Stephen King’s Misery is one of my favorite horror novels. I don’t even remember how young I was the first time I smuggled it out of the school library to read under the covers.
Re-reading it as a writer was an interesting experiment in figuring out why Misery works so well. Because there’s no doubt it does (at least, for me as a reader).
But it shouldn’t. And that’s the kicker.
Paul Sheldon is bed-ridden for most of the story. He’s essentially a passive character who reacts to the obstacles thrown in his way by Annie Wilkes. As a writer and editor, I find myself saying over and over again, “Make the characters more active. Passive is boring. Active is engaging.”
So how does Stephen King pull off such an engaging main character who we are actively engaged with and care about his fate all while making him reactionary, an invalid, and to the cursory eye, passive?
That brilliant internal monologue, that’s how.
King writes a deep third person point-of-view for Paul Sheldon. And from almost the opening, Paul resists. He begins to make plans to escape from Annie Wilkes and eventually to enact revenge. He might not be capable of physically carrying these plans out yet, but the will is there. His imagination is strong. And in these flights of pure rage, we, the reader, are carried along with him. We’re united in his hatred of Annie Wilkes. We feel his physical pain, his addiction and withdrawal, suffer his humiliation at her hands, and we long to be part of his plan for escape.
I’ve always been a fan of deep third person limited points of view, but rarely have I seen one so well done and effective in its purpose as Paul Sheldon’s in Misery.