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How to Write Tales of Horror, Fantasy and Science Fiction

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The masters of speculative fiction share how-to instruction on writing stories about the weird, the fantastic, the unknown and the imagined, in 27 succinct chapters.


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The masters of speculative fiction share how-to instruction on writing stories about the weird, the fantastic, the unknown and the imagined, in 27 succinct chapters.

30 review for How to Write Tales of Horror, Fantasy and Science Fiction

  1. 4 out of 5

    M.F.W. Curran

    How to Write Tales of Horror, Fantasy and Science Fiction isn’t just a “How to” book, but a series of talks from some of the best names in the field. Indeed, think of it as a creative writing course with different lecturers every week and you’ll get more out of this 242 page book than you would from a twelve month university or college course. Among those bestselling authors dealing out priceless advice are Ramsey Campbell, Richard Matheson, Dean R Koontz and Ray Bradbury. There are 26 chapters o How to Write Tales of Horror, Fantasy and Science Fiction isn’t just a “How to” book, but a series of talks from some of the best names in the field. Indeed, think of it as a creative writing course with different lecturers every week and you’ll get more out of this 242 page book than you would from a twelve month university or college course. Among those bestselling authors dealing out priceless advice are Ramsey Campbell, Richard Matheson, Dean R Koontz and Ray Bradbury. There are 26 chapters on the mechanics of writing dealing with everything from avoiding clichéd plots and what’s been done to death, to naming conventions within fantasy universes (and if you’ve ever read a fantasy book where the heroes are called Callcunith or Haveriill or something equally odd, you’ll appreciate this quite tongue-yet-informative-in-cheek guide to avoiding the hackneyed approach to monikers). Particularly good are the chapters on effective writing techniques in horror (and how to scare the hell out of your readers without grossing them out) and sci-fi (and the conflict over using hard science in your fiction). There are also practical chapters on submitting your work to editors that might be a little out-of-fashion in today’s publishing world, but the general principles are the same. The book is rounded off with a useful series of top-ten lists of favourite books and short stories by the top writers of those genres, followed by a “recommended” reading library. All in all, it’s a book that’s priceless to prospective writers in these genres, and I guess of great curiosity-value to readers. I wouldn’t say it’s saved my writing-life, but its profundity certainly guided it, and I still look through my copy for inspiration when those metaphorical dark clouds loom on the laptop-screen…

  2. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    What sets this book apart is that rather being a advice from a single author it's a collection of essays by prominent authors. The introduction alone, by Robert Bloch, was a wonderfully written and entertaining read. I think that's the first time I've ever said that about an introduction. The contributors consist of a Who's Who of speculative fiction circa 1987. Science fiction, fantasy and horror all get attention. There seemed to be a little extra attention paid to horror. It seems it was unde What sets this book apart is that rather being a advice from a single author it's a collection of essays by prominent authors. The introduction alone, by Robert Bloch, was a wonderfully written and entertaining read. I think that's the first time I've ever said that about an introduction. The contributors consist of a Who's Who of speculative fiction circa 1987. Science fiction, fantasy and horror all get attention. There seemed to be a little extra attention paid to horror. It seems it was undergoing a bit of an identity crisis and wanted to be referred to as "dark fantasy". The end of the book, while valuable, will drag on if you're trying to read it straight through. The last 40 pages are lists of recommended and best-loved novels and short stories. A good reference for choosing something to read next. Really this is the kind of book you pick up and read an essay here or there rather than read in a linear fashion. It's an entertaining look into the minds of well known authors and a peek back to a different era.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Charlie

    This is an older book (1987) so most of the information is out of date in regards to editors and publishers. I was surprised however, that the reference was also so out of date. Even at the time of the writing, it feels though they pulled even older articles from well known authors and bundled them together in one binding. And not very well I might add. I think what would be a better read and more relevant is to have this entire book redone with articles no older than 3 years and compiled and recr This is an older book (1987) so most of the information is out of date in regards to editors and publishers. I was surprised however, that the reference was also so out of date. Even at the time of the writing, it feels though they pulled even older articles from well known authors and bundled them together in one binding. And not very well I might add. I think what would be a better read and more relevant is to have this entire book redone with articles no older than 3 years and compiled and recreated every five years there after. Writers always need advise but have few books to look to. Now, slightly off topic, I know that I can go onto the internet to research book writing, but that feels counter-productive, because everyone knows that the internet begins to suck away time from your life instead of helping. Intentions are good. Put the great advise from the web into a bound version, and get writers back to why they wanted to write to begin with. The dead-tree version of books.

