Arkadia's Reviews > Writers Workshop of Horror

Writers Workshop of Horror by Michael Knost
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Mar 31, 2011

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bookshelves: on-writing
Read in March, 2011 — I own a copy

This book is really a mixed bag. There is an assortment of helpful advice, completely subjective information, some things that read like filler and an essay that is cringingly bad that should never have been published.

I write this review as a writer who has a handle on 'the basics'. I'm far from incredible but I do have a grasp on most of the general building blocks. Writers Workshop of Horror reads more like a guide for very new writers who are only just embarking into the field of fiction.

A good example comes in the very first essay of the book: 'Creating Effective Beginnings". Here is a summary:

Start your story with something interesting.

I wouldn't call this a bad essay, simply a barebones one. This essay does have some effective examples of how one can actually craft an interesting beginning, but for even semi-experienced writers, all the stated techniques should be obvious and second-nature.

The book continues in a similar fashion, with authors rehashing what I would consider obvious points regarding the matter at hand and offering very little innovative or thought-provoking advice. There were only two essays in the book that gave me any pause for thought, though some others that contain sage advice I just happen to have already come across in my pursuit of writing education.

One essay alone, for me, made the book worth the price of admission. That essay is Braunberg's 'Connecting the DOTS' and has great advice for those wanting to improve their character development skills. He has a very unique approach that is now my go-to thought process when I have trouble crafting a character appropriately.

The other essay I found endearing, though not quite as mindblowing for me, was Arnzen's 'Stripping Away the Mask: Scene and Structure in Horror Fiction'. It was very short but well-written and contained a freshly presented perspective on what horror does and how it does it right. Very enjoyable to read.

I also want to draw attention to Piccirilli's 'Exploring Personal Themes'. Another very short essay, it says something I think is very important for every writer to learn, particularly those dabbling in the horror genre: theme is not something to thumb your nose at or be left to 'literary writers'. In order to give your work a soul it's important to grasp onto ideas and perspectives that are important to you and to explore those within your work. The best writing should involve a journey of self-discovery. The passion will come through in your words. Exploring the themes of alcoholic parents, miscarriages, victims of spousal abuse, the shitty education system, hypocrisy... any subject that gets your blood pumping is something that should be explored in your work. But I digress. Piccirilli does a good job of alerting writers to the importance of theme in their work and how to discover potential themes within yourself.

Cross-reading by Lansdale is also an essay that will certainly indirectly help your writing if you listen to its recommendation, if you don't cross-read already (you should).

Other essays that I think many would find useful include Monteleone's 'Using Dialogue to Tell Your Story', an essay that again goes over what I consider 'the basics' but has good, clear examples to help you on your way; Strand's 'Adding Humor to your Horror', an essay containing great examples of just how humor can help even the most serious of horror stories; and Maberry's 'Fight and Action Scenes in Horror', that gives some things to think about with regard to writing an action scene and how to strengthen it.

Knost's 'The Aha! Moment' section is pretty much a series of mini-interviews with established authors, and is full of amusing and potentially educational anecdotes the interviewee's biggest writing epiphanies and how they got obtained them. An interesting read.

There are other essays in the book that will certainly help beginning writers, that are a little too basic for anyone with some time and experience under their belt to glean anything from.

I do want to call attention to Rick Hautala's 'The Hardest Three: Tone, Style and Voice'. This is one of the worst published pieces I have ever read, period. I honestly couldn't believe what I was reading, and that the editor deemed it sufficiently good enough to put in the book. I'm humiliated for Knost. I can only wonder if Hautala is a close friend of his who received the check before putting in his essay, therefore leaving Knost in the awkward position of rejecting Hautala's letter and asking for a money return or just publishing the thing to avoid a scene. The title sets the pace of the rest of the essay: 'the hardest three'. Apparently for you, it is, Hautala. This guy has no idea what he's talking about, and pretty much admits it. The entire essay is inundated with self-doubt, there are an abundance of ellipses and words such as 'um', 'well', 'really', 'you know', 'like I said', 'relatively', 'whatever' and 'okay', with some other delightful choices thrown in. Oh, it just reads like a charm. I have full confidence that this guy has any kind of authority to even begin to suggest how I might go about dealing with tone, style and voice.

Two choice tidbits:
'Now keep in mind, this is coming from a writer who has never been praised or even complimented on his "writing style." ' He goes on to say that he thinks this is because the writer's voice should be invisible. I agree with the invisible bit. However, if I'm going to judge from this essay, I don't quite think that's why no one has ever complimented your writing style.

The end of the essay: "If you disagree with anything I've said--that's probably a good thing'.

Throughout the essay this guy humms and hurrs and debates and makes a general mockery of himself. I've never been so astounded at the lack of strength in a writer's words. If he didn't know what he was talking about, he should have declined to write the essay. Mr. Hautala, you've ensured I will avoid any book I come across that boasts your name on the cover. Some professionalism would be appreciated.

Regardless of that particularly nasty gem, Writers Workshop of Horror is a pretty decent guide for the aspiring horror writer, though it has advice that any writer can benefit from. My two main quibbles are that it's perhaps a little too basic for what might be the majority of their readership, and that the majority of the advice offered in the book can be found presented more thoroughly in other, non-genre writing guides.

If you have some money to spare and like to write in the horror genre, this is a book that is bound to give you at least a few pieces of great advice you would never otherwise have thought of. If you're only looking to buy one or two writing manuals, I do believe there are better books for your money, and just because you're a horror writer, doesn't mean you should feel inclined to only peruse horror-geared on-writing books.
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