Is Stephen King A Bad Writer?

Stephen King has sold over 350 million books, and still publishes two new books each year. But a recent post on The Huffington Post has claimed that King can’t write, and the author uses King’s own words against him to prove his point.

Michael Conniff, an instructor and writer himself who admits to only selling 11 books in his career, explains that Stephen King’s broad-stroke descriptions are actually hurting his work, and Conniff argues that King’s call for “story above all else” fails when the great wordsmith fails to properly describe a scene.

Using an excerpt from King’s newest book, Mr. Mercedes, Conniff picks out the third paragraph in the book and dissects it like a grad student would a painting by an Old Master. The problem with Conniff’s assessment is that his argument is flawed from the beginning. The short passage in Mr. Mercedes reads as follows:

“When Augie reached the top of the wide, steep drive leading to the big auditorium, he saw a cluster of at least two dozen people already waiting outside the rank of doors, some standing, most sitting. Posts strung with yellow DO NOT CROSS tape had been set up, creating a complicated passage that doubled back on itself, mazelike.”

Conniff has issue with King’s descriptions in setting the scene, using wasted descriptors and not moving the story forward. Again, this is the third paragraph of 448-page novel.

In the bestseller On Writing, King explains that the story is more important that anything else, including descriptions. Readers want a good tale, and not pages and pages of description. Stephen King is a storyteller, through and through, but in 40 years of writing bestselling novels, the man has developed a sense of skill in wordcraft. Conniff seems to disregard this, calling King out for his stance on “story above all else.” Taken from the post, Conniff says:

In other words–and words are all we have as readers–Stephen King has decided that nothing should get in the way of the story. That means words become disposable, an inconvenience, and that throwaway lines are not always thrown away.

That’s just wrong.

Conniff isn’t the first person to call out Stephen King’s writing ability. In an article in Salon, Dwight Allen from the LA Review of Books asks why is Stephen King so beloved? Allen dissects Pet Sematary, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, Christine, and 11/22/63, four books published within different intervals of King’s literary catalog (well, Pet Sematary and Christine were published seven months apart in 1983, but the others are from different decades) and comes to the conclusion that King is overrated as a writer and as a storyteller. Allen argues that sales do not translate to excellent writing, and he goes on to question The New York Times, among others, for glowingly reviewing Stephen King’s body of work.

Even early in his career, King was dogged by critics who called him out for his genre-specific, “popular” literary stylings, even as he was selling millions of books annually. In the early 2000s, King–who was still recovering from being run over by a car in 1999, an accident that nearly killed him–said that he was afraid that he would never get the respect in literary circles he believed he had earned. This turned even more critics against him, again due to his astronomical sales, and not because he might have been right.

In 2003, King won the National Book Foundation’s award for distinguished contribution, and Boston.com writer and Yale professor, Harold Bloom, let the world know that giving King the award was wrong, arguing that Stephen King was “dumbing down” literature.

But even as critics have both loved and hated Stephen King’s work throughout his career, fans have voted with their wallets and King continues to sell millions of books annually, even as recently reported on The Inquisitr, King’s politics have taken a front seat in recent years. And as the debate on what is good writing and what is considered bad writing rages, especially in regards to Stephen King, sales–and the ability to attract millions of fans to each and every book–speaks more than the writing itself. If that was the only test, then Stephen King is one of the greatest writers of all time.

What do you say, “careful reader,” do you think Stephen King is a good writer?

[Image Courtesy of The Associated Press]