So which writer really lit my fire (as you will) on the writing front?
As I suspect is the case for many people ... Stephen King.
I know, right? Those of you who have seen my overly pink! green! orange! high heels! cardigans! wardrobe, my yellow-and-mint house, my CUTESY WOOTSEY puppy are probably thinking ... "Huh?"
A friend once showed me a video on Youtube where the world's biggest nerd dissected all the problems with Star Wars: Episode I. The biggest problem he identified (and I agree) is that when you tell random people on the street that they're going to have to describe a character from Star Wars without saying who played them or what they look like, this is what you get:
Han Solo: dashing, reckless, rebellious, kind of a shady character but ultimately pretty loyal
Queen Amidala: (cricket noises)
As they say, the devil's in the details, and Stephen King provides a lot of details without bogging down his story. When you name a Stephen King character, people KNOW who you're talking about. (Provided they've read him, of course.) What's more interesting is that I submit they usually will not be able to say what the person looks like.
Take Louis Creed, for example. Anyone who has read Pet Sematary is probably going to remember that he's a middle aged doctor with a wife, two kids, and he grew up poor. He wants to provide for his family, he still resents his in-laws. He's a hard worker who put himself through school. He likes cheap beer and loves his neighbor, who is like the father-figure he never had. He's agnostic bordering on atheist. He resists believing in the supernatural until presented with overwhelming evidence.
What hair color does he have? Hell if I know. But who cares? If I had to choose between remembering that Dr. Louis Creed once worked after school in his uncle's mortuary and whether he's a blond or brunette, I know what I choose every time.*
That's important for characters, but it's also important for setting, which is really just your silent character.
Even though Stephen King usually writes in a contemporary setting, he still goes to the effort to make his "world" come alive. Some writers just think, "Hey, everyone knows what small towns are like," but with Stephen King, you know what THIS small town is like, which is just as important as knowing the geography of Westeros or where in Diagon Alley you would go to get some really great ice cream.
Think about it. If you've read Harry Potter, you can visualize Hogwarts. If you've read A Song of Ice and Fire, you can picture The Eyrie. Why should it be different if it's not fantasy? I had a picture of Shawshank Prison in my head before I saw the movie, I know which roads lead out of Chester's Mill, Maine, and I know I don't want to set one foot in Derry, Maine for any amount of time, EVER. And I know I want people to feel the same way about the towns, businesses, and high schools I tell them about in my writing.
So there's that. Check back tomorrow if you want to find out what story changed my world view ... bonus points if you can guess it with just these clues:
1. I'm currently a lawyer
2. This blog post happens to be about Stephen King, not John Grisham
3. I said "story," not full-blown book
* Now that I've made this claim, I'm curious if I can back it up. Everyone who has read some Stephen King, let me know if you can describe the following characters from memory (I'll do my best to only list big ones):
1. Bill Denbrough (IT)
2. Garraty (The Long Walk)
3. Jack Torrance (The Shining)
4. Dolores Claiborne (same title)
5. Harold Lauder (The Stand) (yes, some physical description of Harold is OK.)
6. Larry Underwood (The Stand)
7. Annie Wilkes (Misery)
8. Chris Chambers ("The Body" in Different Seasons)
9. Rainbird (Firestarter)
10. Bobby Garfield (Hearts in Atlantis)
Or list your own examples. Fun times for all!
For another, less scatterbrained explanation of why Stephen King is the cat's pajamas, go here.