DISCUSSION: “Toolbox” from On Writing

Who do you think King’s audience is? Why? Point to a moment in the text and explain why you think his tone (not simply what he says) suggests a particular audience.

12 thoughts on “DISCUSSION: “Toolbox” from On Writing

  1. I think Stephen King’s piece speaks to anyone who graduated high school. On page 119, he specifically lists the things that the audience doesn’t have to worry about, now that “this isn’t high school.” He speaks casually and uses provocative language, which indicates that he is speaking to a relatively young audience. To support my young audience hypothesis, he foresees the exasperation of the audience with his lecture on grammar at the bottom of page 118. I associate this dread of a grammar lecture with students who had to listen to teachers drill grammar rules into their heads. I don’t think he speaks to a professional audience such as writers, editors, and authors because he might offend them in their own practices. For example, he brings in excerpts from well known literature as examples of bad writing habits. In another instance, a professional author who wrote several best selling books might try to defend their profuse use of adverbs.
    On that note, King’s distaste for adverbs really surprised me. I personally thought that they made the dialogue more dynamic and interesting. But as he points out, I now see the danger of my writing sounding like a children’s novel.
    One formidable writing habit that I struggle with extremely is passive language. Even as I wrote this blog post, I had to edit many verbs from passive to active. I don’t think I’m alone in this struggle though. In dialogue, most people unconsciously talk passively and that’s why passive voice so easily translates into writing. I used to think passive language made me sound sophisticated but over the years I learned that it just muddles the sentence.

  2. Out of all the Stephen King stories I have heard about, this one is especially rare to me. I do not know a lot about Stephen King, but after a little research, I found out that we have the same birthday, and that he writes mostly fictional stories. “On Writing” on the other hand, is a memoir, one from which this excerpt is taken.

    This section of the book is referred to as the “Toolbox”. It starts off as an anecdote from King’s younger years. He describes his grandfather’s toolbox and his memories with Uncle Oren. The anecdote soon turns into a lesson on writing. King seems to be writing to a very specific audience. This audience being new, younger writers. He suggests that a writer needs their own toolbox filled with “tools” for writing.

    The reason I believe that he is writing to a younger audience is his reference to college english classes and high school. Also, the tone that he uses suggests that he is speaking to an audience that is younger than he is.

    This excerpt, in my opinion, was very useful. I myself do not plan on being a writer ever, but this gives me an insight on what to think when I have to write papers this semester. I also hope to start reading more Stephen King, as his background is fascinating.

  3. I enjoyed “On Writing” because of King’s casual and playful tone. When I read the title I originally believed that it was going to be a boring read on grammar elements and writing tips. I was immediately proven wrong by the entertaining toolbox frame story. King makes it seem like you are talking to your good buddy from back home, but oddly you’re talking about the do’s and don’ts of writing. He achieves this feeling and tone by using colloquial speech, curse words, questions, and humor. These elements are important because he is talking about grammar, and everyone and their grandma knows that grammar is head bangingly boring. His playful and casual tone is also crucial because this passage is directed at new college students who have been lashed on the back of their hands until they wrote five paragraph MLA analytical essays. King wants these students to rid their minds of those harsh high-school memories and think of writing and grammar as “magic” and “the most basic skills [that can] create things far beyond [their] expectations.” I also think that King wants to focus on early college students because they are the next generation of writers and King wants to help the future writing community.

  4. I believe that On Writing addresses those who have recently graduated high school, and are perhaps currently pursuing writing at a higher level. King references sophomore and junior year high school writing classes multiple times throughout the piece, and makes it known that there exists a whole ‘toolbox’ of items to be learned on top of high school knowledge. He points out the end of the era of stringent dress codes as something relatable to his audience, which, to me, is yet another piece of evidence supporting his intended college-aged audience. King even uses references to Harry Potter on pg 123. It is not to say that those beyond their second decade on earth cannot appreciate muggles, however, I believe that it can be more clearly identified as an attempt to connect with readers of college age.

    In addition to the content of his writing, I believe that some of his humor and tone is aimed at attracting students of our age. At most parts throughout the memoir, King uses a very conversational tone to teach how to write formally. He also includes humor in almost every paragraph. On page 128, he constructs a two line joke about knocking a floundering swimmer unconscious with a steel line to drive home his point about the excessiveness of adverbs in dialogue attribution. I view both the frequent humor and the conversational tone as attempts to capture the attention of young students like ourselves, who are not as used to reading bland or strictly informative pieces as the average adult.

