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Posts Tagged ‘Stephen King’

In Stephen King’s short story The Body (on which the 1986 movie Stand By Me was based) the protagonist in the story is reminiscing a trip to New York he took after he sold his first novel. Toward the end of a grand three day tour of the city given by Keith, his editor, there is an awkward moment between the two men and King writes:

“[I wanted to tell Keith]: The only reason anyone writes stories is so they can understand the past and get ready for some future mortality; that’s why all the verbs in stories have -ed endings, Keith my good man, even the ones that sell millions of paperbacks. The only two useful art forms are religion and stories.

I was pretty drunk that night, as you may have guessed.

What I did tell him was: ‘I was thinking of something else, that’s all.’ The most important things are the hardest things to say.”

The Body is available as a stand alone book or part of the original collection of short stories called Different Seasons. In that book you’ll also find the story Rita Hayworth and the Shank Redemption, which became the movie The Shawshank Redemption. And the short story Apt Pulpil became the 1998 movie Apt Pupil.

P.S. If you’ve never seen Stand By Me put it on your list to watch this week. And for extra credit read the Stephen King short story then the script by Raynold Gideon and Bruce A. Evans. And then watch with Rob Reiner director’s commentary, and then the movie one more time. (The 25th anniversary Blu-Ray of the movie has a commentary by Reiner, Corey Feldman, and Wil Wheaton and I imagine that’s solid as well.) There’s a whole film school worthy class you could build around King’s short story becoming a modern day classic movie.

Scott W. Smith wrote the book Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

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It is basically Stephen King saw A Nightmare on Elm Street [1984] and did his ripoff of it. The [1988] book It is Stephen King’s ripoff of Nightmare on Elm Street. He just replaces Freddy Krueger with Pennywise. It’s just exactly like he sees Nightmare on Elm Street—Oh wow, that’s goes that’s a really neat idea. That’s really clever. That’s cool. Well, let me take that idea and do my version of it. Now, his version of it is going to be a 560 page novel. As opposed to a one-dimensional character, and at most two-dimensional characters, he’s going to have four-dimensional characters. And the whole history of everyone of them as far as the kids and the relationships with their parents, and their parent’s relationships, and the whole town will be a thing. He’s a terrific writer in that regard, so he fills it full with minutia, and he fills it with his good prose. And he fills it full of his good writing, which is what Wes Craven didn’t have. Take away all that cake frosting, and all the little frosting flowers that are put on it and all that—it’s basically a ripoff of A Nightmare on Elm Street.
—Oscar winning screenwriter Quentin Tarantino
Eli Roth’s History of Horror: Uncut podcast

P.S. Back in 2011, I wrote a string of posts on movie cloning. If I ever revisit that concept I’ll call it movie sampling instead. Here are a couple of links showing how and why some movies are similar to other movies:
Movie Cloning (Part 1)
Movie Cloning (Pirates)
Movie Cloning (Raiders)
Stealing for Screenwriters (According to Paul Schrader)
Originality is Just Undetected Plagiarism—Example A: ‘Pulp Fiction’


Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

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Last week, I dug up some CDs of novelist Stephen King’s reading of his book On Writing and came across this nugget:

“Plot is, I think, the good writer’s last resort and the dullard’s first choice. The story which results from it is apt to feel artificial and labored. I lean more heavily on intuition, and have been able to do that because my books tend to be based on situation rather than story . . . . 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 free. My job is not to  manipulate them to safety—those are jobs which require the noisy jackhammer of plot—but to watch what happens and then write it down. The situation comes first. The characters—always flat and unfeatured, to begin with—come next.”
Stephen King
On Writing, A Memory of Craft (2000 version), page 164

Related posts:
Stephen King on Theme
The job of the writer is . . .’  (Stephen King)
Descriptive Writing (Stephen King) 
Stephen King’s Doublewide Trailer 

Scott W. Smith 

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Stephen King on Theme

. . . I’m quite sure that I never thought much about theme before getting roadblocked on [writing] The Stand. I suppose I thought such things were for Better Minds and Bigger Thinkers. I’m not sure I would have gotten to it as soon as I did, had I not been desperate to save my story. I was astounded at how really useful ‘thematic thinking’ turned out to be.”
Stephen King
On Writing, pages 206-207

P.S. The one warning King states in his book is “[S]tarting with the questions and thematic concerns is a recipe for bad fiction. Good fiction always begins with story and progresses to theme.”  Just one more view on the concept of writing (or re-writing) with a theme in mind. One of the reasons I love touching on theme on this blog is because there are so many differing views on the subject. It ranges from writers who do start with theme, to writers who say theme is never a consideration when they’re writing.

