Mentor Text: an excerpt from Fairy Tale by Stephen King
- Establishing voice
One of the things I rediscovered during the pandemic was my love of the writing of Stephen King.
The Kingcast podcast played a role in nudging me back his way. Listening to two fans and their guests analyze his work had me re-reading a lot, doing the homework for my podcast listening.
And I was all the way back in. Of the 97 books I’ve read thus far in 2022, 8 have been King, but I’ve also read a handful of his short stories in there as well. (Amazingly, though we often think of King in terms of the gigantic tomes, it can be his shorts that land best!)
Luckily for me, and unfortunately for my schedule, his newest book, Fairy Tale, dropped the first week of school. The reviews are right, it is King at the top of his craft. It’s only fitting that an author who’s work has been an obsession of late make an appearance in a mentor text column.
How we might use this text:
Establishing Voice- This excerpt is the opening of the book. It utilizes a trick that I realized I’ve seen King use a number of times, and I think it might be a good one for our writers to play with.
King’s narrators often seem downright conversational. It’s often like they’re talking o us from the page. Sometimes it becomes clear very quickly that they’re writers, putting things down for the record, and other times, we’re simply dealing with a first-person narrator.
But often, he has them struggling with where to start the story. Maybe it’s because I do some writing, or love hearing stories, but there’s something incredibly engaging in this. To “hear” the storyteller wondering aloud where to begin is such a humanizing thing. It’s that voice I hear inside my own head when I start a piece!
When King does it, we have an immediate impression of who this character is. With Charlie in Fairy Tale, we have a young man figuring out how to tell a story he thinks we’re not going to believe. I’ve seen King use this to establish his narrator as somewhat aggressive, or to make them unreliable. The peek inside the head of the character is one of the great hallmarks of King’s work, and using this tool, he’s able to lead with that from the very beginning of the story.
Introduction – I don’t know about yours, but a fair number of my writers actually sound a lot like Charlie as they begin their pieces. “I don’t know where to start…”
In running through the possibilities, King has Charlie give us a compelling introduction to his story. Like I said, his voice is established, and King has given us some very tiny peeks into the tale that’s about to be told. I immediately want to put my life on hold until I’ve finished this story. (It does another thing I’ll talk about in a second.)
Although this trick works nicely in a piece of fiction, I can see it working in a personal essay as well. “There are many elements of this issue I could talk about, such as… However, I think I need to start with…” So many of my developing writers do this kind of thing in their essays anyway. At least with this as a mentor text, they might do it more interestingly!
Foreshadowing – Forgive me if there’s a better word. This isn’t the best kind of foreshadowing, I know. Its not subtle or nuanced. It is blatant. “My first thought was with the shed, because that’s where my adventures really began…” Well, dammit. Now I have to keep reading until I get to the shed. And if he mentions the shed before the adventures begin? Then I’m still eagerly anticipating something.
This too is one of King’s “greatest hits.” He’ll drop a blatant mention of a forthcoming event that clearly has great significance, and you have no choice but to read until you see how it plays out. Everytime he does it, I grin, and get comfortable. I think our writers could have some fun with this, and it might encourage them to plan a story, as opposed to discovering it as they write.
This passage really captures a few of my favorite things King does in his work. With beginnings like this, it’s no wonder I can trace so many “lost weekends” to his work. He hooks you into a book that almost requires a weight training regimen to carry from comfy spot to comfy spot. And if we’re not looking for lessons from a master of the craft, what are we doing?
What are some things that, if you’re a Constant Reader, you’d like to show your writers? Do you have a favourite author that you’ve pulled some great tricks from? Who is it, and what tricks?
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