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Writers Workshop of Horror

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Writers Workshop of Horror focuses solely on honing the craft of writing. It includes solid advice, from professionals of every publishing level, on how to improve one's writing skills. The volume edited by Michael Knost includes contributions by a dream-team of nationally known authors and storytellers, many Bram Stoker Award winners. Contributors to this work include#58; Clive Barker, Joe R. Lansdale, F. Paul Wilson, Ramsey Campbell, Thomas F. Monteleone, Deborah LeBlanc, Gary A. Braunbeck, Brian Keene, Elizabeth Massie, Tom Piccirilli, Jonathan Maberry, Tim Waggoner, Mort Castle, G. Cameron Fuller, Rick Hautala, Scott Nicholson, Michael A. Arnzen, J.F. Gonzalez, Michael Laimo, Lucy A. Snyder, Jeff Strand, Lisa Morton, Jack Haringa, Gary Frank, Jason Sizemore, Robert N. Lee, Tim Deal, Brian Yount, Brian J. Hatcher, and others. Here is what certain industry publications have already said about this exceptional project#58; "A veritable treasure trove of information for aspiring writers--straight from the mouths of today's top horror scribes!" --Rue Morgue Magazine. "Packing more knowledge and sound advice than four years' worth of college courses . . . It's focused on the root of your evil, the writing itself." --Fangoria Magazine.

262 pages, Paperback

First published July 5, 2009

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About the author

Michael Knost

34 books29 followers
Bram Stoker Award-winner Michael Knost is an author, editor, and columnist of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and supernatural thrillers. He has written many books in various genres, helmed anthologies such as the Bram Stoker Award-nominated Barbers & Beauties. His Writers Workshop of Horror won the 2009 Bram Stoker Award for superior achievement in nonfiction. His critically acclaimed Writers Workshop of Science Fiction & Fantasy came out in early 2013—a writer’s guide with works by Neil Gaiman, Orson Scott Card, Ursula K. Le Guin, and many others. His latest novel is Return of the Mothman. To find out more, visit www.MichaelKnost.com.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 33 reviews
Profile Image for Arkadia.
14 reviews23 followers
March 31, 2011
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.
Profile Image for Rose.
1,857 reviews1,048 followers
July 16, 2014
Quick review for a quick read. To be honest, I was a bit underwhelmed by this compilation of writing advice in the horror genre, because while it has many great contributors and aspects of writing to consider, it's still very limited and for a limited audience who can get the fruit of its overarching points. Probably designed more in mind for the beginning writer who is not only looking for genre definition, but also writing definitions.

I will say that the information from all the articles given within this set is well organized, concise, and to the point for a quick pick me up. I only wish it'd been a little more detailed in some sections. Maybe the it would be more of a deep POV to take for writers beyond the beginning. It's inspiring to be certain, and one that I found worth reading despite its flaws.

Overall score 3/5 stars
Profile Image for StarMan.
616 reviews17 followers
June 3, 2022
2.89 stars, rounded up for GR. Not extremely useful, but does provide insights/opinions from several popular authors. Many mentions of Stephen King.
Profile Image for Paul.
Author 113 books8,155 followers
March 4, 2010
From a small/indie publisher comes a solid compendium of essays and how-to's from a wide range of horror authors and critics. I thought the contributions from Mort Castle, Joe R. Lansdale, Brian Keene, Ramsey Campbell, Robert N. Lee, and Jack Haringa (who's essay is alternately titled, Lies the Internet Told You) were the standouts.

I didn't agree with every essay/how-to. For me, that's part of the fun of this kind of book. Confronting ideas about fiction, how it works, or doesn't work. But there was one essay I hated. Like wanted to punch a wall hated. From G. Cameron Fuller's "The Power of Setting and Description":

when it comes to primary characters, the less described the better. Most of the time, especially in genre fiction the main character becomes functionally a stand-in for the reader. As the story progresses, if the writer is doing the job right, the reader increasingly identifies with the main character.

As a consequence, the reader begins to subconsciously imagine the main character as looking, more or less like the reader.... The more colorful the main character--weighs 790 pounds, walks with a pronounced limp, speaks in riddles--the less likely the reader will identify. And the less the reader identifies , the less likely the reader will feel what the main character feels..."

This is all part of the longer argument within the essay that a horror story equals atmosphere. It's all an utter steaming pile of bunk. I would hope that any beginning writer reading his essay would know that it's bunk, too.

It's so wrong I don't know where to start, really. What galls me the most about the above snippet is the insinuation that yeah, all readers are just like you, right? They're all the same, and they all bring the same personal, gender, and cultural experience to your cipher-character.

