It doesn’t matter what genre you’re in, writing—and doing it well—is a challenge. Your job is to bring characters to life in ways that evoke emotions in your reader. And when it comes to horror, one of the primary emotions you seek to provoke? Fear. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll bring a lot of other emotions to life if you’re writing a fully developed story, but at the heart of a horror story is an exploration of what scares us the most.
So how do you create vivid monsters and captivating villains and scenes that drip with tension? We went through piles of craft books and found seven books that have the best advice, interviews, tips, tricks, and analyses on how to write compelling horror stories.
On Writing Horror: A Handbook by the Horror Writers Association
There’s nothing better than getting writing advice from the greats, and this book has some of the biggest names in horror to guide you.
On Writing Horror is not as much a step-by-step lesson on craft, but more a broad perspective on horror as a genre and industry. Voices like Stephen King, Jack Ketchum, Ramsey Campbell, Harlan Ellison, and more offer a wide range of thought and explore the essence of horror from a variety of viewpoints. With 58 essays, there is something for every writer at every stage of their career.
The Horror Writer: A Study of Craft and Identity in the Horror Genre
If you’re looking for the ultimate book diving into everything from craft to rejection to finding your creativity while under pressure, this is the book for you.
Filled with essays from Bram Stoker Award winners and bestselling authors, The Horror Writer offers insight into how to handle rejections, elevate your craft through effective scenes, create vivid and realistic characters, and avoid cliché horror tropes. Sprinkled between essays are interviews in which authors delve into the challenges they’ve faced and give a glimpse into their own creative process. It’s a fantastic guide for every horror author from indie to commercial, short fiction to novels, and everything in between.
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
There really is no one better to turn to for advice than the King of Horror himself. Part memoir, part craft master class, On Writing takes you through a variety of tools that Stephen King learned and used throughout his career. By sharing his own experiences, King manages to take an intimidating subject and make it approachable.
Whether you read it for the craft or to learn about the reality of life as one of the world’s most successful horror writers, this is a book you’ll return to again and again as your writing evolves.
Writing in the Dark
If you’re looking for a textbook on the horror genre, Writing in the Dark is it. Each chapter is structured to delve deep into how to compose a horror story, writing truly terrifying monsters, avoiding cliched tropes, leaning into the physiology of fear, and so much more. A teacher himself, Waggoner knows how to construct a lesson effectively and efficiently.
Woven within each chapter are also tips from some of the industry’s leading authors. But what makes this book stand out are the critical evaluations, ideas to help with developing your character arcs and plotlines, and references to help you with further research.
Where Nightmares Come From
The first in a series of craft books from Crystal Lake Publishing, Where Nightmares Come From features articles and interviews exploring how to take an idea from its raw form into a finished horror story. The authors and editors inside these pages cover everything from short fiction, graphic novels, films, and novels.
Perfect for writers in all stages of your career, this is a go-to guide for ideas, new views on structure, exploring different types of fiction, and more.
Nightmare Fuel: The Science of Horror Films
It might seem counterintuitive to study films instead of writing, but understanding the anatomy of what makes horror films work can help elevate your fiction. Nightmare Fuel is a deep analysis of the psychology and physiology of fear through the lens of horror films. Nesseth dissects why these movies either follow through with their promise to terrify you or fall flat. By the end, you’ll have a new way of looking at fear and will understand how audiences respond to stories in visceral ways.
Writing Scary Scenes
Sometimes the ideas you have in your head fizzle out on the page. Understanding how to insert the right amount of tension into a scene in a way that evokes a physical response is hard. Hall tackles how to insert fear into any scene by showing you techniques that will play with the readers' expectations to get the biggest emotional punch. Is your villain not scary enough? Is your climax not climactic enough? This short but powerful book will give you specific examples and applicable tips to take your draft from bland to memorable.