Jack Torrance, a loving father when sober, is a temperamental alcoholic and aspiring writer. He is trying to rebuild his life after previously breaking his son Danny's arm and assaulting a pupil at a Vermont prep school where he was a teacher. After losing his teaching position and giving up drinking, Jack accepts a job as a winter caretaker at the large, isolated Overlook Hotel in Colorado to prove that he has recovered from alcoholism and is now a responsible person. Jack, his wife Wendy, and the clairvoyant Danny move into the Overlook.
Danny's clairvoyance makes him sensitive to supernatural forces. Shortly after the family's initial arrival at the hotel, Danny and the hotel chef, Dick Hallorann, talk privately to discuss Danny's talent and the hotel's sinister nature. Dick informs Danny that he shares Danny's abilities (though to a lesser degree), as did Dick's grandmother, who called it "shining". Dick warns Danny to avoid Room 217, and reassures him that the things he may see are merely pictures which cannot harm him. The conversation ends with Dick saying to Danny, "If there is trouble...you give a shout."
The hotel has a personality in its own right, and acts as a psychic lens: it manipulates the living and the dead for its own purposes; and it magnifies the psychic powers of any living people who reside there and makes them more sensitive to its urgings. Danny has premonitions of the hotel's danger to his family and begins seeing ghosts and frightening visions from the hotel's past, but puts up with them in the hope that they are not dangerous in the present. Although Danny is close to his father, he does not tell either of his parents about his visions because he senses that the caretaking job is important to his father and his family's future. However, Danny realizes that his presence in the hotel makes it more powerful, and enables it to make objects and situations dangerous that would normally not be dangerous, like topiary animals that come to life.
The hotel has difficulty possessing Danny, so it begins to possess Jack, frustrating his need and desire to work. Jack becomes increasingly unstable, and the sinister ghosts of the hotel gradually begin to overtake him. One day he goes to the bar of the hotel, previously empty of alcohol, and finds it fully stocked. He quickly gets drunk, which allows the hotel to possess him more fully. The hotel attempts to use Jack to kill Wendy and Danny in order to absorb Danny's psychic abilities. Wendy and Danny manage to get the better of Jack, locking him into the walk-in pantry, but the ghost of Delbert Grady, a former caretaker who murdered his family and then committed suicide, releases him. Wendy discovers that they are completely isolated at the Overlook, as Jack has sabotaged the hotel's snowmobile and smashed the CB radio in the office. She and Jack battle. Jack strikes Wendy with one of the hotel's roque mallets, breaking three ribs, a leg, and one vertebra in her back. Wendy stabs Jack in the small of his back with a large butcher knife, then crawls away to the caretaker's suite and locks herself in the bathroom, with Jack in pursuit.
Hallorann, working at a winter resort in Florida, hears Danny's psychic call for help and rushes back to the Overlook. Jack leaves Wendy in the bathroom and ambushes Hallorann, shattering his jaw and giving him a concussion with the mallet, before setting off after Danny. Danny distracts Jack by saying "You're not my daddy," having realized that the Overlook had completely taken over Jack by playing on his alcoholism. Jack temporarily regains control of himself and tells Danny, "Run away. Quick. And remember how much I love you," before the hotel causes Jack to kill himself with the roque mallet. Danny tells the thing Jack has become that the unstable boiler is going to explode, and it rushes to the basement as Danny, Wendy, and Hallorann flee. Though the Jack-thing tries to relieve the pressure, the boiler explodes, destroying the Overlook. The building's spirit makes one last desperate attempt to possess Hallorann and make him kill Danny and Wendy, but he shakes it off and brings them to safety.
The novel ends with Danny and Wendy summering at a resort in Maine where Hallorann, the head chef, is comforting Danny over the loss of his father.
- Jack Torrance - The disturbed winter caretaker of the Overlook Hotel
- Wendy Torrance - His wife
- Danny Torrance - Their son
- Tony- Danny's imaginary friend who warns him not to go to the Overlook
- Dick Hallorann - A cook at the Overlook hotel who has the shining.
- Delbert Grady - A previous caretaker who killed his family and himself, and whose ghost urges Jack to do the same.
- Stuart Ullman
Danny's middle name is Anthony; his imaginary friend's name is Tony.
In the movie based on this book, Delbert Grady is incorrectly called "Charles Grady".
Dick Hallorann appears in a flashback scene in Stephen King's novel It.
In The Stand, Mother Abigail says her grandmother referred to the gift of prophecy as "the shining lamp of God, sometimes just the shine."