“Misery”: A Good Lesson for Writers

I’m going to admit that though I’d seen parts of the movie “Misery” and knew what happened in it, I never sat down and watched the entire thing until a week ago.  I’ve since watched it three times.  Stephen King really is a master of suspense.  He makes you wonder what will happen next.  But since Stephen King wrote the book that inspired the movie and since he’s a popular author, I imagine he might have felt some of the author’s angst while he wrote the book.  As an author, I can relate, and I think other authors can relate to this stuff, too.  Here’s what I mean…

1.  “I’m your number 1 fan.”

At first in the movie, this seems like such a sweet sentiment.  The smiling and seemingly helpless woman who rescues the author comes off as the ideal person to nurse him back to health.  Except, she’s not.    Don’t get me wrong.  Most people are normal.  Most people are nice and stay nice if they’re a huge fan of our work.  However, there could be that one particular fan who ends up going crazy and you don’t see it coming.  I had such an incident happen last year, and I still get chills when someone says they’re my biggest fan.  That’s why I laughed as hard as I did at the end of the movie when someone else came up to the author in the movie and said “I’m your #1 fan”.  After everything that author went through with Annie (the psycho fan) in the movie, he will never be happy to hear someone is his #1 fan.  He’ll smile and thank the person, but he’ll always get that “Oh crap.  Is this person like Annie?” shiver crawling up his spine.  After being harassed and stalked last year, I don’t welcome the biggest fan sentiment like I used to.  Now I wonder if this will be another case of what happened in 2011.  These days, I don’t get close to my fans until I’ve known them long enough to establish a level of trust.  Always proceed with caution.  You can’t close yourself off to everyone, but you should be careful.

2.  “I didn’t like this about the book”

And boy, does Annie in the movie let the poor author have it because she didn’t like what he did with his book.  She yelled at him, broke things in the room, made him burn his manuscript, and made him write another book to suit her.  Granted, Annie’s extreme, but as authors, we will come across people who don’t like something about our books.  They might try to nicely convince us to do something different or be outright rude about it, but one way or another, they’ll end up letting you know.  If you haven’t received such an email yet, just wait.  It’s coming.  But here’s the thing to keep in mind: it’s just a book.  At the end of the day, it’s just a book.  No one will die because you didn’t write the book to specifically please them.  Your job as the writer is to give your characters the story they want.  And something that has always given me comfort is knowing that I will never ever please every single reader on this planet.  So just go with the flow and let the characters do it their way.

3. “If I don’t kill Misery off in this book, I’ll be writing about her until the day I die, and I want to write something else.”

This is why the author decided to kill his character, Misery, in his series.  It was a very popular series.  it was selling well.  But he was tired of it.  He wanted to write something else.  There comes a time when an author gets tired of writing a particular genre or series.  There comes a time when an author wants to break free and do something else.  So he killed Misery off in what he hoped to be the last Misery book he’d ever write.  Who can blame the guy?  At the end of the movie, he does tell his agent that he wrote a new type of book for himself and that is what made him satisfied with his work.  While I believe we are in a business, I also think if we’re dreading the book we’re thinking of writing, we’re better off branching out into a different story.  Who knows?  It might be better than the series/genre you’re already doing.

***

So those are the lessons I took away from the movie.  Did anyone else come up with any other lessons?

36 Comments

  1. Barb says:

    This made me smile. Tired of a character? Kill them off. I once got so tired of another writer’s abusive idiot character (in my critique group) that I killed him in one of my draft scenes in my book. We all had a good laugh.

    1. LOL That’s hilarious. I can see why your group got a kick out of it. 😀

  2. I’m giving you a round of applause for making it through the movie. I have tried but I just can’t and I like Kathy Bates. Stephen King is a pantser and I think sometimes he just doesn’t know how to end his story. I’m glad to know that he did well on the ending to this one.

    1. I usually don’t watch his movies because of the scare factor. After watching The Shining, I couldn’t sleep or go anywhere in the house without the lights on for a week. What I liked about it was the parallels I saw between his experience and what I’ve noticed other authors going through (though the movie was the extreme). I do admit that parts of the movie were slow.

