I’m Reading Stephen King’s ‘The Stand’ And I Have No Idea What It’s About

Yet, I should say. Grabbed you with that controversial headline, though, didn’t I? Hopefully some of King’s many fans rushed here to defend his work in my comments section. (Hi!)

But no–I’m talking about the rare and happy occurrence of starting to read, watch or otherwise consume a book, movie, TV show or other art with absolutely no idea of what the story is about. Because how often does that happen these days?

I’ve heard of The Stand, obviously. I know some people think it’s King’s best book, and that others insist it’s overwrought, overblown, and in need of a good editor. I know that my mum started watching the TV adaptation some years back and gave up a few episodes in.

And that’s all I knew when I saw a copy on the shelf of the second-hand bookstore two blocks away from the new apartment in Washington, D.C. into which Mrs. Dan and I recently moved, priced at what seemed like a bargain $3.00. (The book, not the apartment. They run a little dearer than that.)

Stephen King for three dollars? And it’s a thick one,” thought I. Thumbed it open. “Small print, too. This’ll keep me going for a while.” Closed the book again, looked at the cover. ‘The Complete and Uncut Edition’, it says, and the brief foreword promised 150,000 words, or 500 pages, more story than the already lengthy version that was originally published.

No blurb on the back cover, no clue to the story. Just a black and white photo of an unsmiling King from twenty-odd years ago. And on the cover, a figure on horseback wielding a scythe.

Well, people are going to die in it, I can tell that much.” And I paid my money, and I took my new book home.

It doesn’t actually matter what The Stand is about, and I won’t risk robbing anyone of the same experience I’ve had by describing it. But it did make me think a little about what we’ve lost in this age of constant, immediate, instantaneous media. We’re flooded with trailers, reviews, articles and blogs, each movie studio or television network desperate to shove their product in front of our eyeballs, and a million other internet denizens waiting to pronounce it good, or bad, or simply broadcast that it exists.

God forbid if you haven’t seen the latest episode of Breaking Bad because you’re planning to watch it later. You’d better stay off the internet until you do. (And just to be on the safe side, don’t go to work either.)

We buy books and movies because we read reviews, and plot teasers, and friends tell us “Dude, you have to watch My New Favourite Show. It’s about this geography teacher from Arizona who has Alzheimer’s but becomes a Mafia don in New Jersey before faking his own death and joining the Baltimore police force. It’s fantastic. Netflix it. I’m on season eight.”

I loved The Avengers. And I’m already pretty damn excited about the sequel. So far all I know is it’s coming out in May 2015, and someone or something called Ultron is in it, but I’m sketchy enough on my Avengers canon that I don’t know what that is. But I guarantee that by late April 2015, I’ll know exactly who stars in the movie, who all the new characters are, what Ultron is, and will have seen four different trailers containing 90% of the best scenes from the film. Because I’m weak, and I won’t be able to help myself.

But wouldn’t it be nice, just once, to not have those teasers, those tasters, the constant little dribbles of information that leak out and draw us in? To go back to finding out about a film by seeing a poster for it on the side of a bus stop two weeks before it came out? Or discovering a great new TV show by flicking through channels one night and being gripped by a great scene? Or discovering a new book not by browsing a list of what customers who bought that item also bought, but by wandering into a second-hand bookshop that you didn’t even know was there and just picking one up off the shelf?

You can still do that last one, at least. And you should, I highly recommend it. Because, you see, The Stand is about–

Writing While-U-Wait

What to do when you can’t write, or edit, your WIP? Like now, when I’m waiting for feedback from my beta readers. (Or rather I will be when a new printer cartridge arrives in the mail, so I can print a copy, so my fiancée can read it. I bet Stephen King never has this problem. Anyway.)

You write the next thing, of course! I’ve had the high-level premise for the next book knocking around for a while now, and today I started putting some bones on it. I’ve now got a chapter-summary outline for the first half, and biographies for the four protagonists, which I think is a pretty good day’s work.

The second book is set in the same universe as the first, a few months later, with a slight overlap in characters – I’m not sure if this will be confusing when I start switching between projects. I hope not.

Another pitfall I’ll need to avoid is due to the setting – the story is primarily based on a harsh, desert world, with an advanced but still fiercely tribal culture. I’ve already had to throw a few possible plot points away because I realised I’d unconsciously ripped them wholesale from Dune.

Damn you, Frank Herbert. Using up all the good desert-based material. Oh well. I’ll manage!

Reading Now: The Dark Tower, Book VII

The Dark Tower, Book VII – Stephen King

(Look away now if you plan to read this at some point and want to avoid spoilers.)

Still here? Good.

I’m nearing the end of this, the last book of King’s epic fantasy saga – essentially one million-word novel, written over the course of seven books and twenty years. I’ll not go into great detail or summarise: there are a wealth of analyses of the series online already. But I did want to talk a little about the sheer audacity of one of the elements of the novel. Read more…