Danse Macabre by Stephen King

Just finished reading Danse Macabre by Stephen King, and thought it was very entertaining.  Maybe it wasn’t supposed to be so much entertaining as informative, but because it was, I learned quite a bit from it. 

I would absolutely love to be able to do something as grand as “unite the conscious and subconscious mind with one potent idea” as King states on page 6 of the book.  I’ve always loved to read horror novels and grew up watching scary movies on television, but I wasn’t able to put my finger on what made them tick for the wider audience that also enjoyed them.  I guess I’ve always been rather introspective on this matter, and I know why they appealed to me.  The ones I enjoyed the most were the ones that tapped into my own inner fears.  But even when I tried to write stories that were based on these fears of mine, I wasn’t able to tie them into the bogeys for other people.  Of course I understand that I’m not the only one who is afraid of the things I am—I certainly didn’t invent those nightmares.  But I think I was unable to tie them in to things that would work for the reader, and make them truly works of horror and not just journal entries to exorcise my own demons.  In my quest to becoming an effective creator of horror, I will work on that.

From reading Danse Macabre, I think the main thing that stood out to me is the idea the horror creator “is above all else an agent of the norm,” as King says on page 48.  That was rather profound to me, because after examination, I found it to be something I believe to be true.  In creating all these monsters and spreading nightmares around, horror creators do, to an extent, show that the world could be a much worse place than it ever really is.  The audience is able to peek into that horrible world created on the pages or the screen of the horror work and then leave it behind.

I was also glad to see King re-iterate a sentiment often tossed around in writing circles, based on the fact that a successful writer can’t have just talent, but must also hone the craft of writing and then position him or herself to be in the right place at the right time to progress their writing career (pages 85 and 86).  I agree that talent is no good if it isn’t evolved into something commercial and constantly practiced.  All writing circles I’ve been in have tales of writers who think they’re destined to write the next bestseller and who are indeed pretty talented.  But then the writer never spends any real time writing and instead enters contests over and over again with the same three chapters of the same, unwritten book.  This same writer may bad mouth every industry professional they have ever come into contact with to any and everyone who might listen, thus effectively ensuring they will never be in the right place and they will never have a right time, as they are operating from a position of negativity.  And writing classes or the reading of writing craft books—forget about it.  That writer doesn’t have time to do that, because in all his or her magnificence, there is no need for improvement.

And these are the writers about whom some people, especially outside the circle, are left wondering, “Why hasn’t his/her writing career taken off yet?”


About rjjoseph

I am a Texas based writer who must produce words to exorcise the voices that will never quiet until I give them their due.
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3 Responses to Danse Macabre by Stephen King

  1. Jared says:

    You know what, Rhonda JJ. You are a classic. Shine on you crazy diamond.

  2. Mike Arnzen says:

    “Talent is a dull knife” that must be honed! I love that metaphor in the book. What exactly does it mean, though, I wonder? What skills are we really sharpening and what are our methods? Does he say?

    • rjjoseph says:

      I think King tells us the skills we need to sharpen are those of honing talent through constant exercise and discipline (85) and being able to determine where the talent is leaning (91). His anecdote of dowsing with his uncle gave a clear analogy of this in how he had to be open to allowing the rod to lean when it found water instead of bending it where he wanted it to go. We, as writers, must be open to allowing whatever talent we have to have free reign to lead us wherever we need to be to do our best writing.

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