I was trying to read Stephen King's Salem's Lot recently, and I think King is a bad writer.

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Gerald

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Sep 8, 2011
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Hope this won't be one of those cases where you bother to answer and the original poster never comes back.

But, anyway, I can see to a degree what you're saying. I believe I experienced it quite similar, when I read it first. Why was all that stuff about the other people in the town needed? In fairness though, the book is called Salem's Lot, it's the story of the entire town (and its downfall).
It's surprising it's his only book that has the name of the town as its title, because over and over he has created (fictional) towns (often based on real towns) as the centre of his books.
I think though, that is his interest. He is interested in communities, in social life, in the different people that live together in a place. I think that's also why he is so interested in politics and very vocal about it.

It's not in all his books that he goes into many separate characters. You might want to try those books first. But it's something he always comes back to. In Tommyknockers (granted, one of his weaker works) the middle part of the book leaves the main characters completely and only comes back to them in the last part of the book.

As for his writing. I think he can be all over the place. He can be bad, mediocre and very good, as already evidenced by your examples. I think his books might improve if he took more time with them, but he usually writes two long ones a year, so what you get is not exactly outstanding literature. But I think he's usually above average at least.
What attracts people about him is to do with the things he has to say, rather than the quality of the writing itself I think. He kind of deals with truths about life, death, love, all the great themes, and he does so within the boundaries of the fantastic genre. So you get a fantastic yarn, but also a little more to ponder about - there is a feeling of truth about it, despite it being fantastical. And he has the ability to make situations and characters really feel tangible, stronger than a movie almost, where you feel you really met the people and been to the places. He can also be a master of atmosphere, and quite a number of his books simply have a very interesting and intriguing premise.

I think his writing is also good (or at least above average), for a reason Mary Lambert, the director of Pet Sematary, mentions in her audiocommentary for that film. He makes everything a character. The house is a character, the road is a character, the truck is a character. I think that is good advice for any writer who wants to tell stories a lot of people want to read: make everything about the story interesting and give it equal importance, that will make the story as a whole come much more alive. King himself gives a good example in the introduction of The Stand, where he compares two ways to tell the same fairy tale.
 

Deviancy

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I want to hear from someone that actually likes King's writing, and this book. Do you feel my feelings are accurate? Should I keep reading? Will it get more interesting?
I'm a fan of the mans work but there are books of his that I'm not crazy about and one would be Salem's Lot but it is still worth finishing because it does get better as it goes on.
 

Gerald

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Sep 8, 2011
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I remember when I read it, my father who is an avid reader picked it up and read some. I don't think he finished it. I remember he said he found it repetitive. He's in general not a horrorfan though. It was funny, because he had a cigarette store later, which had a rack of books. And one of those was Salem's Lot - so he still remembered it, I think.

What I think what Lambert means by saying everything is a character, although she doesn't expand on it, is this: when you describe something in a book or story that's not a person, you can simply objectively describe what it looks like - which is what a lot of writers do, but is kind of boring.
But what good writers (certainly good storytellers) do is imbue inanimate objects with a soul, a personality, When you have a house or a tree, you should describe what makes that particular house or tree special, as you would with a human character. And I think even in real life, objects have kind of a character and a life of their own.
It can be anything from just one sentence, up til a couple of sentences, or more, depending how important you deem the particular object for the overall story. But it will take the story to a higher level.

I'm not talking about King's stories of course, where objects literally come alive, although even in those cases I think he gives those objects a personality.
 

GNTLGNT

The idiot is IN
Jun 15, 2007
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Stephen King used to be very poetic with his words. I loved some of the visual images in not only Sale's Lot but in the original Gunslinger. Alas he doesn't seem to put those kind of phrases in his books any more. Pet Sematary had some good lines a was well.
...it hasn't harmed the quality of the finished product.....
 

Gerald

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Sep 8, 2011
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Has King ever commented (in an interview or otherwise) why he often feels the need to include so many side characters and side plots in his books? Most writers are happy to concentrate on a limited amount of characters throughout their books, but King's casts are always huge. Some of his more recent books even start off with a list of the many characters before the story's even begun.

I think Salem's Lot is the first book where he does this. It also served as an example for other writers like Peter Straub, who in a book like Ghost Story focused on many characters inside a town (Milburn, New York).
 

doowopgirl

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Didn't King describe it once as "Peyton Place with vampires"? I think that's why so much table-setting happens at the beginning. But personally I never noticed it detracting from the story, I felt it enriched the setting and raised the stakes, no pun intended.
Even on books I'm not particularly fond of I always liked the cast of characters. King's speciality as far as I'm concerned.
 

Gerald

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Sep 8, 2011
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Didn't King describe it once as "Peyton Place with vampires"? I think that's why so much table-setting happens at the beginning. But personally I never noticed it detracting from the story, I felt it enriched the setting and raised the stakes, no pun intended.
Does the idea to create a whole town rather than a few characters in many of his books come from tv rather than literary sources?