Um, you know, people, we look different, act different, experience different things, and that's okay. The differences are important, and are to be accepted and respected, not ignored, and they should be addressed in your fiction. Sorry, but you're creating weak fiction by not making your main character, you know, a real character.

Jesus, man, it's not about identifying with the main character. Not ever! At least not in any fiction worth a damn. Your job as a writer (no matter the genre) is to--within the framework of the story--to make the reader empathize or want to understand your character and your character's experience.
Profile Image for Suzanne.
303 reviews17 followers
August 2, 2011
On the first day of intro psych, our professor admitted that a lot of the fundamentals of psychology come off as rather obvious. People hear them and say, "Yeah, I knew that." I think it can be much the same with writing advice. Be sure to have strong beginning, middle, and ending, and make your characters interesting! Yeah, thanks. Some of the essays here left me feeling that way and one struck me as a bit on the obnoxious side.

There were bright spots, however. I very much enjoyed Arnzen's essay on scene and structure, which likens horror to a striptease of suspense, noting that "it is an exhibitionist genre, as much as it is the genre of fear. And this may very well be why horror gets a bum rap from the literati: horror can make a reader feel dirty..." Indeed!

Another favorite was Mort Castle's essay on the "New Fiction Blend: History, Fantasy, Horror." This and Lansdale's essay on "Cross Reading" particularly resonated with me, because although I enjoy horror very much, I read widely and may not write solely in that genre. It also seems timely, given the recent popularity of such genre blends as paranormal romance and urban fantasy.

Finally, I loved Robert N. Lee's "How Stephen King's Writing Advice Broke My Heart and Smashed My Dreams." It's a great personal story and I love the writing advice that comes from it:

"Do it as often as you do, do it as hard as you do, do it where you do, do it when you do. If you are going to be an occasional writer, be that. If you are going to try earnestly to make a career, if you are going to write novel after novel until one sticks, be that writer.

"These are all things you have to define for yourself, and if you're thinking too much about how other people do it, you will cause yourself no end of pain and you will end up writing less than you could otherwise, or not at all. No one does it exactly the same way. It is the most personal thing in the world that does not involve nudity--or it doesn't for me, anyway, no judgment intended."
Profile Image for Gef.
Author 7 books63 followers
January 8, 2010
Required reading for anyone even entertaining the thought of writing dark fiction. It's not the first book of its kind to come along, but it's a darned good one. Writers and others in the field contribute what might be considered their special insights on specific topics, which range from dialogue, action scenes, time management, and theme. This book has a permanent place on my bookshelf next to Mort Castle's "On Writing Horror" and Stephen King's "On Writing."
Profile Image for Greg Chapman.
Author 96 books103 followers
September 22, 2010
The must have and must use addition to any budding writers bookshelf!
Profile Image for Charles.
Author 37 books250 followers
March 23, 2010
I thought this was a really good collection, and very thorough. There are interviews with Clive Barker, Ramsey Campbell, and F. Paul Wilson, and numerous essays on writing by the likes of Joe Lansdale, Tom Piccirilli, Jonathan Maberry, Michael Arnzen, and many more. The focus is primarily on horror, as the title suggests, but much of the advice holds true in general for writing.

The editor, Michael Knost, managed to get good, honest advice from all sorts of writers in the horror field, from the biggest names to the fastest rising ones. I'll be revisiting quite a few of these pieces.
Profile Image for Nayad Monroe.
Author 10 books62 followers
January 10, 2010
Essays by well-known horror writers cover a diverse selection of topics about writing fiction, especially in the horror genre. All of them are useful, and many are excellent. Their information and advice will help new writers of any kind of fiction, not just horror. The book includes fascinating interviews with some of the top writers in the horror field.
Profile Image for Shaun.
Author 22 books171 followers
January 1, 2010
I thought Writers Workshop of Horror was going to be another run of the mill book about how to write. Boy, was I wrong. It’s a goddamn bible. It’s that good.
Profile Image for Bob Lewis.
319 reviews9 followers
June 19, 2020
As with any anthology of advice for creative endeavors, this book is a bit of a mixed bag. A few of the essays stood out as particularly useful. A few stood out, unfortunately, as decidedly *not* useful. Most offered sound advice, but failed to deliver anything particularly original.

If you're a very new writer, I highly recommend this book. You'd be well-advised to also go and find yourself a mentor to help you sift through its tips to sort the good from the bad and to adapt them to your own particular needs, but the relatively new writer will find a lot of value here.

On the other hand, if you're a seasoned writer, you'll probably find this book of limited utility. This isn't a book about the business side of writing, but rather about the creative act itself. While it's undoubtedly true that all of us, no matter how experienced, can always learn something new, it's unlikely that more experienced writers will find a lot here they didn't already know (though there can sometimes still be value in hearing old ideas in new ways, and the vast majority of the authors included in this collection do a good job of explaining their tips).

