First and foremost, you must read Stephen King's On Writing before you read this "self-help" book; and then use SK's On Writing as a filter of what is right and what is wrong about the mixed bag of advices--some of which are downright terrible.
I bought this book because I wanted to be well informed. And I did not come into this skeptically at all (IT HAS 5 STARS ON AMAZON, BOO YA!). This book is full of advice and some of it is bad; but out of the advice that isn't bad, it leaves only casual advice--not necessarily good advice (and if it is "good" advice, it really is not "great" advice). Originally when I bought this, I literally thought this was going to be a workshop-style book; for instance, try this exercise, try that exercise, read these books if you're interested in this genre, yadda yadda yadda--none of that is in it (and that's not so bad, really).
What this book tries to be is an On Writing Horror book, but there's already been a book called that, so the editor, Michael Knost, named it something different. Since different authors wrote different chapters, I will specifically reviewed certain chapters that stand out for various reasons (because there are some chapter's that I literally wanted to punch the author(s) in the face--and then there are some chapters that have genuinely okay advice).
These chapters are very "blah"--I didn't get much out of it except for confidence in my own writing (because these people were apparently published and Stoker award winning/nominated authors!).
Connecting the DOTS, Gary Braunbeck - 2/5
Have you ever had a teacher who thought that asking question after question of rhetorical, semi-thought provoking subjects were productive? Well, Braunbeck is another one of those advice givers that just states the obvious--though some of those obvious points he makes are quite solid advice. Gary also likes to talk . . . about himself . . . a lot. He compares writing to acting; you can either be a "Method" writer (trying to become the characters from the inside) or "Technical" writer (trying to become the characters from the outside). This chapter would have been better if he wasn't so full of himself and just got to the simple points, instead of putting an entire chapter of his own novel in his chapter just to publicize it because the Amazon store doesn't even sell his books (and they got mediocre reviews, too).
The Soul of the Plot, Tim Waggoner - 1/5
I'm going to be honest: I completely lost interest in what this man had to say after he said that The Sixth Sense had the worst twist in a movie he'd ever seen. To me, a horror writer who can't appreciate good horror, good story telling, and people who've actually made it, doesn't deserve to be listened to. His credibility completely diminished. It's like reading an On Writing Fantasy book and the author straight up says that The Lord of the Rings is the worst fantasy series ever written--whether or not you agree, you sure as heck will not care what the writer thinks. But I really, really, really enjoyed that his chapter was really short!
Character POV, Scott Nicholson 5/5
Finally, here's an author that knows his stuff--or seems to--and doesn't have terrible "opinions" which loses credibility, like Tim Waggoner did. Nicholson was very clear in his points and on the mark. He's explains the pros and cons of points of views, and he's right about his advice--all of it. What really impressed me most is that he understands and states that first person writing in horror is not natural and a bit hindering (because you know the character lives. And how does the character find time to write all this down? etc.). So many amateurish writers instinctively go with 1st person in writing in general, when really it should be last resort.
Using Dialogue to Tell Your Story, Thomas F. Monteloene 4/5
Very solid advice; that's honestly all I can say, because sometimes less is better.
The Power of Setting and Description, G. Cameron Fuller 4/5
What Fuller understood, and made his point very clearly, is that the most effective settings have already been used and need to be used again if you want your horror story to be effective--there's no way around using a cliché setting or a cliché character or a cliché genre . . . but what you can do (and need to do) is make it fresh. (Look at Tarantino.)
Tone, Style, and Voice, Rick Hautala 3/5
I disagreed with a lot of his "advice" and I was kind of disappointed that he didn't even understand how to explain style (by the way, Stephen King nails it on the head in his own On Writing--which I highly recommend before reading this "how to write" book). But he sort of redeemed himself at the very end of his chapter when he said, "If you've disagreed with anything I've said--that's probably a good thing." And for that, BRAVO!--he dug himself out of the hole I was burying him in.
Fight and Action Scenes In Horror, Jonathan Maberry 1/5
Other than pointing out the obvious: that a fight should be realistic (unless the writer is ignorant or has good reason for it not to be), he basically just writes the synopsis of his vampire trilogy, pretending that maybe the synopsis will help the reader write a good fight scene of their own. What he should have done was given examples of different kinds of fight scenes ranging from in genre and style, such as Cormac McCarthy's simplicity (Blood Meridian): "He swung with the bottle and the kid ducked and swung again and the kid stepped back. When the kid hit him the man shattered the bottle against the side of his head. He went off the boards into the mud and the man lunged after him with the jagged bottleneck and tried to stick it in his eye. The kid was fending with his hands and they were slick with blood. He kept trying to reach into his boot for his knife." Then give examples of more complex fights; and then maybe an example of a bad fight scene (which I'm sure he'd find quite a few examples in his own novels). All in all, it's not a very good chapter. Good intent, sure (except for promoting his own work), but just not worth the read. If you skip this chapter, you're not missing out.
