For horror fans, Stephen King needs no introduction, but we’re going to give you one anyway: Stephen King is arguably the greatest horror novelist of all time. For over 40 years, King has published superb horror novels and short stories, not to mention some graphic novels, a screenplay, and a handful of nonfiction books, including one that mixes memoir with instruction on the craft of writing itself. By King's own admission, some of his works are better than others. But every book or story that King conjures has a touch of genius to it: an insightful observation about our world, an instinctual understanding of what people fear most, or even just a really, really cool description of a battle between someone with psychic powers and a bunch of vampires.
Go through King's extensive back-catalog of novels, short stories, and nonfiction writing, and you're bound to find some incredible quotes that will stay with you. There are even more quotes like that in his interviews in print and other media. Of course, combing through Stephen King's back catalog and interviews is a pretty time-consuming project. The Stand is more than 800 pages long, and that's just one of what the internet assures us is "at least 60 novels" penned by Stephen King. And when outlets start prefacing the number of novels you've written with an approximation like "at least," you know you've published a very large number of novels.
Happily, we're here to save you a little bit of time. Below, you'll find at least 40 (just kidding—it's exactly 40) of the best Stephen King quotes. Some are "quotes" in the sense that King said these things, and he presumably meant them. Others are quotes from his fiction, which include beautiful and insightful words, but which are not, of course, necessarily things that King told an interviewer or wrote in a nonfiction book. All 40 Stephen King quotes, be they fiction or nonfiction, are required reading for fans of horror, Stephen King, or the craft of writing itself. So read on!
"Your daddy ... sometimes he does things he's sorry for later. Sometimes he doesn't think the way he should. That doesn't happen very often, but sometimes it does." – The Shining (1977)
Of all of the horrors in The Shining, Jack Torrance's demons—in particular, his alcoholism—are the most disturbing. This heartbreaking quote is spoken by Jack's wife Wendy to their son, Danny.
"Children have to grow into their imaginations like a pair of oversized shoes." – The Shining (1977)
The doctor isn’t quite right about Danny Torrance—Danny has something more special than just an overactive imagination—but this pithy little quote is vintage King.
Related: 20 Horrifying Books Like The Shining
"It was things like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, he thought, that made you believe the world was maybe just as well off destroyed." – The Stand (1978)
A minor character in King's post-apocalyptic epic The Stand is the brains behind this pretty cynical take on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Would King agree? Maybe not: King has been open about his love for "bad" speculative fiction and once pointed out that writers could learn as much from bad writing as from good writing.
"The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed." – The Gunslinger (1982)
Stephen King's Dark Tower series is his magnum opus, and it all started with this line—one that King said he had rattling around in his head until he crafted a story around it. That ended up being first a short story and then a fix-up novel that kicked off the epic series.
"Go then, there are other worlds than these." – The Gunslinger (1982)
Jake means this pretty literally in King's genre-bending classic The Gunslinger, but it's one of those great moments in fiction where what is being said feels more profound and universal than a strictly literal reading would allow. There are other "worlds" for all of us, if we just "go"—aren't there?
"Either get busy living or get busy dying." – Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption (1982)
The source material for one of the best-loved among the many movie adaptations of King's work, The Shawshank Redemption (1994), was a novella first published as a novella in the 1982 collection Different Seasons. This rhetorical question from Red is unforgettable.
"The most important things are the hardest things to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them—words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they're brought out." – The Body (1982)
The narrator of King's novella The Body (first published in 1982’s Different Seasons) goes on to say that things are even harder to say without someone lending an "understanding ear." But it's the first part of the quote that seems more profound. It's always tough to share things without someone to listen, but the fear in this part of the quote will be familiar and more profound to anyone with a dark secret or an anxiety about something in their past.
"Am I weird?"
"Yeah. But so what? Everybody's weird." – The Body (1983)
The Body has a creepy premise, but it’s not exactly a horror story. It’s more about friendship, childhood, and moments like this one.
"It’s been my experience that ninety-five percent of people who walk the earth are simply inert, Johnny. One percent are saints, and one percent are assholes. The other three percent are people who do what they say they can do." – The Dead Zone (1979)
Mr. Chatsworth’s pretty nihilistic take on mankind is one of the most memorable quotes in The Dead Zone, a bestseller that published when King was arguably at the very height of his literary powers.