I don't feel it detracts from the main story, but it can slow it down. As the original poster said, you can get this feeling of wanting to go back to the main characters and experience the descriptions of the general life in town as interruptions. Setting is important, but it's far more than setting: entire chapters are devoted to it.
 

Doc Creed

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Nov 18, 2015
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Has King ever commented (in an interview or otherwise) why he often feels the need to include so many side characters and side plots in his books? Most writers are happy to concentrate on a limited amount of characters throughout their books, but King's casts are always huge. Some of his more recent books even start off with a list of the many characters before the story's even begun.

I think Salem's Lot is the first book where he does this. It also served as an example for other writers like Peter Straub, who in a book like Ghost Story focused on many characters inside a town (Milburn, New York).
I'm not sure, but I enjoy it. Charles Dickens and Jane Austen, to name a few, were fond of highlighting tertiary characters. 19th century Russian writers, too. In some ways King uses these characters as a Greek Chorus or just to be capricious. I think, for him, it comes down to delighting and entertaining his readers.
 

Gerald

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Sep 8, 2011
1,790
5,626
The Netherlands
I'm not sure, but I enjoy it. Charles Dickens and Jane Austen, to name a few, were fond of highlighting tertiary characters. 19th century Russian writers, too. In some ways King uses these characters as a Greek Chorus or just to be capricious. I think, for him, it comes down to delighting and entertaining his readers.
I think Dickens and Austen were typically writers that wanted to comment on the society they lived in, so it makes sense that there would be many characters. I'm not sure if that's why King does it, but it seems to be done to enrich the story, to make a more complete world for the main characters to live in. A detailed world consisting of many characters that have stories of their own. Some writers want to create a whole world, while others just focus on a smaller group of characters.
 

Steffen

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Aug 9, 2015
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The excerpts quoted by the OP are examples of a talented writer flexing his creative-muscles early in his career. I started reading King in 1984, just after I turned 12. The Dead Zone was my first book. At the time, I was lucky because the bookstores were stuffed with King's works. So I got hold of Carrie and then read all his works chronologically. I had the pleasure of seeing first hand how his writing skills evolved and were refined with every year.

My point: it is rare for any writer to "hit it out of the park" on his first published attempt, especially when compared to his/her later work. You're going to get clunky metaphors and composition here and there. I think it's part of the charm of said writer's work. But to dismiss that as bad writing? I think that's a tad much.
 

doowopgirl

very avid fan
Aug 7, 2009
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Hello everyone,

I'd read The Green Mile many years ago in middle school. So I decided to try Salem's Lot within the past week. I ended up reading the first 60-80 pages or so (I can't tell the exact amount, I'm on an ebook reader).
I found some parts genuinely interesting. Take this sentence for example: "It was a moment he remembered for years after, as though a special small slice had been cut from the cake of time." That's a great sentence. Efficient use of metaphor and great pop. The whole meeting between Ben Mears and Susan Norton in the beginning was interesting and good writing. And when he told her about coming into the house as a kid and finding the guy hanging, I could see how it was scary and good.
The problem is that right after that, King felt the need to do a panorama of random characters throughout the town. It was terribly boring. Instead of focusing on these two interesting characters, he killed it by bouncing from character to character for a while. I didn't care too much at all, I just wanted to get back to the Susan Norton/Ben Mears part of the story.
I think the shift in perspectives also reflected a real decline in writing quality in the book. For example, the section of the book with all these viewpoints begins with this sentence: "The town is not slow to wake — chores won't wait." Can you say cheesy?
As well, the whole scene where Straker meets with Larry to buy a house...I found that poorly written. Look at this quote:
"'I have been sent to buy a residence and a business establishment in your so-fair town,' the bald man said. He spoke with a flat, uninfected tonelessness that made Larry think of the recorded announcements you got when you dialed the weather."
"So-fair town" is not something anyone would say, except a cliched outsider. The whole idea of him being "flat" and "emotionless" kept re-appearing in the scene, and frankly it also came off as a cliche.
These aspects of the writing bothered me to the point where I don't know if it's worth it to keep reading the novel to get to the good parts with Ben/Susan. I feel like King can write really good dialogue sometimes. Again, everything good about the book so far for me came from the Ben/Susan interaction. I found the writing seriously declined and it felt like King just wanted to give a panorama of the town for no real reason. I guess it gave the town a little more 'life' beyond Susan and Ben (which it didn't need), but it seemed like just filler. Even the guy at the graveyard that found a dead cat hanging on his rail was a big yawn. So, my last page read was the end of the conversation between Straker and Larry.
Does anyone have any feedback/criticism/advice? I want to hear from someone that actually likes King's writing, and this book. Do you feel my feelings are accurate? Should I keep reading? Will it get more interesting?

