How Stephen King’s Childhood Writing Trick Turned Into Our Treat

Nathan Gelgud illustration inspired by Stephen King, 2015.

Halloween is almost upon us, and as people dress up, read a favorite scary book, and queue up classic horror movies, plenty of costumes, stories, and viewing parties will involve the work of Stephen King.

As you might figure, when the king of horror was a teenager, he watched plenty of scary movies himself. As he recalls in his combination memoir and writing instruction manual On Writing, eighth-grade Stevie had a brilliant idea when he went to see the big screen adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum. What if he took all the bloody action he’d seen in the film and wrote it down? What a story it would make!

Nathan Gelgud illustration inspired by Stephen King's 'On Writing,' 2015.King makes light of his questionable inspiration from the movie, but copyright laws aside, this actually doesn’t sound like that bad of an idea. Take a cheap horror movie that plays fast and loose with its source material, and use the film as the source material to convert it back to the written word. It’s like a Roland Barthes-inspired game of literary telephone, a post-modern celebration of the death of the author. Of course, that’s not what young Stevie was really after when he titled this new work The Pit and the Pendulum by Steve King, ran off copies of it, and took them to school the next day to sell to classmates. He figured he’d move around ten units. By the end of lunch hour, he’d sold thirty-six copies.

In On Writing, King declares this his first bestseller, but it would be many years before he started cranking out the real thing on an annual basis. The first few pages of what would become his first published book, Carrie, were fished out of the garbage by his wife, who told him he was onto something, and to keep writing. He did, and never seemed to stop, meeting unparalleled success in the decades that followed.