      Yep, that ending was awesome. There couldn’t have been a better last two lines to end it with. 😀 The waitress said, “I’m your #1 fan”, and the author had this flicker of horror cross his face before he forced a smile and thanked her. I still laugh when I think about it.

      1. Matt Syverson says:

        I just read the Shining and have seen the movie many times. They are nothing alike. It’s amazing how different they are, in fact. The movie was much scarier, in my humble opinion.

        1. Would you say the book (The Shining) was more suspense than scary? I thought Misery was great in the suspense department because everything built up slowly. Going back you could see the red flags. I’m writing a thriller novel under a pen name and have been thinking about the elements going into building suspense.

          1. Matt Syverson says:

            Yes, there is definitely more of an ominous slow burn in the book. After all, it is exceedingly long. I have listened to a lot of Stephen King audio books lately, and I think it’s very hard to match on the page what can be shown visually, as far as being actually scary. In fact, I think “Apt Pupil” is the scariest King book I’ve read, and it’s not ‘horror’, per se. It relies on realistic imagery w/o any supernatural stuff, and it’s creepy as hell.

            1. I’ll check out “Apt Pupil”. Thanks for the tip. 😀

  3. BigWords says:

    The most important lesson? Have more than one copy of a finished manuscript.

    Oh, and don’t drive in heavy snow…

    1. Nadja Notariani says:

      Ha! There’s always a simple and practical solution to even those deep issues, right? Love this answer! lol

    2. LOL So true. Always back it up. I learned that after my hard drive crashed.

      And yes, check the forecast before heading out. 😀 I think carrying a cell phone with you at all times might be another useful tip.

  4. The movie doesn’t do the book much justice with the exception of having Kathy Bates as Misery. Loved her performance. But from the book, reading the “story within the story” as Mr. King weaves bits and pieces of the new Misery novel in the main text – Misery (the book) offered up some great insight into the story telling process and what an author mentally / emotionally can go through over the course of a lucrative career.

    1. From my experience, the movie rarely does a book justice. 🙂 I can imagine all the stuff King’s been through. I probably won’t read the book because my TBR list is insane, but I imagine the lessons gleaned from it would be even better than the movie.

      1. There are lessons to be learned in both for sure – about story telling in particular. I think script writers / directors have a tougher job because they have to cover so much back story in just a few shots or movie minutes where as an author gets to take a touch more time with it.

        1. It’s probably easier to understand the story when you read it for the reason you mentioned. I agree that script writers and directors have a tougher job. I’m glad I write books. 🙂

  5. G M Barlean says:

    I love this movie and King. I wondered if this was King’s take on how an author feels like a prisoner to his book. The agent or public, demands he write in a certain way, regardless of what he wants to do. Essentially, he’s hobbled by his fans.

    1. Exactly. I think we can box ourselves in. It’s amazing how hard it is to say no when someone wants us to write a certain book.

  6. Oh, man, the book and the movie were both SO creepy. I like horror, but this is the kind of horror that can really happen. Stephen King is my hero in the writing world. This one wasn’t one of my favorites by him, but it was still an awesome story. It’s especially scary for us since we could really have an insane stalker. *shivers*

    1. My favorite by him is The Langoliers, which really isn’t “scary” but was such an awesome idea of what might happen if we went back into the past. 😀 I agree. The fact that Misery was so good was because it’s possible. Some people can take things to the extreme. That’s the kind of thing that makes me wish I lived back in the day before the Internet. But then I wouldn’t be able to publish my books (thanks to the ebook revolution).

      1. Oh my stars, The Langoliers is awesome! Did you read the story AND see the movie? I’ve never seen a movie stick so close to the book plot, almost word for word. I could almost quote what was going to be said next in the movie. (Because I read the story so many times!) It’s probably my second favorite, right after “IT”.

        1. I haven’t seen or read “IT”. Maybe I should read it since you say it’s your favorite. What’s the plot?

          I did read The Langoliers after seeing it because I had to know why Brian’s wife divorced him. He had that line about doing something he never thought he’d do in the movie, and I was hoping the book would explain it. 😀 It did.