BTW—Speaking of Stephen King, look what A Quiet Place screenwriters Scott Beck and Bryan Woods are working on now…

Screen Shot 2018-11-01 at 5.16.00 PM

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Screenwriters Bryan Woods & Scott Beck on Theme
Ryan Coogler on the Theme of ‘Black Panther’
David Mamet vs. Aaron Sorkin/Judd Apatow/Martin Scorsese on Theme
Writing from Theme 
More Thoughts on Theme
Michael Arndt on Theme
Diablo Cody on Theme
Scott Frank on Theme
Sidney Lumet on Theme

Scott W. Smith

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“The Woman in the Room remains on my short list of favorite film adaptions.”
Stephen King

If you’re a filmmaker just starting out, don’t compare yourself to Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption—or his most recent work in creating The Walking Dead—look at what King was doing in his early twenties when he made the short film The Woman in the Room (based on a Stephen King short story).

Scott W. Smith

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’77 was the year young filmmakers—college students, for the most part—started writing me about the stories I’d published (first in Night Shift, later in Skeleton Crew), wanting to make short films out of them. Over the objections of my accountant, who saw all sorts of legal problems, I established a policy which still holds today. I will grant any student filmmaker the right to make a movie out of any short story I have written (not the novels, that would be ridiculous), so long as the film rights are still mine to assign. I ask them to sign a paper approval, and that they send me a videotape of the finished work. For this one-time right I ask a dollar.”
Author Stephen King
Rita Hayworth and the Darabont Redemption
Introduction to The Shooting Script

Frank Darabont did the dollar deal with King when he was 20-years-old and made a short film out of The Woman in the Room. A few years later Darabont wrote King wanting the acquire the rights to King’s novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption.

I’m actually not sure if this was a dollar deal or not, but King gave him the rights because he liked what Darabont did with The Woman in the Room, but he also thought the odds of actually getting a old school prison break movie made was a longshot.

And the rest is Hollywood history.

I encourage you to read both Darabont’s shooting script for The Shawshank Redemption and King’s version found in the collection Mean Seasons.  One could teach a whole college semester class just on the Shawshank movie, screenplay, and novella. (And perhaps a second class on another story from Mean Seasons —The Body—which Rob Reiner turned into the movie Stand By Me.)

P.S. To inquire about King’s $1 rights and other questions, visit the Q&A section on his website.

Scott W. Smith

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“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. My job isn’t to to help them work their way free, or manipulate them to safety, but to watch what happens and then write it down. The situation comes first. The characters—always flat and unfettered, to begin with—come next. Once these things are fixed in my mind, I begin to narrate. I often have an idea what the outcome may be, but I have never demanded of a set of characters that they do things my way. On the contrary, I want then to do things their way. In some instances, the outcome is what I visualized. In most cases, however, it’s something I never expected.”
Stephen King
On Writing, pages 164-165

P.S. A good example of this is King thought the writer in his novel Misery  (played by James Caan in the movie version)  would be killed by the crazy pig lady. But the writer had a will to live.

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Screenwriting & Slavery to Freedom

Scott W. Smith

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“In my view, stories and novels consist of three parts: narration, which moves the story from point A to point B and finally to point Z; description, which creates a sensory reality for the reader; and dialogue, which brings the characters to life through their speech. 

“You may wonder where plot is in all this. The answer—my answer, anyway—is nowhere. I won’t try to convince you that I’ve never plotted any more than I’d try to convince you that I’ve never told a lie, but I do both as infrequently as possible. I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add all our reasonable precautions and careful planning; and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible. It’s best that I be as clear about this as I can—I want you to understand that my basic belief about the making of stories is that they pretty much make themselves. The job of the writer is to give them a place to grow (and transcribe them, of course).”
Stephen King
On Writing, page 163

