Translating the Horror Fiction by Stephen King

Published on October 31, 2018

By Kali Faulwetter

Stephen King

Born September 21, 1947

“When asked, 'How do you write?' I invariably answer, 'one word at a time.'”

  • Stephen King

Stephen King is one of the most successful and prolific authors of the 21st century. Although King’s style looks simple because of its readability in English, with 3,354 professional translations from the English, his horrific prose are surprisingly difficult to translate. He makes great use of puns, idioms, and local slang from his home state in Maine, USA. Although this is typical of writers who don’t take into consideration their translators, King’s global popularity has made it necessary to translate his work. Among these issues, it is also very difficult to translate horror. To illustrate, the English words “scary” and “horrific” in and of themselves strongly differ in meaning, but refer to an emotional fear present in the mind. How then, can the professional translator match King’s rhythm of terrifying suspense into a target language?

  • Stephen King creates his terrifying realities through dialogue and description. He says,
    “Description creates a sensory reality for the reader and dialogue brings characters to life through their speech.” Rhythm is arguably the most important aspect of writing horror fiction, and is the element that makes this genre very difficult to translate. King’s translators must keep the original organization of his narratives to arouse emotion in the same way as the source text. Keeping the original cutting of paragraphs and sentences from the source text proves to be difficult with languages that have a different literary structure.

  • There is a particular shortage of English to Malay translators for Stephen King’s novels. The amount of skill and stamina it takes to contribute to and complete a novel-length project takes a special talent. Translating King’s Joyland proved to be especially difficult to translate into Malay, with its dense East-Coast American slang vocabulary. The translation took 5 months to complete.

  • King has had a special influence on Italian literary fiction. Italian authors Simona Vinci and Niccolò Ammaniti’s books have been greatly inspired by King’s characterization of children and childhood.  


Translating the genre of horror fiction proves itself not to be as easy as one might think. To create fear in a reader’s mind, a translator needs to not only convert King’s words and style, but must also use complementary mechanisms to insure that the original reality and suspense that King creates within the source text is present in the target text. For the professional translator that is up to the challenge, reception of horror fiction in the target reader’s mind is the key to creating Stephen King-level fear.

Stephen King in numbers:

50+ Stephen King’s novels have been translated into over 50 languages.

56  The amount of novels Stephen King has published in his lifetime, including five non-fiction books and more than 200 short stories.

King has published seven novels using the pen name Richard Bachman.

10  The number of pages King is said to write per day. At this pace, King will write 180,000 words over a three-month span.

For a review of the Chinese translation of King’s Bag of Bones, click here.

To find more “Famous Translators” authors in English, click here.


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About This Article

Famous Translators is a MotaWord segment showcasing notable professional translated works and famous linguists from history to the present. We will be researching, compiling and sharing stories that matter to every translator on our blog.

You, too can be published right here on the MotaWord blog site. To help us make this segment more tailored to our community, contribute any comments, ideas for articles, or share your story please contact kali@motaword.com.

Citations: WordsWithoutBorders, AsymptoteJournal, BBC, CulturesConnection, LitHub