Very rarely, if ever do I review things on this blog. But I’ve just read Stephen King’s latest, Doctor Sleep and thought that it did things that are interesting to me from a writing, plotting and structure perspective. So, whilst this is in part a review, it is also a kind of breakdown of my issues with the book. There will be spoilers.
First off, you all know that Doctor Sleep is the sequel to The Shining, right? This book concerns the adventures of Danny Torrance, now in his forties, a recovering alcoholic, working in a hospice and helping the dying cross over peacefully using his psychic powers. At the same time we are introduced to Abra, a young girl who also has the shining, only hers is hugely powerful. Finally, we get the True Knot, who are basically just the vampires from Near Dark, who feast on children with the shining. You can see where this is all going.
For the most part, it’s classic King. Full of characters you absolutely love, and some great moments. I particularly liked the callbacks to The Shining, and the use of Jack Torrance’s thoughts whenever Danny gets really pissed off with people. The opening few chapters are some of the best that King has produced too, and his exploration of alcoholism is excellent.
But, and here’s the thing that got to me, I never felt like any of the characters were in any danger whatsoever. Danny reaches a pretty low point, very early on in the novel. Once he comes into contact with Abra, even though a band of evil vampire people are after her, there’s no tension, no drama and absolutely no way that any of the good guys are going to lose anything.
I wonder whether this is down to King and how close he must be to Danny. Danny is an addict, like King , a former alcoholic. King knows clearly what recovery must be like. In interviews he has talked about reaching a low point and knowing that that’s the last drink you’ll have. He gives Danny that low point very early on, but then, once he gives up the booze – that’s it for him, he’s fine for the rest of the novel. This continues through to the horror elements. The monsters might be well written, but they never put the characters in danger. The whole novel feels like the final third of the hero’s journey and never quite succeeded in captivating me. In fact, aside from the opening fifty pages, the whole thing feels like the second half of a book.
It’s an interesting lesson in writing I think. One of those technical structuring rules that you don’t so much care about in your first draft. Where should the character’s be in danger? How low should I drag them before I’m allowed to bring them back from the brink?
I’m nearly finished with the first draft of my first novel, and I know I’m making mistakes like this as I go on. It’s going to be at the back of my mind as I carry on and edit.
Will it be at the back of yours? Let me know in the comments.