    In general, I really enjoyed reading this piece. I felt as though I gained a few good tips to improve my writing, especially the need to cut out passive voice. This is something that I have been criticized for in the past, but I now better understand the effects of using such writing on the strength of our writing.

  5. I found “Toolbox” by Stephen King to be an absolute thrill to read. This summary of what defines good writing is helpful and humorous. King aims this writing towards a younger generation of future writers. I see this in his choice to use the toolbox anecdote as it evokes a feeling of nostalgia. He also references high-school writing multiple times such as an old book that was used to teach grammar and when exclaiming his distaste in informal essays. “…he same book most of us took home and dutifully covered with brown paper shopping-bags when we were sophomores and juniors in high school,” and “I taught writing for a year at the University of Maine in Orono and had one class loaded with athletes and cheerleaders. They liked informal essays…”

    The points King brought up about concise and explicit writing all fell into writing tips I have heard in the past except his distaste towards adverbs. I would be very interested in reading more as to why he prefers to avoid using them. I particularly enjoyed the structure of this reading through the toolbox view of writing. This reading will make me more aware of the words I decide to use because they are the foundation to all the essays I will write. It also made me more aware of the crippling use of passive voice, something I struggle with.

  6. I agree with a lot of the class’s thoughts that King’s audience is probably students around our age who have graduated high school and are beginning the process of in college of expanding what they know about writing. One particular paragraph that I think suggests this audience is the one on top of page 131 in which he discusses his opinions on informal essays. He says “Teachers assign them when they can’t think of any other way to waste your time” (131), which, as a student, makes me laugh and feels like he’s relating to my age group. I think his intent is to make students take the subject of learning writing more lightly and show that he recognizes and can relate to how students really feel. He writes casually, revealing anecdotes about his life such as the one in this paragraph about a class he taught, as if the audience is someone he wants to let into his personal life – he doesn’t want students to view him as a detached and unapproachable author. His story about the athletes and cheerleaders in his college class who thought about informal essays like “old high school friends” seems to be written to get an audience of students to realize that they may feel the same way and free themselves from this thinking. It seems to be written to be a relatable story, suggesting that the audience is around the same age as these students. At the beginning of the paragraph, also, he talks about the real world as something in the future for the audience, suggesting that the audience is still in the academic world and not yet the “real” one.

  7. In the article, Stephen King adopted tone of an elder or mentor, trying to educate the youth on how to become a better writer. Though the passage is most likely addressing students in high school and college, people from all age group and backgrounds can draw from it.
    In the beginning King drew a vivid imagery of a certain “toolbox”, which had several “levels” and each level containing “little drawers”, this seemingly unnecessarily specific discussion of a simple toolbox actually symbolizes deeper meanings of 1) the multitude of skills needed to be an adroit writer 2) the incredible importance of structure and detail in writing, as in the importance of structure and intricacy for the tool box. Furthermore, king also highlighted the importance of practicing, comparing it to building “muscle”, indicating that the writing process is one that requires building up and constant work to keeping in shape rather than a skill that is mastered instantly and maintained for long periods of time. The “levels” of the toolbox, in terms of writing is that of vocabulary and grammar, two fundamental aspects of excellent writing, without the two, the “toolbox” wouldn’t be a tool box at all. Without grammar and vocabulary, no matter how brilliant the writing, it would seem unconvincing and unsatisfactory. By vocabulary, it doesn’t seem King is pointing at using exclusively long words, but rather accurate ones that allows the readers to truly grasp the meanings.

  8. “Toolbox” by Stephen King should be essential reading for anyone and everyone who is seeking advice on their writing. It feels as though he is addressing me with his writing; he writes with the purpose of addressing each individual reader. His tone is that of an intelligent, witty, experienced writer. Moreover, it genuinely feels as though he is giving the best advice that he can, and he backs it up with easy to understand but powerful evidence. For example, his advice that any noun combined with any word will create a simple but often artful sentence. “Rocks explode. Jane transmits. Mountains float.” Or his advice to use the first word that comes to mind rather than pausing and implementing a more complex word, because it often makes writing sound choppy and forced. A couple of my favorite passages in this book are the middle paragraphs on page 118, because he puts good advice into a phrasing that is easy to follow and even easier to agree with. I love “Toolbox” not only because it gave me advice that I had not considered before and will consider in the future, but because King has a way of writing that resonates with me in an interesting, but significant way. In short, all of his advice is 100% spot on, but he tells you it in a way that makes you laugh and want to keep reading. Honestly, what more could you ask for from a teacher, or advisor?

