7 August 2017

What's Happening At The Dark Tower?

I was rather looking forward to the movie adaptation of The Dark Tower. So much so in fact that I began prepping my viewing last summer by beginning the series on audiobook from the first volume. When I finished my epic ~130hr journey with Roland et al I was just amazed...

I was amazed at how something so technically awful could remain both compelling and engaging.

It wasn't always both, or indeed either. However it was consistently a laundry list of things an author should on no account do, unless they're Stephen King. I was interested to hear King describe himself as more of a "situational" author. To my knowledge that's not a thing, he just made it up. However, it does have a clear definition and could be a thing, if other authors were to adopt it as their approach.

For the record situational writing is about putting characters in situations and leaving them to work their own way out of them. This, I think, does present a sufficiently different approach to distinguish it from being "plottish" or "character-driven". It makes a lot of sense when you consider works like "Misery", "Gerald's Game" and "Cujo". It actually explains a lot of King's writing, because he sits down there in the dark of his character's psyche with them and reports the news as it happens. That's the major part of his apparent approach.

As someone who read a lot of King in his mid to late teens I have a place for that in my writing, the approach to one character or another is strictly situational, not about the plot or the character themselves but defining character by describing their reaction to the apparent circumstances they are presented with.

So situational writing gets a thumbs up from me. However, it does also explain why it's so hard to adapt King for screens of any size. As soon as I got my head round the "situational" thing my mind flashed to the middle segment of the King anthology movie "Cat's Eye". In the segment a rich guy forces a poor guy to work his way around the ledge of a sky scraper to win the life of the woman he loves. It's a flat, uninspiring piece of film making, but you can see how it could work in prose.

Even so, if you're going to make situation the keystone of your writing then you have to go hard or go home, as in you'd better be writing at a King level of proficiency or it will fall flat.

There's so much wrong with the Dark Tower series that I actually thought there might be a project involved in decomposing all the things that writers who aren't King should not attempt contained within its labyrinthine narrative. Maybe I'll have time to devote to that at some point, maybe not.

But it's the key exemplar of structural snafus, clear failure to plan, indulgent insertion of self-reference, spoiling other novels on a whim, you name it, it's all there. If you were to measure the work somehow, put down how many words were devoted to walking across deserts, or fighting giant lobsters, or having dinner with completely unthreatening senior citizens, a cold appraisal would tell anyone that this rambling behemoth of a narrative should leave people cold.

But it doesn't, because it's King at peak-King.

If anything convinces me that even the impeccable credentials of best-selling, world-beating, uber-author qualify you not one jot to help other people write it is the Dark Tower series. So, kids, remember The Dark Tower was written by a highly practiced writing wunderkind. Stay safe and never try to recreate the writing style of Stephen King at home, in the playground or anywhere else.

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