  4. 5 out of 5

    ComicNerdSam

    Little dated since it comes from the 80's (everyone loves this King guy huh?) but otherwise a pretty solid explanation and examination of horror writing. I'm sure I'm gonna find this useful in the future. Little dated since it comes from the 80's (everyone loves this King guy huh?) but otherwise a pretty solid explanation and examination of horror writing. I'm sure I'm gonna find this useful in the future.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Carrabis

    First, a different kind of how-to-write book; each chapter is written by a different notable in the field - Williamson, Bradbury, Tem, Grant, Bradley, ... The variety of perspectives is interesting. I wonder if each author chose their chapter subject or were assigned it by Williamson, who served as editor. Bradbury's chapter, for example, is about where ideas comes from and nurturing them, not specific techniques. Tem and Castle each take a turn at character but each from their own perspective. Bra First, a different kind of how-to-write book; each chapter is written by a different notable in the field - Williamson, Bradbury, Tem, Grant, Bradley, ... The variety of perspectives is interesting. I wonder if each author chose their chapter subject or were assigned it by Williamson, who served as editor. Bradbury's chapter, for example, is about where ideas comes from and nurturing them, not specific techniques. Tem and Castle each take a turn at character but each from their own perspective. Bradley's "World Building in Horror, Occult, and Fantasy Writing" marks the first time I've seen the "world building" term outside of writers' cons (I hosted a World Building panel at LitCon 2021). Beyond chapters on technique - Plot, Character, Setting, World Building, Revision, Submission, ... - How to Write Tales of Horror, Fantasy & Science Fiction's contributors explain the whys of their suggestions. Example: William F. Nolan's "Involving Your Reader from the Start" chapter contains several examples of opening paragraphs (I don't agree that all of them are good). Near the end of his chapter he writes "In the no-TV, no-video, no-comics world of Charles Dickens, readers were conditioned to deal with complex, dense, often-wordy opening pages in books and stories. It was an era of leisurely reading when the pace could be slow and unhurried. Not so today. ..." In other words, writing evolves with a purpose. Yes, there are fads and they pass quickly. What survives is what out-competes others in the environment. Amazing how evolutionary science affects everything, isn't it? I've written more on my blog.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kaylee Johnston

    A couple of these essays were hard to get through. Most of this book was about how to write better horror with a tiny bit about fantasy and even less about science fiction sprinkled through. While there were a couple of essays which had interesting and helpful points, it wasn't a book I am particularly excited about. A couple of these essays were hard to get through. Most of this book was about how to write better horror with a tiny bit about fantasy and even less about science fiction sprinkled through. While there were a couple of essays which had interesting and helpful points, it wasn't a book I am particularly excited about.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Charles Crain

    Well, I have owned this book since the early 1990s and finally cracked the spine in 2016. Most of the material did not hold up well over the decades. It is a nice retrospective of the condition of the horror, fantasy, and science fiction markets of the late 1980s.

  8. 4 out of 5

    James Cannon

    A collection of disorganized essays by mostly second-rate authors. The essays provide no practical writing information, only self-indulgent and rambling thoughts on such uninteresting topics as "why do people write horror fiction?" etc. A collection of disorganized essays by mostly second-rate authors. The essays provide no practical writing information, only self-indulgent and rambling thoughts on such uninteresting topics as "why do people write horror fiction?" etc.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Pulp Arcanum Podcast

    A variety of angles and helpful input from successful authors of the time. It's not a critical tutorial on writing, more so a casual read for inspiring writers. A variety of angles and helpful input from successful authors of the time. It's not a critical tutorial on writing, more so a casual read for inspiring writers.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ruth Harper

    Meh. Some of the essays were interesting. Most (especially the ones toward the end) were boring and the authors by the end seemed to be a bit more pompous... by the end I was just skimming.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Timothy McNeil

    While there is a fair amount of dated material (don't submit a dot matrix printed manuscript!), I was more surprised by how angry and resentful many of the contributing writers were. Quite willing to dismiss authors (sometimes named ones), they held themselves to be examples of the 'pure' kind of writing. There wasn't much in the way of practical advice in terms of how to develop horror, fantasy, or science fiction stories, but the whole of the project left me feeling (and believing myself to be) While there is a fair amount of dated material (don't submit a dot matrix printed manuscript!), I was more surprised by how angry and resentful many of the contributing writers were. Quite willing to dismiss authors (sometimes named ones), they held themselves to be examples of the 'pure' kind of writing. There wasn't much in the way of practical advice in terms of how to develop horror, fantasy, or science fiction stories, but the whole of the project left me feeling (and believing myself to be) more informed and better equipped to be an author. The real function, at least for me, was to acquaint myself with several authors whose fame or notoriety did not last very long (if at all) outside of this very specific era. I look forward to reading some of their work for a better understanding of their positions.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kourtnie McKenzie

    This book, divided up into a collection of articles from different authors, literary agents, and editors in the field, provides a ton of useful information, even for its age (late 1980's.) Much of what is mentioned, when I was reading it, made me think, "That's just common sense," but it nevertheless was full of advice and methods to break writer's block and create fantasy worlds that I found particularly impressive. Horror is focused on heavily; so if you're like myself and only interested in f This book, divided up into a collection of articles from different authors, literary agents, and editors in the field, provides a ton of useful information, even for its age (late 1980's.) Much of what is mentioned, when I was reading it, made me think, "That's just common sense," but it nevertheless was full of advice and methods to break writer's block and create fantasy worlds that I found particularly impressive. Horror is focused on heavily; so if you're like myself and only interested in fantasy (or sci fi!), you might find yourself skipping sections. There were certain horror articles I read that I felt could pertain somehow to any writing field-- like how to invoke terror by building up suspense-- but there were other things that really didn't apply. All in all, I believe I read 80% of the articles in the book, and found myself taking notes. Great read for a writer!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Charles

