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On Writing Horror: A Handbook by the Horror Writers Association: A Handbook by "The Horror Writers of America" Kindle Edition
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Top Customer Reviews
It's an American book, the Horror Writers Association being based in the US, with the result that a handful of chapters on topics such as workshops and local conventions are of little use unless you live there. These chapters are, however, the exception rather than the rule. I hadn't previously heard of most of the contributors, but the ones I had include Joyce Carol Oates, Ramsay Campbell, Jack Ketchum (who should be renamed Ketchup) and Harlan Ellison (his interview, in which he calls the value of horror as a genre into question, is one of the highlights). The transcript of a Stephen King award acceptance speech also appears, though it's of limited value.
Perhaps the lines that stick most in my mind come from critic Douglas E. Winter: 'Horror is not a genre. It is an emotion,' and 'it can be found in all great literature.' If you want advice on writing any kind of fiction, this is an illuminating read.
Another good book in this line is Stephen King's On Writing On Writing that is part autobipgraphy and part advice.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
With contributions from such an array as e.g. Stephen King (the popular attraction, I imagine - but his words, culled from his Acceptance Speech when receiving the National Book Award in 2003, are still interesting and worth keeping in mind!), Ramsey Campbell, Mort Castle, Jeanne Cavelos, and Nancy Kilpatrick it comes as no surprise that what we get here is really only a glimpse of how to approach the genre. And, boy, is that good. As is mentioned several times throughout the book (by different authors), too often one hears that what you need for a book or story to be successful is to "include A, B, and C", when in fact the truth is rarely, if ever, so simple.
I found it refreshing that just about EVERY aspect of the genre is being covered - from classic horror, to the violent and even sexually oriented subgenres. This keeps the reader on a constant learning curve, I think. Something to fuel the imagination that lies at the dark heart of every horror writer's story.
To help the reader stay on line with the essays' diversity & suggestions, the editor, Mort Castle, has wisely arranged for them to be placed in various headlines -
"Horror, Literature, and Horror Literature" (general introductions), An Education in Horror" ("good things to know & read before you commence writing" stuff), "Developing Horror Concepts" (a personal favourite section), "Horror Crafting" (incl. advice on writing dialogue - which is useful for ANY writer of fiction!), "Horror, Art, Innovation, Excellence", "Tradition and Modern Times" (what to choose, what to choose?), `"Genre and Subgenre", "Horror, Business, Selling, Marketing, Promoting" (I think this ought to be something EVERY aspiring writer reads!).
There are of course (and wisely) no guarantees for success, if one follows the suggestions in the book, but that's not of relevance in the first place. What it offers is diverse looks at various important aspects of writing a horror story - be that in literature form or, even, as a screenplay!
The latter I probably won't ever use myself, but I found a pleasent surprise that it is there, since it is a good example of the diversity of the book - which is what makes it a good, trustworthy guideline for the aspiring writer (such as myself). And I am quite sure there is something for everybody; something you hadn't thought of yourself, and for which you will be thankful that you opted for buying the book.
As a final word I must say that I always appreciate a wellmade cover and overall quality, be that paperback or hardcover - and this book is such a book. Nice job!
One problem with this book is that most of the people that supply the contend for the book are now senior citizens, many of whom are form the pre-TV generation, and don't have an entirely modern viewpoint on the publishing and promotional mechanisms available today. There is talk of the evils of vanity presses for example; which is silly, as modern platforms like the Kindle Self-Publishing Program render such things moot. Other examples are abound, but I won't get into it. The point is, some of the information in this book is both dated, and told from a dated perspective. Thus, if you buy this book, keep in mind that you don't have to take all of their advice literally, and that there are many, many more options available to you when it comes to publishing.
I'm not bagging on older people at all, mind you. I'm not saying that being a member of the pre-TV generation is a bad thing either; as a writer, it's a very good thing in my opinion. I just know that technology has opened about a half-billion doors that the people writing in this book aren't familiar with and haven't considered.
The other aspect of this book that I disagreed with is the great push for writers conferences and workshops. While there is a warning that they're not for everyone, the push is obvious. Why do they push them? It's not on-the-level, if you ask me. Many of those that write for this book have their own conferences and workshops that they sell as a service, so it's inherently biased advice.
Other than these small issues, the general advice in the book is solid. I really liked some of the suggested-reading and I liked reading the work by the authors that were name-dropped (whom I'd previously never heard of).
Take ALL writing advice with a grain of salt.
The first one hundred pages are very strong; I had the sense that these people actually knew what they were talking about, whereas in Writers Workshop of Horror (edited by Knost) felt very amateurish. On the flipside, there were a few chapters that are quite weak, and part 7 you'll probably skip many of the chapters in that. In fact, it's part 7 that takes away a star from five stars because I paid for 50 pages that didn't help me. Part 7 deals with teen horror, film adaptations, audio horror, videogame adaptation (and roleplaying--even dorkier), theatre, and film, too. The film chapter is the only chapter in that section that would have benefited me, if I were to read it. But here's the thing--if I wanted to be a screenwriter (which I do), I'll buy a screenwriting book (which I already have). Finally, the last 50 pages you probably should skim . . . but don't read in detail until you've actually got a finished, ready-to-be-published novel. I found myself ultimately skipping these last pages.
In the end, this should have been called "How to Write Mediocre Horror for Small, Semi-Local Publishers". I think most of the stuff is worth knowing; and certainly the authors actually know what they're talking about, unlike in Writers Workshop of Horror--but, I'll stand by this statement: anybody who wants to write commercially successful fiction needs to read Stephen King's On Writing. I've literally read all the "how to write horror" books, and King's is the best. His On Writing is an invaluable resource.
If you're thinking about buying this, it might be worth reading just to know what your future competitions are saying about the field. But, really, this book is a rent--King's On Writing is a must-buy (and I also suggest Stephen King's 'Danse Macabre' too, just to "understand" horror and what the most successful horror writer (and writer, period) of all time thinks of the genre). I'm not saying this book was a waste of time; I'm just saying that it's not worth buying. And hey, you can aquire all the information in a better fashion through common sense, and that's free!