Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Writing Horror Part 2: Essential Reading

(This is the second installment in Jeff's series about penning a horror novel. If you need to catch up, you can read the first part here)

I took on some required reading before I began this process.  If you're writing a novel along with me (which would certainly be awesome) you don't have to do this.  I'm just a weirdo that over-thinks something before I do it.

That said, there is a vast quanity of "How to Write" material out there in general, not to mention the selections that are horror related.  Here is a list of texts I feel are important for any aspiring horror writer.

[Click the break to see Jeff's recommendations on essential primers and guides for horror writers! ]

1. On Writing by Stephen King.

If you read nothing else, make it this.  In part 1 of my series, I talked a lot about my early writing, but I failed to mention that it was all a result of reading this book. It's very inspiring, and immensely helpful as well.

The first half of On Writing is a memoir of his oft told struggle leading to success with Carrie.  The second part is all craft instruction.  Seeing my hero break down his magic into repeatable steps blew my mind when I read it in high school, and the alchemy has lost nothing a over decade later.

2. Danse Macabre by Stephen King

I hesitate to recommend this to beginners.  It's far more dense and less immediately useful.

Remember Christian Bergling's awesome guest post Why We Love Horror?

This is essentially Stephen King's lengthy version of that article resulting from one of the few times he taught a college course.  It's excellent, but is far from bathroom reading. It also doesn't necessarily require reading Dracula, Frankenstein, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde prior to taking it on, but you get a lot more from the book if you absorb those (as well as watch the films and TV mentioned) first.

I find it useful as an academic approach to horror. Think of it as an advanced college class on horror that you are conducting for yourself.  If that sort of thing interests you, check it out.

3. On Writing Horror edited by Mort Castle
(NOTE: as of Dec. 2014 the Kindle version of this is receiving terrible reviews based on formatting and is actually only $3 cheaper than a brand new print copy)

I bought this at a Waldenbooks (remember them?) circa 2006 and not only has the book outlived the store chain I bought it from, but it's one of the most repeatedly thumbed through things on my bookshelf.  Unlike the prior title, this is PERFECT bathroom reading.  It's a collection of essays by horror authors about their approach to writing scary stories and novels.  Most can be read in one sitting and vary from inspirational to insightful.  It's a must-have for any horror writer's shelf.

4. Write, Publish, Repeat by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant

This one has nothing to do with horror specifically, but you should still read it.

It gets a little repetitive here and there and most of this information is available for free by listening to their podcast, but these guys are awesome. Extremely smart; this book is an easy delivery mechanism for some really important info any self-publishing author can use.

Brief aside: I also love Kevin Smith (director of indie comedy darling Clerks and many less-beloved films) After a series of public creative failures he started smoking lots of weed and watching a lot of Wayne Gretzky documentaries.  This resulted in him coming out of the hockey haze with new mantras based on the life and works of Wayne Gretzky. My favorite: "Don't go where the puck is; go where the puck is going to be."

You can see him living this advice now with flicks like Tusk and Red State where he's carved out a new independent space by making whatever weird crap he wants and even distributing it himself if he has to.

This book is all about self publishing, ie, "where the puck is going to be".  I don't buy that the sky is rapidly falling on traditional publishing, but I do see it becoming more and more irrelevant.

In our next Writing Horror post, we'll cover why I'm planning on going that route and how it influences the kind of horror fiction I'm writing.

If you are using this series to do some writing of your own feel free to put your own thoughts, questions, and struggles in the comments.  What books on writing do you enjoy?

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