Fearless Vulnerability: Stephen King’s Lessons in Storytelling
The first time I ever saw a clown, he made me cry. I didn’t think I’d ever care for clowns, but a good story has me questioning my childhood fears. If you had asked me if I ever wanted to see a horror movie starring a clown I would have said hell no. Now I’m actually considering it. Stephen King’s It grossed 123.4M last weekend. Apparently, a lot of us are willing to spend good money to face our fears. But how has King made our fears something that we’re willing to celebrate?
I’ve always quietly admired Stephen King from afar. One of his most admirable qualities is that he’s never made himself the star of his own narrative. He has dedicated himself to create these vivid worlds and characters, and yet, in this era of celebrity authors, he’s in the background, continuously perfecting his craft. The man is beyond prolific, with over 90 titles spanning genres as varied as fantasy, creative nonfiction, and historical fiction, and he’s an example of the human potential for storytelling and creating narratives where the audience sees themselves in his work.
King draws from classic archetypes and mines human psychology to actually delight his audiences with their biggest fears. King once said, “Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible.”
In a sense, King draws the reader in, and he makes his story all about his audience. When I’m helping companies craft their narratives, I sometimes use King as an example of how to take the fundamentals of good storytelling and apply them to your narrative. Part of the process is to make sure that your work builds on itself and delivers an element of surprise. Another element is to take universal themes like the hero’s journey or a fall from grace to illuminate a larger truth.
With the story It, King mined his own fears and childhood to find what truly kept him up at night. He was vulnerable and dug in deep, and acted as a fearless storyteller. Sometimes, we need to remind ourselves that what makes our stories most compelling isn’t our successes or accolades but the moments when we didn’t know what direction to turn or when we felt trapped. If anything, King teaches us that when we’re most vulnerable, we are most relatable.