing IT by Stephen King, didn’t want to forget what I loved about it and how it motivated me to try out different techniques in my own writing.
So the purpose of this post is to reflect on great writing techniques used in this book in a practical way that will help me grow. Who knows, maybe you’ll find something here to inspire you too! I have a feeling this post will grow into a blog series, so keep an eye out.
As always, if you have any opinions on this book I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
You can pull off an exposition dump so long as you nail the voice
The historical exposition in IT is minimally disruptive to the plot because 1) we get a strong sense of the character delivering the information, and 2) the exposition unfolds as a story with a strong sense of time, place, and character.
Food for thought: can I give the responsibility of delivering exposition to a character who has a strong connection to the information? What special insight does their perspective offer?
Give a little away to prove why readers should invest their time
The structure of IT simultaneously leaves readers to wonder what will happen next and tells readers what to expect. The result is intense suspense. Like a peak during a mountain hike, the end is always in sights. However, I desperately wanted to know what lay between me and that end point. The little I did know made me trust that Stephen King had a carefully plotted masterplan.
Food for thought: can my plot structure or another character’s point of view give something away that will keep the reader in suspense?
Well-timed action scenes throughout the plot make a great payoff
While the overarching plot is engaging, the episodic structure with countless small tension buildups and climaxes kept me hooked. It’s a lot easier to plough through a 1,000 page tome when you know there are countless thrilling scenes dotted throughout to keep you on your toes.
Food for thought: are there slow beats throughout the plot that could be improved with action? If not, can I rearrange scenes to keep the pace and tension interesting throughout?
A memory can deepen the emotional impact of a scene
One of my favourite scenes in IT is when Bill has an emotional breakdown triggered by a memory of his murdered brother. Without the memory, the scene still would have made perfect sense as Bill’s breakdown was already clearly justified. However, refreshing Bill’s past trauma and reminding readers of his self-blaming thought cycle intensified the emotion of the scene.
Food for thought: is there emotion in the character’s past that I can draw upon to add to the intensity of their emotion in the present? Is this memory based on an event that occurs within the timeline of the story? If not, is the memory clearly and strongly linked to the events in the present?
Weather can help nail the vibe of a scene
Major events in IT are often linked to weather phenomena. Anything is possible in the realm of this supernatural story. However, the principle is true: describing things like the temperature and humidity, for instance, can add a whole new level of atmosphere (literally) to the reading experience.
A well-timed storm or heat wave can send shivers of excitement down my spine. It can also make scenes more memorable – one of my favourite scenes in IT is particularly vivid in my mind because it took place during a blizzard. The blizzard itself wasn’t vital to the plot – it was simply a cool time (literally… OK I’ll stop now) to set this particular scene, to achieve its greatest impact.
Food for thought: can I visualise the weather in every scene? It’s obviously not necessary to have the weather going nuts in every scene, but consider if mentioning it will add to the character’s experience. For example, a character’s discomfort, self-loathing, or anger may be more palpable on a hot day.
“Nothing” scenes can be some of the best scenes
I lie. There are no “nothing” scenes in IT. I’m referring to scenes where the character interactions don’t appear to drive the action or contribute to meaning. Maybe these scenes were a little break from the action and tension, but they are some of the scenes I remember best and with the most affection.
These seemingly unimportant character interactions paid off my emotional investment. It was like eating lollies between meals – I knew the real filling stuff was coming up, but I savoured these scenes all the more because. It also showed that Stephen King actually cared about the characters, and how readers feel towards them.
Food for thought: will showing the characters on their own turf and in their comfort zone let readers get to know and care for them more? Is what the reader would want in a perfect world something I can give, even if only to steal it back again?