What I Learned From Reading “The Shining”

Oh boy, where to start. There were so many things in this book that I learned from–probably because I had trouble putting the book down as a reader. Stephen King knows how to work suspense, that’s for sure. I would plan on reading three chapters and stop for the day, but he’d build up so much tension, so much suspense that I had to read on. One more chapters, two more chapters… I almost wasn’t sorry that I went to work sleep deprived.


1) Always get people invested in your characters

I loved each and everyone one of King’s characters in The Shining even though they were hardly perfect. Jack’s temper and Wendy’s naggy-ness (word?) did bring quite a bit of judgement on their characters, but they were so human. I could feel Jack’s desperation to stay sober and calm for his family and could relate to Wendy’s need to have a semi-normal family.

I absolutely loved them and so when conflicts arose (Jack losing his mind to the house, Wendy and Danny’s nearly fruitless attempts to survive) I suffered with them. I silently urged Jack on as he battled with temptation and I think my heart froze as I read about the horrors of Room 217 and Danny’s narrow escape from the horrors on the playground.

I wanted the characters to be happy, to survive.

That’s why it’s important to spend the time to acquaint the readers with the characters–a book with loveable characters practically reads itself. And I don’t think the characters have to be perfect either–but there has to be something in them that we can relate to, that we love.

2) Never make things too easy

It was impossible to put the book down when any of the characters were staring death in the face.


I’m the kind of person who skips to the end of the book at the first sign of tension, but I still had to read on during conflicts. Even if I know the ending, I don’t yet know how things turn out that way. If the conflict is boring, if the answer to the conflict is obvious, I shrug my shoulders and give up on the book.

Sure perfect characters are easy to write and sometimes it’s satisfying to keep conflicts small and easy for them to solve–but those are the most boring stories to read. The best books–the ones I have to devote an entire day to reading because I know I won’t be able to set them down–are the ones where the characters MESS UP, where they’re thrown in the middle of hell and have to find their way out.

Of course, as a Christian, I don’t agree with the solution of non-Christian authors. They think that men can solve the problem. That if we gird our loins and think outside the box, we can do anything. I don’t think so. I can’t think so. It’s insanely fun to read, sure, but I know the only one who can get you out of a hole is God, so it will be interesting to figure out how to create tension in a Christian novel.

3) Evil is more terrifying when it’s human

This I don’t think King emphasized, though he did employ it. He gave Jack a personality, a character, a past. Jack was a person. A person with flaws, sure, but a person, none-the-less.

And he succumbed to the house’s corruption and malice. It was terrifying to see him do so too. I love how the evil seeps into his brain through the house and yet he accepts these warped ideas without a second thought.


I do think it might have been more terrifying if the House (or, rather, Hotel, I suppose) had a hold on him, but it hadn’t killed Jack. If each of his choices had been fully his–even the one to kill his son. That would have been terrifying–especially if King had created a rational path between the loving father and the murderer rather than falling into dementia and irrational thought.

Still, his methods were terrifying and I learned a TON.

There’s so much I still want to touch on, but I need to be sure that I don’t skip another night’s sleep for this book. 🙂



  1. EFoley said,

    May 16, 2012 at 03:49

    “I’m the kind of person who skips to the end of the book at the first sign of tension”–I totally relate to that!

    Great review, Marg. I think the reviews you wrote for Creative Writing are serving you well here.

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