          1. IT is about these kids who are 11 years old (I think) and they end up fighting a monster that’s killing kids. They think it’s dead, but it comes back years later and they all come back together as adults to fight it again. It’s really creepy with the clown, Pennywise, and there’s something disturbing that King writes in the book that I think he shouldn’t…thank goodness they left that out in the movie. (It was something sexual.)

  7. Nadja Notariani says:

    I enjoyed Misery a great deal. The realness of the idea was genius – if it was in the extreme. I’ve written in three separate sub-genres of romance thus far, so I haven’t felt locked-in to one story type, but the sentiment makes me think just the same. And stalkers are more common than one might think. I’ll echo Lauralynn’s ending above, *shiver*.

    1. Establishing yourself in different genres early on might work to your advantage. I know there’s something to be said for focusing on a certain niche, but a variety early on helps to break off in different areas in the future. I’m glad I didn’t just write historical westerns early on so no one is shocked when I do a different sub-genre in romance. As for the stalker thing, I think everyone can end up with one regardless of their profession, and the Internet makes it so much easier. All we can hope for is that we don’t end up with a psycho who crosses our path.

  8. Jill James says:

    I love King’s work and this story. I’ve wanted to be an author for a long time and this movie certainly struck a nerve. Stalkers are real and scary and King knows it. Like you said, at the end of the day, it is just a book. We have to write what we want and need to write.

    1. I’m constantly surprised by how some people take a book so personally. If I like a book, great. If I don’t, I assume it’s not my cup of tea and move on. When people make the book something bigger than it really is, it worries me. I know some authors who’ve been stalked by a reviewer who goes around and trashes all of their books and tells off anyone who likes the book. Not to say that is the only kind of stalking that happens, but it seems to be a trend on Amazon that is now branching out to B&N.

      1. Jill James says:

        Ruth, so true and so sad.

  9. JoanReeves says:

    Ruth, I had just a brush with a fan which scared me. So I can imagine how you felt. We all tend to forget that fan is short for fanatic. I think all writers identify with the desire to write what we darn well please. All the discussion currently going on about publishing a book and then allowing readers to have input and changing the book based on that is bewildering to me. If readers want to create stories, then why don’t they write their own?

    1. I love what you said about fanatic. It fits with some people. I still can’t talk about the details of what happened last year because even now I wonder if that person is lingering out there, reading everything I write and I don’t want to give them attention.

      I made the mistake last year of changing four books because a couple readers complained about the series. After I lost a month and published the new versions, I realized I had upset other readers. I ended up changing them back to the way I wanted the books. I don’t know why some readers assume that we’re here to modify books to suit them, and probably more importantly is why we are made to feel as if we have to do it. I’m more upset with myself for changing my books based on others’ opinions than I am with the readers who wanted me to change them. They only have the power if I give it to them. I’ve decided from now on, I’m only doing books I want and doing them the way I want to do them. I agree. If readers want to create stories, they can write their own.

  10. Ruth…this was a good take on the movie. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it. I think as authors we want to please our readers(at least I feel that way), but it’s the characters and story that’s in us(not in them) that needs to come out. I like your last comment…the readers only have power if we give it to them. I agree with you…it’s important to do books the way you want, in the way you want to do them 🙂 Good on you…I’m going to do the same thing. Then, hopefully I don’t meet up with any readers like Annie…

    1. LOL Yep, Annie would be the worst person any writer could come across.

      As soon as I realized I need to write the stories the way my characters wanted me to, it became a lot easier to focus on what the story is meant to be. One of the hardest things to do is to write the story when you know it’ll upset someone, but every time I’ve gone against my characters’ wishes, I wasn’t happy with the book and had to rewrite it.

  11. I read the book first, in high school. It was university before I saw the movie.

    Both really, really get under the skin.

    Nice thing about writing is that you can use it to vent against people you don’t like, create a character based on someone who annoys you, and have them meet a bad end, say at the claws of angry baboons.

    1. LOL So true. I did that to a couple of people. It’s great therapy. 😀

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