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In Praise of "The Gotta."

The gotta, as in: “I think I’ll stay up another fifteen-twenty minutes, honey, I gotta see how this chapter comes out.” Even though the guy who says it spent the day at work thinking about getting laid and knows the odds are good his wife is going to be asleep when he finally gets up to the bedroom. The gotta, as in: “I know I should be starting supper now — he’ll be mad if it’s TV dinners again — but I gotta see how this ends.” I gotta know will she live. I gotta know will he catch the shitheel who killed his father. I gotta know if she finds out her best friend’s screwing her husband. The gotta. Nasty as a hand-job in a sleazy bar, fine as a fuck from the world’s most talented call-girl. Oh boy it was bad and oh boy it was good and oh boy in the end it didn’t matter how rude it was or how crude it was because in the end it was just like the Jacksons said on that record — don’t stop til you get enough.” ― Stephen King, Misery That Stephen King quote was ringing in my ears last week as I burned up my Kindle reading Under the Dome. I found myself letting lots of things slide (including fixing dinner) until I found out who put that dome there and why and how it goes away, or if it goes away. I love this quote, despite its crude imagery. We've all had the experience of being caught up in a book we know is not great literature but the author has managed to hook us into reading just one more chapter. And one more after that. Because we gotta know what happens next. People have fallen prey to The Gotta for as long as there have been story tellers. In 1840, readers on both sides of the Atlantic went crazy over Charles Dickens's serialized version of The Old Curiosity Shop. When the final installment came out in February, 1841, Americans waited at the docks, asking the sailors "Does Little Nell live?" And of course, J.K. Rowling had The Gotta in spades. Then there's Denis Lehane. And Thomas Harris. And Daphne du Maurier. And Jonathan Kellerman And Scott Turow. I could go on. And I'm sure, so could you. All the authors that had us skipping the vacuuming, or putting off checking the email from the boss, or actually made us sad that the plane landed early because we hadn't finished yet. In Misery, if I remember correctly, writer Paul Sheldon believes that The Gotta is a gift. You can study the nuts and bolts of the writing craft, but The Gotta is something you either have or you don't. And you can't learn how to do it in your advanced Creative Writing Class. What an amazing gift it is--to weave a story so good, people lose themselves in the world you've created and you keep them there. Forget the National Book Award. I want me some of The Gotta.


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