Monday, March 8, 2010

On Writing Horror, Revised Edition edited by Mort Castle: Part 1

I am fascinated by books such as On Writing Horror, Revised Edition. As an author working on his craft and who isn’t widely published, one would think I get writing books to help me better my writing, and in part that is likely the case. However, the biggest reason is that they present a way to talk about writing with myself. An internal dialogue forms, and the interesting ideas the authors of this volume throw out makes for fun food for thought. As I normally read solely fiction, reading non-fiction is quite the cnage up, and so I decided to break up the book into pieces, and share it with you piecemeal while I stop to think about certain sections. This review will cover up through Part Three.

The forward gives a brief introduction to the Horror Writers Association (HWA). After an introduction to the text by editor Mort Castle, we dive in.

Part One (“Horror, Literature, and Horror Literature”) contains three essays, one each from Joyce Carol Oates, Stephen King, and Michael McCarty, on what horror fiction is, and why it is important. Stephen King’s piece, a transcript from his National Book Award speech, takes the top spot in this section, giving a very human view of the whats and whys of horror fiction, as well as his personal inspirations.

Part Two (“An Education in Horror”) contains a series of essays by Robert Weinberg, Ramsey Campbell, Tom Monteleone, and Michael A. Arnzen on both what you need to know about the horror genre and how to learn it. Weinberg gives a list of 21 classics of the genre any writer who wants to write horror should read, while Campbell discusses genre clichés. The other two discuss workshops and college programs that emphasize creative writing. The second two weren’t as exciting, but Weinberg and Campbell make for very interesting reading.

Part Three (“Developing Horror Concepts”) begins to get to the meat of the book. The underpinnings of horror fiction and how to use them well are explored by J. N. Williamson (how to formulate your ideas), Wayne Allen Sallee (finding horror in the everyday), Michael Marano (writing about things that scare you), and Richard Gilliam (on the accuracy of historical detail). These items are things that can make or break a story, and all four authors break down their topics into very well described and uncomplex pieces. The Gilliam piece in particular has a lot of things to offer that the starting author likely wouldn’t think of.

The next part of the review of On Writing Horror, Revised Edition will delve into sections on the more nitty gritty details of horror stories and art and innovation in horror.

This book is far more than a “How To” book. It contains a plethora of ideas just waiting to be thrown into stories, and it will incite excitement in any author to dive into a new horror story. This new author looks very much forward to using the excitement generated from On Writing Horror, Revised Edition in his next horror story. More news to follow, both on that front as well as continuing On Writing Horror, Revised Edition.

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