CHAPTER 15, Cross Reading, Joe R. Lansdale 3/5
What he says is true. Don't reread the same junk over and over again (no matter how yummy that junk is). Look up the best authors of all genres and read that crap up! If you always read what you always like you'll always write what you always read; in other words, it's a full circle (and he didn't make up that saying--I did). What I didn't like was the delusional statement that he reads a book a day without actually skimming and he is still a martial arts master . . . okay?--am I missing something? Does he not have a life and reads all day, or is he lying about the "not skimming?" At least Stephen King, in his On Writing, is flat out honest and says that he's a slow reader . . . and look at all the success King has had, opposed to Lansdale. I suppose I felt that Lansdale was kind of "rubbing" it in and sounding snobbish or a liar, or both. People who can read a long book a day is either a "mind-freak" or a skimmer who reads just for the bare amount of comprehension. Maybe if Lansdale slows down his reading then he wouldn't have had to READ SO MANY BOOKS TO LEARN SOME TRICKS, eh? Slower reading equals better comprehension; that's fact; reading a book a day without skimming, that's fiction (though you'd have to argue the definition of skimming--the scientific term is 400 words or more--and if Lansdale reads a long book a day, which he suggested, then that means finishing, let's say HP and the Half Blood Prince in 6 hours: and that book is not even that long!--and I'm sure Lansdale would consider it a short book, but if he read HP&THBP any quicker than that then that surely means that HE'S A SKIMMER!--or reads all day and has no time for anything else in life, such as his karate or even writing itself--sorry, I just liked to point out that he's delusional in some aspects).
CHAPTER 21, Writing Horror Screenplays, Lisa Morton 1/5
It's really hard trying to find good screenplay advice (trust me--I went to school for screenwriting and hardly learned anything . . . literally); what Lisa says is common sense: duh, you need a good script. But, she suffers from common amateur misconceptions about the screenwriting biz. Firstly, living in Los Angeles . . . eh . . . not as "recommended" as you may think. If you want to get a job as writing straight to DVD or Sci Fi channel "original" movies--yeah, go right ahead, live in "Hollywood" next to a C-horror film studio and honestly, most good writers probably don't want the stigma of writing scripts for terrible movies, therefore your chances might be quite good (and I say that rather loosely). Lisa wrote Blood Angels (later called Thralls)--it's got a 4.1/10 on imdb. Better than Uwe Boll I might say, Bravo! But don't listen to all of her advice, except for FINAL DRAFT. But, here's a secret they don't want you to know between the parentheses: (celtx). I recommend if you're trying to break into the horror filmmaking scene to do this: write a LOW BUDGET (but very good) SCRIPT, with a small cast, realistic locations and find a local and ambitious group of filmmakers--and you might even have to search around for people, maybe on Craig's list. And you'll probably have to pitch in and produce this sucker to some capacity--you'll have to take off a day or two of work per week (and make sure you don't have classes those days either) and make sure everyone else has those days off, too. Do pre-production first on those days, then find your actors, grips, audio dudes, etc. and film your movie! That's what Christopher Nolan did with his first film, Following (only 10,000 dollars--which, I believe he and his brother wrote the screenplay for), and because that LOW BUDGET film was so good, they were able to find producers for later films--Memento, Insomnia, Batman Begins, The Prestige, The Dark Knight, Inception! And it all began with a 10,000 investment and a dedicated crew and actors who weren't great, but did the part! All in all, Lisa Morton didn't really get into the independent aspects of screenplays . . . and really, she's not one to teach others, sorry to say, and most of her advice made me want to puke out my breakfast . . . from two nights ago.
Stephen King's Writing Advice Broke My Heart, Robert N. Lee 3/5
How hilarious is this? I've been reading each chapter and writing notable reviews on them and I've been consistently saying "Read Stephen King's On Writing before you read this." And what does this chapter do? Basically bashes Stephen King's writing advice. And really, he did choose to neglect something. Stephen King didn't say YOU NEED TO WRITE 8 HOURS A DAY. I'm pretty sure it was more like: you need to read and write at least 6 hours at a day--which is not unreasonable (or maybe it was eight hours, oh well, I don't know). But King did throw in "reading" into that timeframe too. And I think they threw in this chapter possibly so you wouldn't take King's advice which is basically goes against all the advice in this book (okay, I'm exaggerating . . . just a little).
It's a mixed bag of advice. Most bad, some is okay, very little is great advice. But, at the same time, if you want to write horror, it's probably a good idea to read this book just to know how other horror writers write, what they think, how they "made it," etc. . . . is it worth the price? Yes and no. No, because it's too expensive; yes, because you won't find it any other way--this book likely has a limited number of copies and won't be at your local library sad to say (though I might be wrong).
But, I do highly recommend Stephen King's On Writing. Even if you don't agree with everything King says, at least you'll understand the greatest and most commercially successful horror writer of all time. That's not such a bad thing to have under your belt if you want to be a writer like I do.