  9. I have to agree with the majority of my classmates that King clearly appears to be directing his writing towards recent high school graduates. To take this prediction to an even further level, however, I would also argue that he is specifically targeting students who are not (or believe they are not) particularly fond of writing. I got this sense early on when he first introduced the importance of grammar. He anticipated the objections to the subject his future readers may have, yet immediately after he acknowledges the “moans of exasperation” he goes on to reject them. He does this by stating that “One either absorbs the grammatical principles of one’s native language in conversation and in reading or one does not” (p.118-119). At this point I will add to my claim that not only is King directing his Toolbox piece at reluctant writers, but he is also crafting a persuasive essay to disband their negative feelings towards writing. Again examining the grammar section: he begins by paying tribute to the other side, then moves into his claim that we already know most of the important rules in language, and finishing by saying that all we need is to clean off a bit of rust. He also infuses humor into his discussion of his various writing Do’s and Don’t’s, which strengthens his points and brings normally dull topics more life. Finally, his use of other texts act as his supporting evidence not only for why his opinions of writing are valid, but also to show that they are very valuable tools that make writing both easier and more enjoyable.

  10. I believe that Stephen King’s piece on the conventions of writing is written for college students. His writing is engaging and informal, making even the most tedious of subjects accessible. King writes to inform the budding scholars of mistakes they have made and should cease to make in the future. He also means to inspire. As a great writer himself, King’s “toolbox” and advice is valuable. His essay convinces the college audience that basic writing skills are essential to convey your ideas, but, more importantly, they make your words come alive. King wants his audience to believe in themselves.
    For example, on page 128 King admonishes his audience for using adverbs with a metaphor: “Your man may be floundering in a swamp, and by all means throw him a rope is he is… but there’s no need to knock him unconscious with ninety feet of steel cable.” In this excerpt, King uses humor to give the reader a break from the grammar lesson while furthering his point: use active verbs, don’t use adverbs, trust your well-developed brain to make a good decision. His informal tone cues the reader that this essay is intended for young adults– such as ourselves.
    Further down the page, King continues with the same informality, this time writing about other writers’ maturation, such as when, “William Strunk got E.B. White in his clutches when White was but a naïve undergraduate at Cornell (give them to me when they’re young and they’re mine forever, heh-heh-heh).” King continues to write of how both he and other famous writers have broken their own syntactic rules, and expects that we, the audience, will do the same. In the quote above, King relates to a college audience by referencing White’s time at Cornell and by inserting a ridiculous, humorous, bad-man-voice interjection. He also compares the mistakes of the audience to the mistakes of great writers such as himself; even the best make mistakes. King encourages young writers at the precipice of their college careers and gives them the basic tools for success.

  11. It was easy to tell that this piece was meant for college students taking English when King said “and this isn’t high school.” As for his tone, it resembled an older friend or mentor; someone who understands how hard writing could be and wants to remind the reader that it doesn’t have to be. He used profanity, anecdotes, and shared his personal opinion on excerpts to create a very casual and friendly tone that made the reader comfortable. He emphasized that he gets how frustrating writing can be with all the grammar rules and vocabulary, but his main reminder was just to bring all your “tools” to the table and use what you already have.

    This is the first time I’ve ever heard of Stephan King, and read his work. So when I found out he’s a famous author I was pretty surprised. I would have never thought someone like him would understand the hatred and frustration that comes with grammar, especially his opinion on adverbs. However, I will say I can see why people think he’s funny because I did find what he was saying amusing. I really appreciated his advice, and I want to know more about him.

  12. I believe that Stephen King’s memoir “Toolbox” is aimed for the young, carefree recent high school graduates who seek to improve their writing. The fact that his target audience was young adults was something that could have been noted simply from the way in which he writes, not even from the content. To be honest, reading this excerpt felt less like reading and more like listening. His casual demeanor and colloquial language, while still passing down his knowledge, mentally brought me back to the athletic field. It reminded me of upperclassmen (both at Tufts and in high school) nonchalantly passing down advice to the younger kids on the team: how to stay out of trouble, how to have your fun and how not to get on the wrong guy’s bad side. The area where I found this most prevalent was on page 117, where King says “Put your vocabulary on the top shelf…and don’t make any conscious effort to improve it.” He then goes on to tell the reader not to “dress up the vocabulary” and warms not to go “looking for long words because you’re maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones.” (117). The way in which he extends his vast knowledge, and the content of the sentence itself, seems so carefree and simple that it is almost hard to believe that this is Stephen King and NOT a college or high school student.

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