It’s October, so of course we need to talk about writing horror. How do you write something that can scare your readers, without coming across as cheesy or trying to hard? Some writers do it so easily that you don’t realize what’s coming. Writing horror is an art. The best advice I can give to you is to read horror. Does that mean you need to read every single horror book out there? Not at all. There are many different types of horror and some may appeal to you and your readers more than others. Me? I prefer genuinely scary monster stories. I won’t read or watch anything with a lot of gore. I prefer the unknown versus the visceral, serial killer type horror.
On that note, I’d like to share a list with you. This list is from my go-to craft book on horror, “On Writing Horror.” It’s by The Horror Writer’s Association and edited by Mort Castle. This is a list of the classic horror stories they recommend for all aspiring horror writers. It’s by no means complete and I’ll add a few at the end which I personally recommend.
- Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
- Dracula by Bram Stoker
- The Ghost Pirates by William Hope Hodgson
- The Collected Ghost Stories of M.R. James
- Burn, Witch, Burn! By A. Merritt
- To Walk the Night by William Sloane
- The Dunwich Horror and Others by H.P. Lovecraft
- Fear by L. Rob Hubbard
- Darker Than You Think by Jack Williamson
- Conjure Wife by Fritz Lieber
- I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
- Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin
- 13. Richard Matheson: Collected Stories, Vols. I, II, III
- Hell House by Richard Matheson
- The October Country by Ray Bradbury
- Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
- The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
- Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg
- Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
- The Stand by Stephen King
- Watchers by Dean Koontz
These are the books they recommend you read. How many have you read? I used to read a lot of horror and have found there are some common threads that seem to emanate from the ones I’ve never forgotten. Here are a few I would add to the list:
- It by Stephen King. I read this book when I was twelve and slept with my light on for a month. I still don’t walk within reaching distance of sewer drains. That, to me, is a sign of an excellent horror story.
- Anything by H.P. Lovecraft.
- The Alienist by Caleb Carr. This one is a little different. I read it and couldn’t read it again. It bothered me on such a deep level, but again, that’s what I think makes a great horror story.
- Taken by Dean Koontz. This book wasn’t one of his most popular, but when I read it, I had to keep putting it down. For that reason, I have to put it on the list.
- The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. This is a different kind of horror, but one that reads well with the underlying tension of a possible reality.
I know there are a lot more that I’ve neglected to mention, but off the top of my head, these are a few I’d encourage you to read, if you want to write memorable horror. Of course, the best way for a writer to learn their craft is to read. Read horror, suspense, mystery – anything that will teach you the nuances of the craft. Pretty soon, you’ll start to see what works and what doesn’t. What books would you add to this list?