It is hard to find a person who doesn’t know who Stephen King is – even if one hasn’t read a single book written by him, he still knows that King is one of the most well-known – and probably the most well-known – horror and thriller author of all time, probably rivaled only by Howard Phillips Lovecraft, whom King often mentions as the writer who influenced him the most.
But what makes King unique among scores of other authors writing in the same genre? Most commonly horror/thriller is considered to be a rather lowly literature genre, which is usually not treated very seriously, with few exceptions, one of which is Stephen King. So what is special about him?
It wouldn’t be news for anybody who has more than a passing acquaintance with stylistics that it is style, language and imagery which are the most important factors in fiction – not even the most fascinating plot can live by itself. If a writer doesn’t have a decent style, his works will be unreadable, even if their plot is brilliant.
Stephen King’s style is to a very much degree characterized by his usual choice of characters: he likes three-dimensional, human, flawed characters, people with traumatic past and subdued memories, with psychological problems.
Another approach is showed in his first published novel, Carrie. It tells the story of a high school girl who is bullied and ostracized from the society of her peers because she is different from them in many ways – it is something most if not all people can sympathize with. And although there is strong supernatural undercurrent in the novel, its characters still stay human, understandable and realistic.
King is in general very partial to children as protagonists. Probably it is so because of the way children view the world – as something only half-understood and full of unknown, unknowable, mysterious and terrifying entities. Just like the world of It, another King’s bestselling novel, in which a horrible extradimensional being terrorizes and kills children simply because they find it so easy to believe in it.
Yet another theme that is often found in King’s books is the image of a small American town as a background for the most horrific and unbelievable events – it has since became a usual trope in many other works of fiction.
All in all, it can be said that due to his approach to style Stephen King has managed to raise horror genre higher than anyone before him.