On Writing Horror (Book)

On Writing Horror

Written by The Horror Writers Association

Edited by Mort Castle

Published by Writers Digest Books, 2006

Check the local bookstore’s “Reference” section and you’ll see dozens of how-to books about writing. Books on poetry, character-building, weekend-novelist-ing and others clutter the shelves, many of which are written by folks of whom most people have never heard. In fact, close scrutiny reveals that some of the “authors” have only ever written one book in their lives, and it’s the how-to book on the shelf. There are painfully few books written by professionals on the subject of writing, and fewer still that divulge the secrets of the horror genre. Now, thanks to the efforts of the Horror Writers Association, there is a manual that gives real advice from actual professionals in the field of horror writing.

What should first strike anyone who picks up On Writing Horror is the list of contributors who make up this revised edition. Authors like Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, Stephen King, and Jack Ketchum grace the pages. Joe Lansdale, Joyce Carol Oats and Ramsey Campbell lend their expertise. Peter Straub, Scott Nicholson and a slew of others give this volume something lacking in a great many others: Credibility. The advice given comes from people who know their craft, and who have succeeded. These are not naive theories that should work, nor are they pipe-dream ramblings. This collection of essays come from those who make their respective livings through their writing, and tells writers what best worked for them.

Contained in this volume are nearly fifty articles, each one detailing a different part of the writing process. Of course, put a dozen writers in one room and ask them the same question, you’ll wind up with a dozen different answers. What works here is that each essay is told from a single perspective that plays to that writers strengths. Want to know whose work you should be reading? Ask Bob Weinberg, who shares twenty-one horror classics that every horror writer should read. Want to know how to avoid clichés? Ramsey Campbell can steer you past the rough waters. Want to know how to create believable characters? Tina L. Jens will show you.

In a book such as this, it is difficult to pick the “best” articles, because each one has its own merit, and all are full of valuable advie. However, since this is a review and such things are expected, I’ll do my best. Weinberg’s article “What You Are Meant to Know: Twenty-One Horror Classics” is a comprehensive list of books that no fan of the genre can dispute. Also, in section two, Michael A. Arnzen provides excellent perspective in his article “Degrees of Dread: Horror in Higher Education.” David Morrell’s “‘He Said?’ She Asked: Some Thoughts About Dialogue” contains information from which many burgeoning writers could benefit. Nick Mamatas’ “Depth of Field: Horror in Literary Fiction” will be eye-opening to some and a nod of the head to others who recognize that horror can be not only literature, but is often found nestled snugly within the literary stomach.

The entirety of “Part Seven: Genre and Subgenre” is a must read, all ten articles of it. Within this section are essays on erotic horror, splatter horror, redneck horror, horror for the stage and screen, comics, and any other genre to which “horror” can be tacked.

Perhaps the most valuable section, though it is difficult to place any one section above another in value, is section eight, “Horror Business: Selling, Marketing, Promoting.” It is the information in this section for which most young writers would sell their collective souls and several body parts. From horror professionals such as Judi Rohrig and Scott Nicholson comes practical advice on how to get your name and novel in front of the audience, as well as six market myths busted by Bev Vincent.

On Writing Horror is the best how-to book of the lot for anyone even thinking about becoming a horror writer, or even a writer in general. Its no-nonsense approach to the art and craft of writing assures its place as the dog-eared, well-read bible among horror-writing novices and professionals alike.

5 out of 5

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Jon Condit

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