With a title like "Writers Workshop of Horror," I expected more of...well, an actual workshop. I knew, of course, that each of the authors included were going to offer advice on some particular aspect of the art and craft of writing in the horror genre, but I rather hoped that their advice would be illustrated by examples of works that utilized their techniques (as well as works that suffered for their failure to do so). It's a truism (which is repeated in this book, though thankfully not as often as it could have been) that a necessary precondition to becoming a skilled writer is to read widely, and one of the reasons for this is to learn what works in one's favorite books and what didn't work in one's least favorite books. One of the advantages of the workshop model of education as a writer (for all its faults, and you'll certainly hear plenty of authors warn their proteges against jumping blindly into a workshop setting) is that it provides direct exposure to the process of turning bad writing into good writing. That would have been a welcome addition to this collection.

Aside from a couple essays I disagree with (which is to be expected, especially in a multi-author work), my only real complaint about this book is the number of typographical errors that made it into print. I understand that typos and grammatical mistakes happen to the best of us. For all I know, I might have made some in this very review (though I certainly hope not), but there's a fundamental difference between casual writing in an informal review, in a friendly letter, or on social media and writing for publication. I can forgive errors in casual communication because they don't have a cover price of $21.95. For such mistakes to appear in a book of writing advice just seems unnecessarily careless. In his introduction, the editor pointed out that he didn't want to alter the various writers' individual styles, which I can understand. Preservation of authorial voice is a laudable goal, but I think it's safe to draw the line at basic proofreading, particularly when some of the errors are so glaring; on one page, for instance, Hannibal Lecter's name is spelled two different ways.

Overall, despite the aforementioned complaints, I did enjoy this book. It was a quick and pleasant read. Ultimately, though, I found it more inspiring than practically useful.
Profile Image for Angela.
119 reviews4 followers
December 27, 2020
An interesting selection of essays and interviews from a diverse range of horror writers. I enjoyed reading insights into the authors' creative processes and found the practical advice useful.
This is more of a book to dip in and out of, rather than a workbook of exercises. I found useful writing techniques to add emotion, create suspense, and make my horror writing more scary. The authors cover a wide range of genres within horror; from supernatural thrillers to comedy horror, non-fiction, screenwriting, and even romance. Overall, I found Writers Workshop of Horror to be a useful addition to my horror writing toolkit.
Profile Image for Louisa Heaton.
Author 181 books50 followers
September 12, 2017
Very enjoyable. Just one or two essays that didn't pertain to me, but they all had something valuable to give. Recommended for anyone who wants to write horror or put scary elements into their stories.
Profile Image for David.
71 reviews
May 29, 2017
Some essays were brilliant, others were so-so, but overall a good reference for new writers ... and some great reminders for the not-so-new among us.
Profile Image for Renae.
8 reviews
November 17, 2022
Some of the articles were great, others were less helpful (and some dreadfully opinionated). Overall a good read and helpful with craft.
Profile Image for Michele Lee.
Author 18 books49 followers
September 1, 2015
Reviewed for MonsterLibrarian.com

Imagine taking a college writing class where each day a new, experienced writer shuffles in, lectures the class on a new aspect of storytelling and writing, before walking away without another word, leaving the budding writers to digest and utilize the information as they like. Or perhaps two walk in, one interviewing the other, leaving you privy to what seems like intimate, insider knowledge. This is Writers Workshop of Horror. A comprehensive collection of essays on the writing process, each with a different style and voice, all merely suggesting to the reader how things might be done. A quiet relaying of information and experience, with no distractions, no argumentative interruptions and no demand to follow exactly in the teacher's footsteps.
Writers Workshop of Horror has a lot to offer to new and even experienced authors, without the drama or distraction of a tradition writing class or workshop. Each author's voice comes through with strength and clarity. Priceless information and experience, not just for horror writers, but for all writers in general, sit on these pages. More helpful than most how to writing books out there (as long as you can tolerate sometimes gruesome examples of storytelling concepts) this book should be an essential resource for all libraries wishing to support writers, whether hobbyists or pros.
Profile Image for Jack.
Author 8 books198 followers
June 18, 2013
This isn't a writing book just for the horror genre, but for writing in general. While the essays are written by horror authors, and are specifically addressed to the horror writer, most of the advice could and should be applied to any genre. Some of it is the stuff you've heard before. Read widely and deeply. Write a lot. Some of it is relatively specific beyond the usual read, write, repeat. One of the most fantastic things about the book, however, is its insight into some of your favorite writers. If you are familiar with the authors of the essays, you can learn a lot about them, their influences, and their processes. One of my personal favorites was Ramsey Campbell, lamenting the loss of atmospheric horror and praising the classics of Gothic fiction as must-reads.