    I'm not a huge fan of Williamson's own fiction but I thought this book was very well done. It helped me look at spec fiction writing from different angles and it was definitely a fairly easy read. This book is edited by Williamson, by the way, and contains essays on writing by: Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, Williamson (2), Mort Castle, Steve Rasnic Tem, Thomas Millstead, William F. Nolan, James Kisner, Ardath Mayhar, Dean Koontz (2), Charles Grant, Robert McCammon, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Darrell S I'm not a huge fan of Williamson's own fiction but I thought this book was very well done. It helped me look at spec fiction writing from different angles and it was definitely a fairly easy read. This book is edited by Williamson, by the way, and contains essays on writing by: Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, Williamson (2), Mort Castle, Steve Rasnic Tem, Thomas Millstead, William F. Nolan, James Kisner, Ardath Mayhar, Dean Koontz (2), Charles Grant, Robert McCammon, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Darrell Schweitzer, Michael Banks, Sharon Baker, Ramsey Campbell, Jeannette Hopper, Richard Christian Matheson, Katherine Ramsland, Colin Wilson, Mary T. Williamson, Alan Rodgers, Patrick LoBrutto, Douglas E. Winter, and Janet Fox.

  14. 5 out of 5

    James

    A collection of chapters by a "who's who of speculative fiction" list of authors, each offering guidance and advice on a subtopic, e.g. plotting, character development, creating suspense, and others. I believe any aspiring author of fiction, not only in these genres but any other as well, would find this book very useful. A collection of chapters by a "who's who of speculative fiction" list of authors, each offering guidance and advice on a subtopic, e.g. plotting, character development, creating suspense, and others. I believe any aspiring author of fiction, not only in these genres but any other as well, would find this book very useful.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kerry Allen

    Twenty-something essays from experts in doing as indicated in the title. The industry news is obsolete, given that the publication date is 1987 (so it's been obsolete since 1988), but the mechanics of story creation are pretty timeless and useful to filter through your brain at least once, regardless of your genre of choice. Twenty-something essays from experts in doing as indicated in the title. The industry news is obsolete, given that the publication date is 1987 (so it's been obsolete since 1988), but the mechanics of story creation are pretty timeless and useful to filter through your brain at least once, regardless of your genre of choice.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Patrick

    Not as good as Orson Scott Card's book on this topic, but mostly worth reading. This one features small articles written by various authors in the field. The general flow, therefore, is less coherent and the advice sometimes seems even contradictory. I guess this could be a good or bad thing depending on your view point. Not as good as Orson Scott Card's book on this topic, but mostly worth reading. This one features small articles written by various authors in the field. The general flow, therefore, is less coherent and the advice sometimes seems even contradictory. I guess this could be a good or bad thing depending on your view point.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Scott Haworth

    Valuable advice, though individual results may vary. Like a series of guest lecturers on writing, which is just as much fun as it sounds. The material on the current state of fiction markets is, of course, dated, as this was published in the 1980s.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Marie Zhuikov

    Even though it's dated, I enjoyed reading this book because it helped me to understand better how I write. My favorite chapter was "Fantasy and Faculty X" by Colin Wilson, which delves into the workings of the right brain and the left brain. Even though it's dated, I enjoyed reading this book because it helped me to understand better how I write. My favorite chapter was "Fantasy and Faculty X" by Colin Wilson, which delves into the workings of the right brain and the left brain.

  19. 4 out of 5

    James Hurley

    A rehash of other, earlier stuff, and leans mostly towards Horror than anything else. The Author has a couple of chapters in here that almost seem, well, self indulgent. But it's a good refresher on what to do and what not to do in writing. A rehash of other, earlier stuff, and leans mostly towards Horror than anything else. The Author has a couple of chapters in here that almost seem, well, self indulgent. But it's a good refresher on what to do and what not to do in writing.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Fredrick Danysh

    A guide to writing by a master of science fiction and fantasy. There are many useful ideas for the beginning writer. It is easy to read and understand.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Baumgartner

    Even being 20 plus years old and slightly outdated, this book has some helpful tips that still hold true today.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Edward Pissmeoff

    Although a bit outdated, the core advice given in the articles is absolutely fantastic. A must read for any writer, novice or veteran, because a great writer never stops improving on their craft.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Mira Domsky

    Somewhat outdated, but some of the essays are written by by famous classic authors like Marion Zimmer Bradley and Ray Bradbury, as well as current bestsellers like Dean Koontz.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Sabine

  25. 5 out of 5

    Clint

  26. 4 out of 5

    Billy

  27. 5 out of 5

    Constructionv4

  28. 4 out of 5

    Patrick

  29. 4 out of 5

    Marcelo Galvão

  30. 5 out of 5

    DavidG

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