Thank you!
Welcome. Salems Lot has never been a favorite of mine, BUT Strakers use of so fair town is perfect for him. It highlight the fact that he IS an outside that has no intention of fitting in. I love when SK goes into details of the town characters. They add flavor to the soup. Keep reading and make your mind up at the end.
 

Dana Jean

Moderator
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Apr 11, 2006
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Hello everyone,

I'd read The Green Mile many years ago in middle school. So I decided to try Salem's Lot within the past week. I ended up reading the first 60-80 pages or so (I can't tell the exact amount, I'm on an ebook reader).
I found some parts genuinely interesting. Take this sentence for example: "It was a moment he remembered for years after, as though a special small slice had been cut from the cake of time." That's a great sentence. Efficient use of metaphor and great pop. The whole meeting between Ben Mears and Susan Norton in the beginning was interesting and good writing. And when he told her about coming into the house as a kid and finding the guy hanging, I could see how it was scary and good.
The problem is that right after that, King felt the need to do a panorama of random characters throughout the town. It was terribly boring. Instead of focusing on these two interesting characters, he killed it by bouncing from character to character for a while. I didn't care too much at all, I just wanted to get back to the Susan Norton/Ben Mears part of the story.
I think the shift in perspectives also reflected a real decline in writing quality in the book. For example, the section of the book with all these viewpoints begins with this sentence: "The town is not slow to wake — chores won't wait." Can you say cheesy?
As well, the whole scene where Straker meets with Larry to buy a house...I found that poorly written. Look at this quote:
"'I have been sent to buy a residence and a business establishment in your so-fair town,' the bald man said. He spoke with a flat, uninfected tonelessness that made Larry think of the recorded announcements you got when you dialed the weather."
"So-fair town" is not something anyone would say, except a cliched outsider. The whole idea of him being "flat" and "emotionless" kept re-appearing in the scene, and frankly it also came off as a cliche.
These aspects of the writing bothered me to the point where I don't know if it's worth it to keep reading the novel to get to the good parts with Ben/Susan. I feel like King can write really good dialogue sometimes. Again, everything good about the book so far for me came from the Ben/Susan interaction. I found the writing seriously declined and it felt like King just wanted to give a panorama of the town for no real reason. I guess it gave the town a little more 'life' beyond Susan and Ben (which it didn't need), but it seemed like just filler. Even the guy at the graveyard that found a dead cat hanging on his rail was a big yawn. So, my last page read was the end of the conversation between Straker and Larry.
Does anyone have any feedback/criticism/advice? I want to hear from someone that actually likes King's writing, and this book. Do you feel my feelings are accurate? Should I keep reading? Will it get more interesting?

Thank you!
I think Stephen writes the most realistic dialogue I've ever read. Not everyone speaks King or Queen's English. People say the wrong words. They repeat themselves. They stutter. They are crude and rude. They are uneducated. They are not eloquent. And he shows that. He doesn't "fix" an uneducated person's sentence. He lets it speak for itself on who this person is. It speaks to character.

And all those characters are building a world. He cares about these people. He is attentive to the community. He wants us to see and know -- big scabby warts and all -- that this town and its occupants are like your town...or mine. Some authors do an information dump of characters and setting with no color, no heart. Can I get a big snooze fest of Nope on that?

Stephen just doesn't do that. He wants us to experience the story as well as be a voyeur safe in our little homes. So when we find common ground in a person or setting that he has so satisfyingly laid out, he has us.

"We have met the enemy, [or hero, nerd, coward, abuser, wife, husband, mother, father, teacher, cop etc...etc...etc..] and they are us."
 
Last edited:

GNTLGNT

The idiot is IN
Jun 15, 2007
85,425
342,308
57
Cambridge, Ohio
I think Stephen writes the most realistic dialogue I've ever read. Not everyone speaks King or Queen's English. People say the wrong words. They repeat themselves. They stutter. They are crude and rude. They are uneducated. They are not eloquent. And he shows that. He doesn't "fix" an uneducated person's sentence. He lets it speak for itself on who this person is. It speaks to character.

And all those characters are building a world. He cares about these people. He is attentive to the community. He wants us to see and know -- big scabby warts and all -- that this town and its occupants are like your town...or mine. Some authors do an information dump of characters and setting with no color, no heart. Can I get a big snooze fest of Nope on that?

Stephen just doesn't do that. He wants us to experience the story as well as be a voyeur safe in our little homes. So when we find common ground in a person or setting that he has so satisfyingly laid out, he has us.

"We have met the enemy, [or hero, nerd, coward, abuser, wife, husband, mother, father, teacher, cop etc...etc...etc..] and they are us."
....finest summation of his style that I've ever read......scab dripping warts and all.....
 
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