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Literary Glance: It by Stephen King

June 16, 2017

Sometimes I read books from decades ago just to see if they’re as good as I remember them.  I’d like to do that with It by Stephen King, but I don’t remember reading it.  I had it in my house for a long time.  I remember looking at it.  I remember some friends talking about how great It was.  But I don’t remember reading It.

I remember enough about The Stand to know that I’ve read it.  I remember enough about The Shining to know that I’ve read it.  But It?  I don’t know.

I think It was the book that ruined clowns.  That’s too bad.  Before It, clowns were still kind of socially acceptable.  They were annoying, but there wasn’t quite the universal hatred for them.

Back then before It, everybody hated mimes instead of clowns.  Mimes were way worse than clowns.  Mimes wore the facial makeup with a weird expression, they got too close to you, they made invisible boxes around themselves and others, and they didn’t talk.  Where I grew up, if somebody looked at you funny, got too close, and didn’t talk, you punched them out.  I’m surprised more mimes didn’t get beat up.

I’d like to read It (maybe for a second time), but when I started, I got distracted by the first sentence:

The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years-if it ever did end- began, so far as I know or can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.

Is it my imagination, or did that sentence interrupt itself a lot?  By my count, it interrupted itself three times.  If I had written a sentence like that in school, it would have come back with teacher lines through it like this:

The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years-if it ever did end– began, so far as I know or can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.

The new sentence would read:

The terror began with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.

As much as I mock the strict rules my writing teachers enforced, I think they might have had a point.  If you read that first sentence out loud, it’s all over the place.  And some of the narrator’s uncertainty could have been included in the following sentences.

The terror began with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.  At least, as far as I can tell, it did.  And the terror would not end for another 28 (I was taught to use numerals for anything greater than 10/ten.) years, if it ever did end.

I think that’s a little easier to read, but who am I to criticize Stephen King’s writing?  He’s written almost as many books as James Patterson, and I only have a blog, so there’s not much of a comparison.

Or maybe Stephen King could get away with that sentence because he’s Stephen King.  Maybe Stephen King can write any sentence he wants, and the editor just approves it.  If I were Stephen King’s editor, I wouldn’t want to put a bunch of lines through his first sentence.  That would probably be a career killer.  I’d hate to explain that to my wife, that I got fired for putting a bunch of lines through the first sentence in Stephen King’s epic masterpiece.

It wouldn’t be worth it… or It.


What do you think?  Is the first sentence in It kind of rambling, or is it just me?  Are there any books that you’re not sure whether or not you’ve read?


I don’t remember reading It, but the two books below are so memorable that I remember writing them myself!

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  1. You should see the first sentence of Umberto Eco’s “A Cemetery in Prague”. It goes across half a page.

  2. I completely agree. I feel that book would’ve been much shorter if Stephen King just got straight to the point!

  3. Wow, I think Stephen is an amazing writer, but you definitely improved his opening sentence. Kudos!

  4. It is his style I guess. He has gotten so far because of the way he writes (and I personally prefer run on sentences that boarded on weird and have tons of personality and screaming of characters than polished rambles with no soul) why fix something that ain’t broken yes? I guess most people like that sort of things or otherwise he will not be who he is today. I could be wrong of course.

    • “I could be wrong of course.”-

      You’re not wrong. I’m just looking at this from a hypercritical perspective forced upon me by former writing instructors.

  5. Like you, I have this book and I’ve not read it, and I picked it up the other day and had the same thought about the first sentence. It’s a clunker. But he’s Stephen King and I’m not.

  6. Sharon Dear permalink

    I feel you are not his number 1 fan. If you were you would know that his professor didn’t like how he wrote either and told him he would not be a good author. It took some time but thank goodness he was published. He is proof a novel can be written in any style without the rules like we learned in an English Class. The Dark Tower series, (7) to be exact, are some of the best he’s written. I don’t find anything of his interesting this century.

    • “… his professor didn’t like how he wrote either and told him he would not be a good author. “-

      Ouch. My writing instructors were hypercritical, but none of them were THAT harsh.

  7. I like a tight, concise sentence as well, but in a narrative, we’re getting a sense of the speaker. So I was okay with it; however I KNOW I read the book and still could not remember it. Speaks volumes.

  8. I’m thinking that very few people really pay attention to the first sentence in one of Stephen King’s books. He usually builds suspense through the first chapter.

  9. This is something I’ve thought to myself for so long and I find it so comical that someone else basically put my thoughts into words. I feel like Stephen King has a knack for writing stories within stories and sometimes it works really well and other times I feel myself getting a bit lost and reading the same page over and over again for clarification. You’re right though, who’s to tell Stephen King how to write a book? He’s obviously written 100% more books than I have!

  10. I am consistently amazed by how much Stephen King has written. The Shawshank Redemption? Check. Stand By Me? Check. (Although I believe the original novella is called The Body in the Woods.) He is one clever dude. Have you read his ‘On Writing’? It’s well worth it. He is annoyingly clever.

  11. Anonymous permalink

    I actually don’t mind King’s first sentence. You are right that it is awkwardly wrtitten, but it is not incorrect. What you refer to as the sentence interrupting itsellf a lot, those are sub-clauses. Victorian novelists, including Dickens, used strings of them, all the time.

    Your version is more straightforward, and I can see why it would have pleased those infernal writing instructors of yours. But here’s the thing: his thorny thicket of a sentence has grabbed your attention, and mine, which is exactly what it intended to do.

    Your version, smooth and logical, sounds like a nice but dull child has written it. Remember this is about to be a horror story. It’s neither nice nor dull and it’s not written for children. It’s a build up of stress and tension, having to try to guess what might be about to happen next, having to try to untangle meaning etc. Terrible things are about to happen and what better way to set the reader’s teeth on edge?

    Never underestimate King. And for pity’s sake stop measuring everything against a set of rules spouted by a set of unimaginative teachers (teachers, not writers) umpteen years ago. King has a gift and he uses it as he pleases, because he is sure of himself, because he is writing from inside himself and using his imagination. Nothing is ‘right’ or safe, in writing. You have to give yourself to your ‘voice’ and let ‘It’ write through you.

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