Analyzing Writing – Stephen King’s “The Gunslinger”

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Image Description: An image of the book cover for Stephen King’s The Gunslinger, the first book of The Dark Tower series.  The image shows a figure dressed like a cowboy wearing a wide-brimmed hat and a coat that goes down to his ankles, holding a gun, he’s looking down at a crow that is perching on a pile of bones.  This figure is standing in the middle of an orange red desert with a sandstorm beginning behind him.  On the bottom right, there is a keyhole.  In the far background, there is a tower standing alone.  At the top, the text reads, “#1 New York Times Bestseller Stephen King The Dark Tower 1 The Gunslinger.”  At the bottom, the text reads, “A Major Motion Picture Starring Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey.”

What is this and why am I doing this?

This is the first of a new series of posts that I will be doing throughout the summer.  I am looking at different books that I read for how they write the story, specifically focusing on what kind of sentences they use, how they describe characters’ appearances, and just anything that sticks out to me.  So, for this first post, I’m going to start with Stephen King’s The Gunslinger.

Results:

So, I got a two results out of this book and I want to go into detail on them because it helps me to make it much more solid in my mind.  King begins to set up his multiverse in this book, and he does it in a very unique way because of its simplicity.  Furthermore, he also writes action sequences in a very unique way.

Multiverse Strategy

So, the Gunslinger is a very interesting story.  I really liked it!  This is the perfect beginning to his magnum opus because it ties all of his other books together creating a King multiverse.  So, that is an interesting thing because he introduces a character named “the man in black” who becomes the antagonist (or was the antagonist) for Stephen King’s “The Stand.”

This strategy of connecting all of the books together is something that I have always wanted to do with my books, but I’m not completely sure how to do that.  With this book, he introduces a character who seems to be the main antagonist, but isn’t, who ends up being the antagonist of The Stand.  So, he doesn’t make it overt, he doesn’t go in The Stand or in this one, “Oh, and this is the same character!”

In my previous attempts at creating a multiverse, I failed at this miserably.  I made it too explicit, rather than seeding it in.  For example, I had characters in my second book visit to the place that my first book talked about and implied that what happened in the first book was caused by the visit.

All I have to do to make it better, if I mimicked King, is just have them visit it or talk about it and make it simple, not complex.

Because I am a nerd, I would like to give an analogy to the DC and Marvel Cinematic Universes.  Marvel took its time, slowly introducing the universe it was creating–and I’m guessing they will soon introduce the multiverse.  They kept it simple, one connection at a time, one link in the chain that is their universe.  First Iron Man…oh, hey the Avenger’s Initiative.  Then The Incredible Hulk with its end credits scene having Iron Man recruit Hulk.  Then Iron Man 2 with end credits scene introducing Thor.  Then Thor introducing the Tesseract, which is introduced in Captain America: The First Avenger, which ends in the scene that opens The Avengers.  All of these movies slowly introduce each other.  That is like King’s multiverse strategy.

But then, you have DC’s Cinematic Universe.  They make Man of Steel, no end credits, no implications that he’s going to join up with other DC heroes.  Then, suddenly, the next movie is Batman v Superman and it just doesn’t work because 1) the character’s aren’t fully fleshed out.  We know Superman, but we really don’t know this Batman.  This Batman is drastically different from all other Batman’s because he’s willing to kill people–Superman included.  Why is this?  We get a few scenes here and there in the movie, but not much.  This was my strategy with my second book.  I made it way too explicit.  I need to step back and just relax my multiverse by slowly introducing it.

Rat-a-tat-tat – Narrating Action

So, this was one of the things that I was most surprised by.  When I read text with either my eyes or my ears, I hear the rhythm of the sentences.  Simple sentences are a rat-a-tat-tat or a duh-duh-duh-duh-duh.  Complex and compound sentences are much more melodic.

King’s prose is quite melodic in this book.  He uses a rich variety of complex, compound, and simple sentences.  But what stuck out to me the most is during the action sequences (because remember, it’s about a gunslinger, so…guns).  In the action sequences, King switches from compound complex sentences to simple sentences.  The entire action sequence is simple sentences, with a few compound here and there.

Typically, I feel distracted when I read a bunch of simple sentences in a row.  However, in The Gunslinger, I found that simple sentences during the action sequences kept me completely enraptured with what was going on.  So, I tried to figure out why and I realized that the simple sentences almost sounded like quick-fire gunshots.  Duh-duh-duh-duh-duh.  First he did this, then he did that.

Think of simple sentences in action sequences like the constant shifting of camera perspective in an action or fight scene in a movie.  It’s like that.  It heightens the intensity, which is a very interesting thing that I hadn’t thought about before.

Conclusion

This was an awesome book with two things that I got from it.

  1. If you are going to do a multiverse of your stories, keep it simple in the beginning.  Introduce events or characters that you may write about in the future.
  2. Action sequences involving guns really work when they are written in tat-a-tat simple sentences.

I hope this was helpful, I know it was to me.  But let me know your thoughts on this book if you’ve read it.

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