Without Fear

Ryan K Lindsay – Writer

Tag: stephen king

NOIRVEMBER 008 ~ The Shining

The first rule of THE SHINING is: forget the movie.

Yes, Kubrick made a horror masterpiece. The tone and timbre of that flick is intensely on point. Kubrick is a weird case in that he spent his career bouncing from genre to genre, defining them and mic dropping but he was never able to make THE definitive flick of those genres because his pieces were always more style over character substance. There are moments where this isn’t the case but on the whole people remember HAL before they can name more than one astronaut on the Discovery One, and before those men they probably remember the man-apes from the opening sequence.

And when it is that Kubrick makes a truly iconic character, it is because of their hollow nature. R. Lee Ermy’s Gunnery Sergeant in FULL METAL JACKET, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman’s married couple in EYES WIDE SHUT, and Alex in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. These are all fantastic monuments of the silver screen but when they meet their downfall, if they even do, it doesn’t sting as much because they kinda feel like they started on rock bottom. Which is the mammoth problem with Kubrick’s version of Stephen King’s greatest novel – Jack Nicholson plays Jack Torrance as insane from the start [or at least quite unhinged] so his drop to murderous father isn’t a fall so much as it is a restrained mental patient finally laying back under their restraints and accepting the darkness inside. It’s a lateral move, not downward.

the shining

The book however is a downfall as epic as any you will find, and it’s so utterly tragic because it is real. It’s a father always worrying he’s on the edge, sometimes nudging a toe over the line, but he wants to be good. He wishes he could be great but you get the vibe he’d settle for better than bad. But it all slowly unravels and it’s brutal to follow as you read.

Because, and here’s the dirty little secret, reading THE SHINING isn’t scary, it’s heartbreaking. Jack Torrance fails at his most important job and it kills us all inside, especially because we all knew he couldn’t really do it all along, himself included. Once we find out he once broke his son, Danny’s, arm because he lost his temper, well, the seeds of doubt were not only sown but they were fertilised and the liquid nourishment of alcohol was all it ever needed to grow more, with Torrance not having the mental tools to know how to tend to that garden.

The concept of the shattered man holding it together with trembling fingers is great noir fuel. Because you want it to go one way and when it goes another that’s killer, but when it’s his own fault for that downward curve, you just hate. You hate him, you hate alcohol, you hate the world for setting these things up.

The other major aspect of the book that the movie neglects, or at least adapts poorly, is the state of the Overlook Hotel. The hotel isn’t just haunted, it’s aggressively evil. It’s a conduit to our worst and so it aligns with Jack’s hidden interior to make it exterior. It takes over him, in a way, but it also feels like an acceleration of Jack’s natural timeline anyway. Even in the end, as Jack elects to try and save the Overlook from a volatile boiler, it feels like it’s Jack’s choice to do this. It’s is he who elects the method of his own downfall. But with him gone, imagine how much the world will improve for his family.

That’s not actual logic, but it is a choice made daily by people, sadly. And so, in that end, THE SHINING becomes this great exploration of one man’s inability to be good and so slowly spiralling down into pure evil until he implodes in and with it.

Yeah, heartbreaking.

RKL NOTE: THE SHINING was my favourite novel for well over a decade, in which I read it more than once, and found I could constantly just pick it up and flick through and lose myself for 80 pages. It’s amazing.

My new favourite novel is THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER & CLAY by Michael Chabon. It isn’t really a noir.

Words about WORDS FOR PICTURES – and Breaking In Links

The subheading for this book by Brian Michael Bendis is ‘The art and business of writing comics and graphic novels.’ And that is exactly what you get.

words for picturec over

I get asked at cons a lot about what sort of things can help you write comics. I’m not asked this because I’m anything special but more that I just talk about process so much that people assume I know what I’m saying. Jokes on them but it whiles away the hours on the con floor.

So when people ask me for tips and advice and whathaveyou, I invariably tell them to get Scott McCloud’s stuff and simply devour it. Set up the bbq, decant the HP sauce at room temp, and imbibe those pages like your future career writing Spider-Man depends on it. Because it most certainly does.