"’Oh, about beer I never lie,’ Crandall said. “A man who lies about beer makes enemies.’" – Pet Sematary (1983)
Neighborly Maine native Jud Crandall says this amusing little line. But it's easy to read it a different way in the context of King's drinking—around this time, King was taking hiding his excessive consumption from his family.
"He shook his head as if to deny it, but of course you can't deny laughter; when it comes, it plops down in your favorite chair and stays as long as it wants." – Hearts in Atlantis, 1999
The interconnected stories in Hearts in Atlantis are about King’s generation. His views and memories influence the text, which is also full of simple and memorable lines like this one.
"The devil's voice is sweet to hear." – Needful Things (1991)
Can there be a better description of temptation than this?
"Maybe I did it because kids need to know that sometimes dead is better." - Pet Sematary (1983)
Jud's warning is pretty literal in the context of Pet Sematary, in which (spoiler alert!) a graveyard in the woods turns corpses into zombie-like ghouls. Pet Sematary is all about coping with death and grief: in real life, this stuff can't be reversed, and in Pet Sematary, it shouldn't be.
"What Darwin was too polite to say, my friends, is that we came to rule the Earth not because we were the smartest, or even the meanest, but because we have always been the craziest, most murderous motherfuckers in the jungle." – Cell (2006)
King’s post-apocalyptic novel Cell is not among his most popular, but it still has memorable lines—like this profane take on evolution from the bad guy.
"A short story is a different thing altogether – a short story is like a quick kiss in the dark from a stranger." – the author’s introduction to Skeleton Crew (1985)
King is a great novelist and a great short story writer. To be both, an author needs to understand the difference. Short stories can have plots (King's often do), but they act more as snapshots of emotions, realizations, and pivotal moments. It's what James Joyce called the "epiphany" and what King, apparently, called "a quick kiss in the dark from a stranger."
"To those readers who feel that I didn't know any better, I assert that I did ... but the temptation was simply too great to resist." – Author’s note to Cycle of the Werewolf (1983)
King’s Cycle of the Werewolf takes some liberties with its lunar cycle for narrative reasons. As always, King cares more about entertaining.
"A secret needs two faces to bounce between; a secret needs to see itself in another pair of eyes." – Christine (1983)
King can make a horror story out of just about anything. Christine is a possessed 1958 Plymouth Fury—yep, you read that right. Silly as the concept may sound, it works, and the book has plenty of insightful little lines like this one.
Jud Crandall: [Jud shows Louis how to climb the hill of branches at the Pet Sematary]
"I've climbed it a time or two before. I know all the places to step. Just follow me. Move easy. Don't look down... and don't stop. If you stop, you'll crash through for sure. Just don't stop, and..."
Louis Creed: [falls through the branches]
"And don't look down. Right." – The screenplay for Pet Sematary (1989)
Many of King’s novels have been adapted for the screen, but he hasn’t always been involved in adapting them. In the screenplay for 1989’s film version of Pet Sematary, King shows his breadth by scripting a visual gag.
"Jack Nicholson, though a fine actor, was all wrong for the part." – As quoted in Playboy, 1983
A lot of people think that Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is the best film ever to be based on a Stephen King novel. Stephen King does not agree.
"We all float down here!" – IT (1986)
While this quote may not be as profound as some of the others on this list, it's a superb example of King's knack for great and memorable writing. After all, you already knew that this was Pennywise the Clown’s infamous phrase, didn't you?
"I work until beer o'clock." – as quoted in Time magazine, 1986
If you don't know King's personal history with alcohol, you might read this as the sort of cheerful quote you'd put on a tin sign and hang in your basement. Nope: not long after he said this, King got sober. He's been that way for three decades now.
"If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot." – On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (2000)
Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is two things: a wonderful memoir and a superb guide to writing fiction. King's prime directive for writers is his book on writing's most useful piece of advice. King says he reads 70-80 books a year and writes around 2,000 words a day, every single day of the year.
"I believe the road to Hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops" – On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (2000)
Many books on writing shy away from concrete rules and suggestions. King's book doesn't, and is infinitely more useful to the aspiring writer for doing so.
"The scariest moment is always just before you start." – On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (2000)
Does writing scare the scariest dude alive? Yes, but he says it gets easier once he gets started.
"Book-buyers aren't attracted, by and large, by the literary merits of a novel; book-buyers want a good story to take with them on the airplane, something that will first fascinate them, then pull them in and keep them turning the pages." – On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (2000)
King believes in themes, metaphors, and some other good stuff that you’d hear about in an MFA program. But he has a very straightforward view of the main point of the work (or his work, anyway). Books are supposed to entertain us!
"Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well" – On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (2000)
King may be entertainment-first, but writing is still a higher calling to him.
"The reason authors almost always put a dedication on a book, Annie, is because their selfishness even horrifies themselves in the end." – Misery (1987)
Misery is a unique sort of horror story: it's about an author kidnapped by his biggest fan, and it's easy to see King's own fears in his writing. This little shot at authors may be a bit more cynical than King's real-life opinion, but it's hard not to read something into it.
"On a couple of occasions, I've shocked myself. Pet Sematary was appalling when it first came out on to the page." - as quoted by The Guardian, 2000
Writing horror means coming up with some disturbing stuff. Pet Sematary had a very cool and spooky premise—an old native burial ground that gruesomely reanimates bodies—and the way King used that idea in his story only made it more upsetting. Apparently it upset King, too.
"[The] truth is that monsters are real, and ghosts are real, too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win." – the author's introduction to the 2001 edition of The Shining
Arguably King's greatest work, The Shining is a great example of what makes his horror stories so interesting. While King's knack for spooky stuff and cool set pieces makes his fiction highly readable, his understanding of emotion and characterization is what makes his work memorable. The Shining is a story about a haunted hotel, but it's also the story of what haunts an alcoholic father and his suffering family.
"Memory is the basis of every journey." – Dreamcatcher (2001)
It’s interesting to read this quote from Dreamcatcher as referring to writing itself. King has written and spoken at length about the relationship between memory and good writing.
"Don't let the sun go down without saying thank you to someone, and without admitting to yourself that absolutely no one gets this far alone." – Commencement address to University of Maine graduates (2005)
King has accomplished more than enough to be justified in giving out advice. He gave some to the University of Maine’s graduating class in 2005, and emphasized gratitude.
"People forget I’m a real person." – As quoted in The Paris Review, 2006
What’s it like being a famous writer? A little weird, King thinks. To many, he’s only known for his work.
"I didn’t know what popular fiction was, and nobody told me at the time." – As quoted in The Paris Review, 2006
When an interviewer asked him if he read popular fiction “exclusively,” King answered this way. Though he did read more than “popular fiction,” King clearly still feels that the distinction between literary and popular fiction is a little murkier—and perhaps a little more unnecessary—than many think.
"If you don't control your temper, your temper will control you." – Under the Dome (2009)
Want simple and practical advice on keeping your temper? Why not turn to a novel about a Maine town trapped under a strange dome?
"I'm one of those people who doesn't really know what he thinks until he writes it down." - 11/22/63 (2011)
Even at his most imaginative—as in 11/22/63, in which a time-traveling protagonist tries to stop the John F. Kennedy assassination—King retains a flair for simple and relatable characterization.
"FEAR stands for fuck everything and run." – Doctor Sleep (2013)
It says a lot about Stephen King that he dared to write a sequel to The Shining—and it says even more about him that he made it a gleeful, action-packed thriller that shared little in tone with its older brother.
"The Tommyknockers is an awful book." – as quoted in Rolling Stone, 2014
When you've written "at least 84" novels, some of them are probably going to be lousy. King knows which ones he doesn't like, and he knows why: The Tommyknockers was "the last one I wrote before I cleaned up my act," he goes on to say, referring to his drinking.
"I don't like Dreamcatcher very much." – as quoted in Rolling Stone, 2014
Yep, King's at it again: Trashing his own books. King's unflinching honesty helps explain his talent. He's unafraid of spotting flaws, and that makes him better at fixing them. He also has a professional's practical view of his craft, and he cites a logistical problem with Dreamcatcher: writing after being nearly killed by a drunk driver, King had to write Dreamcatcher longhand because of the headaches he'd get when looking at his computer.
"One of the challenges when you’ve been around as long as I have and you think you’ve explored all the corners of the room, you have to say to yourself, ‘What are the things that really concern me? What are the things that I care about? Well, I care about friendship. I care about a government that’s too big and that will try to do things where the ends justify the means. I care about defenseless people who try to find a way to defend themselves." – As quoted in The New York Times, 2019
Chatting with The New York Times about his latest book, The Institute, King talked a little bit about the challenges of writing a book when you’ve already written “at least” 84 others.
"I have outlived most of my critics. It gives me great pleasure" – As quoted in The Guardian, 2019
Making the rounds as he promoted The Institute, King related this wry comment. Haters, take note.
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