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Things I've Learned About Writing From Stephen King's new novel, FAIRY TALE

It's not hard to find book reviews, and I promise it's easy to find people who will be better at reviewing books than I am.

What I can offer you that's different is a writer's perspective on the books that I read.

Every now and then, I'll do a post like this, where I talk a little about a book I've recently read, and what I learned about writing from it. Reading is the best writing teacher that exists.

FAIRY TALE by Stephen King

The big takeaway I got from this book is that it's okay to go against prevailing "wisdom" about one's genre, if you're a good enough writer to pull it off.

King has written a long book here - more than 600 pages, meaning almost twice as long as the average horror/suspense novel - at a time when everything seems to be getting shorter and quicker in an effort to compete with the information overload on our smartphones.

Not only has King written a masterpiece of a long novel, he has also taken his time getting to the truly scary action he's known for. He's bucked convention and written a long, quiet, slow novel. At least at first.

The first third of this book turtles along, told in the first person from the point of view of Charlie Reade, an uninteresting teenager who is fascinating mostly because there's nothing fascinating about him at all. Charlie keeps our attention because he offhandedly mentions, in passing, some potentially terrifying things going on around him, things he's not all that worried about, but we are. As a reader, you see this naive guy walking into a weird world we're not sure he can handle or survive.

The suspense here doesn't come from action so much as waiting for the action to begin. The fear comes from being pretty sure this guy is going to screw up or, as King slowly reveals more of Charlie's hidden darkness, become a monster himself. King scatters enough subtle breadcrumbs around Charlie's obliviousness that we keep watching, but he whispers this rather than announces it.

Of course, King, being King, might have a little more wiggle room than most to just do whatever he wants, at this stage in his career. But I'm glad he did. It was refreshing and comforting to see a genre writer breaking almost all the rules of his genre, and still produce something exquisite.

The chances taken with FAIRY TALE reminded me of something Andy McGhee, my saxophone teacher at Berklee College of Music, used to tell me about jazz: If you play outside the cord changes before you master playing inside them, you'll only sound like a fool who doesn't know what she's doing. Only those who master convention first have the right to mess with it. You can't play out of the changes till you know how to play inside them.

King knows, and this long, slow-building tale is him winking at the world and saying, "Yes, I sure can."

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