There is no denying the dominance of McCloud and his complete coverage of the comic medium structure and the accessible way he lays it all down. That layer and level of craft has been owned and so I was so pleased to see Bendis’ book is not an attempt to go this path. No, Bendis instead delivers the perfect partner volume to McCloud’s work.

WORDS FOR PICTURES treads water in a few ponds and all of them really important.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say this is ‘must read’ stuff for people right when they make the decision that they want to make comics and break into comics. I wish beyond belief that I had this book a decade ago. It’s full of the little tips and tricks about breaking in that I had to hunt around and find or stumble across over the course of years of living the life. Here, this book presents it all to you in one handy weekend read.


There is no way around this, there are lessons here you need to learn. There are lessons here you have no doubt been told by someone else already but you weren’t sure if it was right. It is right. It’s here in this book, please read it a few times, learn it, love it, and then jump into the four colour waters, it’s always warm in here.

To give a quick rundown – this book drops knowledge and science on some of the early tripping blocks creators, and especially writers, face.

The editorial round table on how to meet editors, stay in contact with them, and not be a pest is worth its weight in gold.

The artist round table about what they dig and loathe in scripts is fantastic. Learning how to write for your artist is super hard – and a lot of that is because nascent writers don’t have many artists with which to collaborate and experiment so we have too many scripts written in a vacuum and not considering the collaborator. This chapter breaks down a lot of what you need to hear and the sooner the better.

The page with Kelly Sue’s pitch docs on it is just glorious. These are the sorts of things we don’t see anywhere near enough of. Trying to find, share, download, hack, ask politely for, and imagine pitch docs is hard so here we get a peek into some good ones – especially because Kelly Sue is irreverent in hers and that will free your mind – it did for me.

If you need to learn the art of comics, read McCloud, if you need to learn the art of making comics, read Bendis. I think it’s that simple.

Now, I know the book isn’t without its faults. It almost felt a little too quick to read. I would have liked to see more process about script breakdowns and real craft – though once you start talking about scripting gutters and the like then you run into McCloud territory so I see why this line was drawn. This book might not be perfect in the way McCloud is but I don’t know of anything better, and I know Bendis drops enough knowledge I wish I had five years ago that I know this book is completely worth it.

So the next time someone asks me what they need to help them make comics I am going to send them to this book, in a heartbeat.


If you dig this book, or want to know more about the things you need to be a writer with a level head, click these links.

Bendis runs a process blog – dig it – http://bendiswordsforpictures.tumblr.com/

Bendis also runs his own tumblr where you’ll get a stack of comic art to adore but he often goes on jags of answering tumblr questions and some great stuff can be found therein – http://brianmichaelbendis.tumblr.com/

I have delivered a comic writing workshop before and you can download the presentation here – https://ryanklindsay.com/2014/05/18/comic-writing-101-at-comicgong/

I also run the Process Junkie tumblr with Dan Hill – it wants to be Bendis’ page pretty badly – http://processjunkie.tumblr.com/

The Comic Writer Services 2.0 page, curated by Dan Hill, has enough process links to fill a month – and I heartily endorse you calling in sick for a month and just getting your read and your learn on – seriously – do this – http://comicwriterservices.com/

Chuck Wendig is a guy who writes often and with passion about writing and all that craft jazz – I wouldn’t tell you to try to be like him, only so many people can get away with that sort of malarkey without alienating themselves completely, but he does drop some great grist for the mill – http://terribleminds.com/

Buy Scott McCloud’s books – http://www.bookdepository.com/author/Scott-McCloud

I like reading film scripts – I have scored many for download from this great flick site – http://cinearchive.org/

Stephen King’s ON WRITING could possibly round out my personal holy trinity of books about writing/making comics – http://www.bookdepository.com/On-Writing-Stephen-King/9780340820469

I like my writing craft books to have a personal tone. King’s author writing voice is something I could read for months on end – and I dig STORY (to degrees) and some of those other staples but if you want great ground level sensible stuff that has worked wonders for me, hit up the McCloud/Bendis/King triumvirate.


That’s it, now go read something every day, and write something every day.

Go. Enjoy.

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