Related posts:
Stephen King’s Doublewide Trailer “I wrote my first two novels, Carrie and Salem’s Lot in the laundry room of a doublewide trailer.”—Stephen King
Descriptive Writing (Stephen King) “Good description usually consists of a few well chosen details that will stand for everything else.”—Stephen King
Screenwriting Quote #33 (Stephen King)
Beatles, Cody, King & 10,000 Hours

Professor Stephen King

Scott W. Smith

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“I formed my notions of America in Yugoslavia by watching films. And most of the films were westerns so therefore when I landed [in the USA] I honestly expected—maybe if not John Wayne, a close friend of his to be there on a horse.”
Screenwriter Steve Tesich (The World According to Garp, American Flyers)

I don’t know how many screenwriters David Letterman has had on his show over the years but on that short list is Oscar winning screenwriter Steve Tesich (1942-1996).

Tesich was born in Yugoslavia but immigrated to the United States when he was 14. His family settled in East Chicago, Indiana (the Hoosier state) back in its heavy industrial days when soot filled the skies daily.

He did his undergraduate work at Indiana University, and according to Wikipedia he was actually an alternate rider for the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity team that rode in the Little 500 bike race that is featured in the movie Breaking Away, which was based on his screenplay.

And because I’m always interested in story origins, this is the beginning of the creative process that lead Tesich to his first produced film—an eight year journey from script to screen—and his only Oscar Award:

“I ran into a guy [in Bloomington] who was doing his Italian fantasy. I was riding a bike— I hear an Italian opera being sung behind me and I turn around and there’s this guy climbing a hill singing. He starts talking Italian to me, and being Yugoslavian and knowing how tough it is on foreigners I really have pity on the guy. For a week I try to tell him what America is like, what it’s like to be in Indiana and all this and I find out he’s from Indianapolis [Indiana]. He grew up there and this whole fantasy was just kind of a daydream.” 

Yes, inspiration and story ideas can be found in unusual places all over the world. Like Stephen King says, you have to be like a paleontologist looking for bone fragments in the ground.

Related Posts:
Where Do Ideas Come From? (A+B=C)
Where Are The Wild Men?
Stagecoach Revisited 2.0
‘Breaking Away’—Like a Rock
Screenwriting Quote #55 (Stephen King) “Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.”
The King of Cool’s Roots Steve McQueen was from Indiana. James Dean, too. (John Wayne, now he was from Iowa.)

Scott W. Smith

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Back on the first day of summer I wrote a post called Screenwriting Summer School and while most schools are in their Fall session now, it’s technically still summer. Heck, tomorrow it’ll be in the 90s here in Orlando so it’ll feel like summer long after the first day of Fall next Tuesday. So we’re still in summer school mode. Today’s class features Professor Stephen King.

While King has given talks before at various colleges and universities, I’m not sure if he’s technically ever taught a class at the college level. But Professor King just sounds right. Before his writing career took off, King did teach high school English in Maine. Here are a couple of quotes pulled from an interview he did with Jessica Lehey in The Atlantic article, How Stephen King Teaches Writing.

“It went best for me when I could communicate my own enthusiasm. I can remember teaching Dracula to [high school] sophomores and practically screaming, ‘Look at all the different voices in this book! Stoker’s a ventriloquist! I love that!’ I don’t have much use for teachers who ‘perform,’ like they’re onstage, but kids respond to enthusiasm. You can’t command a kid to have fun, but you can make the classroom a place that feels safe, where interesting things happen. I wanted every 50-minute class to feel like half an hour.”
Stephen King

 “Always ask the student writer, ‘What do you want to say?’ Every sentence that answers that question is part of the essay or story. Every sentence that does not needs to go. I don’t think it’s the words per se, it’s the sentences. I used to give them a choice, sometimes: either write 400 words on ‘My Mother is Horrible’ or ‘My Mother is Wonderful.’ Make every sentence about your choice. That means leaving your dad and your snotty little brother out of it.”
Stephen King

P.S. Wouldn’t it be nice if every 2 hour movie felt like it was 90 minutes?

Related Posts:
Stephen King’s Doublewide Trailer “I wrote my first two novels, Carrie and Salem’s Lot in the laundry room of a doublewide trailer.”—Stephen King
Descriptive Writing (Stephen King) ““Good description usually consists of a few well chosen details that will stand for everything else.”—Stephen King
Screenwriting Quote #33 (Stephen King)
Beatles, Cody, King & 10,000 Hours

Scott W. Smith

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