It isn't just a random collection of writing essays, even though you might think it at first. The essays are meant to address separate issues and elements of writing and are categorized as such. Like all great writing books, you flip the final page, close the book, and immediately want to rush off to a keyboard and conquer the world.

Best of luck with your literary military campaign, if that is the case. Keep fighting, and as we are reminded repeatedly, and rightfully so, always keep writing.
Profile Image for Guido Henkel.
Author 19 books720 followers
March 5, 2010
This assortment of tips from countless horror writers is filled with lots of good advice and tips for budding writers and those who simply want to refresh their memory when it comes to good style and effectiveness in the genre.

I have read a lot of books on writing and as such "Writers Workshop of Horror" didn't have a whole lot of new to add to the subject. Most of what is presented here I have read or heard elsewhere before. That is not necessarily a bad thing but for well-read authors, its information content may be somewhat diminished as a result. The information that is offered is solid advice and valuable, no doubt. It also offers a glimpse into the way other writers work and approach their projects which may give readers ideas and alternatives they may not have thought of before.

Some of the entries are rather short and unfortunately the contributions by some of the bigger name authors - the once I most looked forward to - are actually interview excerpts on the subject of their writing.

Still, overall, "Writers Workshop of Horror" is a solid book that surely holds enough information and advice for any writer working in the genre.
Author 8 books12 followers
July 22, 2020
Like any compendium of writing advice, this book includes a wide range of opinion, suggestion and the expected warning "all writing advice is subjective, so you do you..." What makes this volume special is the wide range of authors included, the engaging and intimate way each chapter is written, and (for the horror writer) the focus on the quirks specific to the genre. This book doesn't contain revelations previously unknown, but its method of presenting the material makes it feel like a private writer's convention, or of a series of mentoring sessions with names that the eager horror fan will readily recognize. What I appreciate most about this book is that the topics are timeless. With the exception of references to "recent" books, or upcoming releases, the information is still as relevant as when it was published.
Profile Image for Matt Moore.
Author 34 books17 followers
May 17, 2012
For new authors settling into writing, this book is worth reading slowly and carefully because the advice is excellent. And since there are so many authors, different chapters will appeal to different people.

For those more established, it may seem tedious since the advice is obvious—keep the middle of your story tense, make sure we care about your characters. Still, something I learned from martial arts is no matter how advanced you are, sometime you have to return to the basics & fundamentals.

After one reading, my copy is dogeared and underlined. I can see myself returning to it again and again in years to come.
Profile Image for Justin.
628 reviews27 followers
January 4, 2014
Writers Workshop of Horror is a collection of 28 short essays about writing, but geared towards horror writers. The book was a quick read and with short chapters, you aren't overwhelmed with too much content. Topics ranged from elements in writing, reading, interviews with authors, and publishing tips.
Since it's pretty comprehensive in topics, some chapters will have more or less relevance to you depending on what you know/don't know, and what you want to work on in your writing.
But overall, this is a great resource I'll be referring to in the future.
Profile Image for Katia M. Davis.
Author 4 books12 followers
December 10, 2016
A rather good collection of essays on writing horror. Practical advice that gets to the nitty gritty of the genre. Above all, it helps new or prospective authors realise those who have made it in the field had to start somewhere and they also made mistakes, felt embarrassed by things they had written, and had learned the hard way. Writers are not born a success, they have to work at it, sometimes for many years without recognition. This book may help others examine their own writing and improve one step further towards their ultimate goal.
Profile Image for Reyn.
25 reviews1 follower
July 24, 2012
I enjoy books of short essays like this, and I'm happy to say this one was no exception. I don't read much horror fiction, so I liked getting the many viewpoints on what makes horror (and often stories in general) successful. If you aren't interested in the writing process, there isn't much here for you, though.
Profile Image for Angeline.
Author 34 books57 followers
June 26, 2014
Absolutely excellent collection of advice; nicely balanced, varied and extremely helpful. A mix of essays and interviews on several different aspects of writing, all written with passion, honesty and humour. Totally readable and entertaining. Perhaps the only criticism I'd have is the strong bias towards male writers, but then, that is representative of the industry.
Profile Image for Rhonda Browning.
Author 1 book11 followers
Want to read
May 22, 2012
From what I have read to date, this book would be helpful to any genre writer or writer of short stories. The compilation of authors who have contributed essays to this reference book are some of the best and most well-know in mystery, PI, suspense and horror writing.

So far, so good!
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