Throughout his over 40-year career as a horror author, Stephen King has conjured truly terrifying tales that have become some of his readers' worst nightmares. The idea of living in a world in which his stories could be a reality is horrifying, but the truth is, the author often draws inspiration from his own personal experiences that he then twists into macabre masterpieces.
One of the most well-known instances of King being inspired by his own personal experiences comes in the form of a fateful stay at a hotel in Colorado. King and his family stayed at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, CO, towards the end of the busy season. The author was virtually alone in the massive hotel that was reportedly haunted, which resulted in the idea of a family tasked with watching over a haunted hotel throughout the winter, the concept that became The Shining.
The connection between his own experiences and the basis for a story sometimes seem like an obvious inspiration, but not all of his inspirations have resulted in the expected story.
Cujo tells the tale of a large St. Bernard who wants nothing more out of life than to chase rabbits, only to inadvertently chase a rabbit into a hole in the ground, which is home to a rabid bat. The bat scratches the canine's face while attempting to flee, infecting the lovable pooch with the virus that causes him to attack his family. Considering his size and furious mindset, the dog becomes a terrifying force.
Luckily for King, the author never had a deadly encounter with an animal like Cujo, but he did run into a St. Bernard at a mechanic's that barked, growled, and snarled at the author. According to King, the owner of the dog explained, "I guess he don't like your face."
Clearly the experience of a friendly dog having the capacity to turn on someone left quite the impression on the author, going on to write about a massive canine.
Often considered King's most defining piece of literature, It explores themes of childhood, fear, and both literal and figurative monsters. In the story, a group of kids bands together when realizing they've all experienced psychological trauma at the hands of other, which puts them right in the crosshairs of the monstrous "It," often taking the form of a killer clown. The idea of the creepy killer was inspired by John Wayne Gacy, a serial killer who dressed as a clown on the weekends.
One of the most iconic scenes from the book and subsequent live-action adaptation involves Pennywise the clown enticing a young boy to climb down into a sewer, which was inspired by King having to walk three miles to a car repair shop on a path that took him past an old bridge. That bridge reminded him of a fairytale about a troll living under a bridge, ultimately becoming the basis for the famous scene in his novel.
Another architecture inspiration came from his home town of Bangor, ME, which had an incredibly complex sewer system.
The author recalled, "A lot of the blueprints have now been lost and it’s easy to get lost down there. I decided I wanted to put all that into a book and eventually I did. Bangor became Derry."
In the story, a family moves into a new house in rural Maine when the family's toddler Gage accidentally stumbles into traffic. When Gage's father realizes that a cat he buried in a local pet cemetery returns to the family days later, he gets the idea that he should bury their young son in the cemetery. The family learns the hard way that some things should stay dead, no matter how tragic their passing might have been, as once the living has seen the other side, they will be forever changed.
The inspiration for the story came from an incident in which King stayed at a house that was across the street from an actual pet cemetery. Stephen King's website describes what it was about the house that inspired him to write the novel:
"Stephen was serving as a writer-in-residence at the University of Maine at Orono and living in a rented house in nearby Orrington that bordered a major truck route which frequently claimed the lives of dogs and cats. In the woods behind his house, local children had created an informal pet cemetery. One day, his daughter’s cat was killed by a passing truck. Stephen was faced with the task of burying the cat in the pet cemetery and then explaining to his daughter what had happened.” The site adds, "It was on the third day after the burial that the idea for a novel came to him.”
After a romance author gets into a horrifying car accident on a snowy mountain road, the only person to come to his rescue ends up being one of his biggest fans. When the fan reads the transcript for one of her favorite author's newest novels, she's horrified at the novel's treatment of the main character and forces him to write a new story to right these wrongs, going so far as to injure him to prevent his escape.
The rabid fan, Annie Wilkes, has often been seen as a representation of fervent fandom, but King has cited that his battle with drugs was the main inspiration.
The author revealed in an interview, "Annie was my drug problem, and she was my number-one fan. God, she never wanted to leave."
It shouldn't come as any surprise that Cell, the story of a mysterious pulse emanating from cell phones that turns anyone using their phones at the moment to turn into zombies, came from the real-world inspiration of how many people used their phones. However, King revealed there was one specific incident of seeing an individual on their phone that was the impetus for him to write the story.
The author explained that, while visiting New York City, he saw a man in a suit passionately talking to himself, a bizarre image of someone well-dressed seemingly raving into the void. Upon further inspection, the author realized that the man actually had an ear piece in and was on a phone call, but the imagery stuck with him and Cell was born.
King's first novel, Carrie, is a coming of age story about a girl who is bullied relentlessly by her schoolmates and, when she is pushed to the breaking point at her prom, her emotions run so strongly and her latent telekinetic abilities unleash upon her tormentors.
A number of factors came together to bring this story to life, beginning with the fact that the author once had a job scrubbing showers in a locker room. A pivotal scene in the film takes place in a locker room with Carrie being attacked by her peers.
Another inspiration came from an article King had read that hypothesized that ghost sightings were actually someone's latent telekinetic abilities manifesting objects to move under their own powers.
The inspiration for Carrie herself came from an elementary school classmate who was teased by her peers for wearing the same clothes every day, with King's character often wearing drab and dull clothing to school, unlike the rest of the girls' hipper styles.
After an obese man runs over a gypsy woman, her father curses the man to never stop losing weight. While, at first, the curse does seem effective and a positive change
The inspiration for this story came from King's personal life, with a doctor instructing King to quit smoking and lose some weight. The author then began to ponder what would happen if his body never stopped losing weight no matter what measures he implemented.
King even incorporated a line spoken to him by his doctor in regards to his weight, with the author explaining, "I went to see the doctor and he told me 'Listen, man, your triglycerides are really high. In case you haven't noticed it, you've entered heart attack country.' I used that line in the book."
Virtually every vampire in every story owes at least a little bit of credit to Bram Stoker's Dracula, with countless books, movies, and TV shows taking different bits of mythology from the story to incorporate into new tales of terror. In the case of Salem's Lot, the connection is much stronger, with King having admitted it was born from the concept of the Dracula character existing in a small American town in present day.
The author recalled teaching Dracula in a class, discovering, "I was surprised at how vital it had remained over the years; the kids liked it, and I liked it, too. One night over supper I wondered aloud what would happen if Dracula came back in the twentieth century, to America. 'He'd probably be run over by a Yellow Cab on Park Avenue and killed,' my wife said."
He added, "That closed the discussion, but in the following days, my mind kept returning to the idea. It occurred to me that my wife was probably right—if the legendary Count came to New York, that was. But if he were to show up in a sleepy little country town, what then? I decided I wanted to find out, so I wrote Salem's Lot, which was originally titled Second Coming."