Stephen King is among the most talented authors to emerge in the last 40 years (and certainly one of the most popular). But in my mind, he is also the progenitor of the world’s crappiest synonym.
King was one of my favorite authors growing up. I have a theory that The Stand is the most influential genre book written in the last 30 years. Think about the boom in post-apocalyptic books that followed a dozen years later. A lot of those authors probably read The Stand in their formative years. I think the Walking Dead has more in common with The Stand than with Night of the Living Dead.
I have another theory that Stephen King’s voice is the closest any author comes to ‘speaking’ in the way that most people think. In his 2001 treatise on writing, called…wait for it… ‘On Writing,’ King describes his craft as a type of telepathy, and I think that sums up his writing style perfectly. If you try to write in a style that is as relatable and ‘unobstructed’ as possible—and if you often intersperse 1st-person inner dialog into 3rd-person POV narrative—then I think you’re writing in Stephen King’s style.
Take a look at this suggestion from ‘On Writing,’ in which King illustrates the point that a writer should never let a fancy (or stiff) vocabulary come between the writer and the reader:
“…never say ‘John stopped long enough to perform an act of excretion’ when you mean ‘John stopped long enough to take a sh_t.’ If you believe that ‘take a sh_t’ would be considered offensive or inappropriate by your audience, feel free to say ‘John stopped long enough to move his bowels (or perhaps ‘John stopped long enough to push.’)”
Ew. Excuse me a moment while I try to ‘push’ that quote out of my head.
Ah. I can’t do it. Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ is one of the best writing-advice books out there, and I gathered many great insights from it. But this particular passage, King mixing tautology with scatology, has always stuck with me. In some ways, it’s embedded a more enduring, disturbing image in my head than anything I’ve read in Pet Sematary, Carrie, or It. I guess, to me, ‘push’ is one of those words (like ‘moist’) that apparently has an inherit ickiness to it.
Perhaps Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick, the writer-creators of The Venture Brothers also read ‘On Writing.’ In their episode “What Color is Your Cleansuit,’ they wrote this scene involving the series’ primary antagonist, and his ‘anti-villain’ girlfriend.
The Monarch: Excellent! Then we drop in our mutant henchmen, as if taking an evil, mighty push!
Dr. Mrs. The Monarch: That is so foul! Can you say “movement” instead of “push”?
The Monarch: Okay, movement. I don’t even know why I said push. It’s really gross when you think about it. Push…
I guess the ultimate lesson would be, there’s no good way to chronicle the ‘act of excretion.’ Maybe writers should just avoid the subject altogether.