There are many ways to approach writing a story: you can interview your characters first, plot the story before you start writing, or use Stephen King’s approach, which is to start with the situation.

How to Write Like Stephen King

I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible. —Stephen King

In On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, King suggests that stories are found objects and it is the writer’s job to “watch what happens and write it down.”

I want to put a group of characters (perhaps a pair; perhaps even just one) in some sort of predicament and then watch them try to work themselves free. —Stephen King

Discovering as You Write

Using King’s suggestion, I thought of a situation and a predicament and then wrote the story. The story wasn’t plotted beforehand; the characters’ personalities came out as I wrote the story. The characters were two women who were neighbors. The predicament is one of the women finds out her neighbor has been killing her cats.

I wasn’t sure where the story would go. I allowed it to develop as I wrote the story.

The story I ended up with wasn’t the one I thought I would write. I let the character lead the plot.

Sally sat on a stool in front of the workbench. She heard the hum of the furnace and the ticking of the clock. The room smelled of rat poison and dried blood. She stared at the hides tacked to the wall. They were covered in cobwebs.

They were cats. Her cats.

Characters Over Plot

Peter Meinke, an American poet and author, says, “In my stories, I usually begin with a character who interests me and let him or her take me where he wants to go.”

“The piano tuner was a huge man, crowding the doorway. I hadn’t known he was coming, but I got up from my desk to let him in; my wife was still out shopping.” —Peter Meinke, “The Piano Tuner,” winner of the 1986 Flannery O’Connor Award for short fiction

While you are writing your story you might get an idea of where the plot will go; however, Meinke suggests you let the plot go and follow the characters.

King asks “what if” questions and thinks of several situations which he turns into books.

What if vampires invaded a small New England village? (Salem’s Lot)

What if a young mother and her son become trapped in their stalled car by a rabid dog? (Cujo)

—Stephen King

Stephen King believes stories that are character driven are more interesting than plot driven stories. He doesn’t manipulate his characters by prewriting the plot; he watches what happens and then writes it down. King starts with a situation.

Start Writing

Do you plan your stories before you write them? Do you start with a character or a situation? Do you know where your story will end before you begin writing?

These are all valid ways to write stories. But today, perhaps you might try beginning with a situation and following a character who will lead you to the end.

Do you agree with Stephen King? Do you think starting with a situation and letting the characters tell their own story is better than writing a plot first? Let us know in the comments.

PRACTICE

Today we will use the same approach Stephen King uses to write a story. Your story doesn’t have to be horror; it can be fantasy, romance, thriller, adventure, cat cosy, or any gender you choose. Let’s “put a group of characters (perhaps a pair; perhaps even just one) in some sort of predicament and then watch them try to work themselves free.”

Today we will take a character and put them in a situation, and then write to see what the character or characters wants to do.

Here are a few situations you can use, or you can create your own:

What if you were on an airplane and you were sitting next to an escaped convict?
What if you found a dead body in the airport lounge?
What if your only weapon against the robber was the banana you dropped on the floor?

Write for fifteen minutes. When you’re done, share your practice in the comments, and don’t forget to leave feedback for your fellow writers!

Pamela Hodges
Pamela Hodges
Pamela writes stories about art and creativity to help you become the artist you were meant to be. She would love to meet you at ipaintiwrite.com.