Interested in writing horror but don’t know where to begin? Here is a list of the 9 essential horror novels you need to read to get you started. In no particular order. No one can tell you what the greatest horror novels ever written are, nor would I tell a new writer to read the best of the best, it can only make your job harder knowing what you are up against. What you need to do is build the skills to tell your own stories by evaluating how others have done it, regardless of whether the book is critically acclaimed or not. I used to read novel adaptations of the movies I liked and I learned a lot about the relationship between words, pictures and moving images, so a lot of my picks here were made into films.
Read, learn, write. And maybe watch the movies when you’re all finished.
#9: Interview with a Vampire (Anne Rice)
There is a beauty and poetry to Anne’s work that no one else can match. She makes you feel scared and attracted at the same time, which is what vampires were supposed to be about. Her locations breathe with a life of their own and the creatures in her world all share a tragic beauty.
#8: The Damnation Game (Clive Barker)
This is one of Clive Barker’s early novels and it is not as beautifully written as some of his later work, but I think it is that lack of magic that makes it more raw and real. Every character is so vivid and the way Clive blends horror and magic with the real world makes this a disturbing love story that you have to read.
#7: Ghoul (Michael Slade)
There is something creepy about GHOUL that never leaves you once you’ve read it. Being set in London and Vancouver, the book describes places I know all too well, with killers that make even me feel uncomfortable. Add to that some strange Canadian history with the RCMP and you have a unique, one of a kind book written by lawyers who seem to have a twisted sense of storytelling.
#6: Dracula (Bram Stoker)
I am a huge fan of this book, even though I don’t think it is very well written. I find the idea of the journal entries original and inspiring, but that very format holds Dracula back from being a better paced book. Still it is essential reading, especially if you want to be a writer.
#5: Vampires (John Steakley)
Everything that Dracula isn’t, this book is. A strange, modern twist on vampires filled with a cast of doomed hunters. Remember, the point of these horror books are to teach you how horror is written and there is no better way than comparing genres and styles and Steakley is as different from Anne Rice and Stoker as you can get.
#4: Silence of the Lambs (Thomas Harris)
What makes Thomas Harris’s book so amazing is the way he positions a young, inexperienced FBI agent between two maniacal killers on either end of the social spectrum; the rich upper class Dr. Lecter and the poor, tasteless Buffalo Bill. One thing book designers love is a good, catchy image that can be used in various ways and Harris’s books always have a symbol that represent that book that carries over through every edition of that book; from the red dragon to the death’s head moth. It is sometimes a simple little flourish that will propel your book into public consciousness.
#3: Frankenstein (Mary Shelley)
Frankenstein is not an easy book to read, Shelley is not as verbose as say, Cooper, but the book can still be very daunting to get into. That being said, it is essential that you do, as you couldn’t ask for a better teacher of Victorian English.
“I do know that for the sympathy of one living being, I would make peace with all. I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.”
― Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
Watchers (Dean Koontz)
Koontz is a strange writer. I can’t describe his work, or say what it is that is weird about it, other than that sometimes I like it, sometimes I hate it, sometimes I love and hate it at the same time. I recommend this book for the same reason I recommended Silence of the Lambs, as much as Harris is high brow, this book is white trash. Instead of Lecter, you get a genetically modified dog. Anyone can write a book about a man fighting a monster, but the common thread between the books I recommend here is that there are no clear cut solutions to the monsters or threats people face. It’s all about finding new ways to tell the same old scary stories. . .
The Coma (Alex Garland)
Without a doubt, the scariest book I’ve ever read. I won’t spoil anything, but this tiny novel is as close to dying as you can through reading. A modern masterpiece, to use a marketing term. Instant classic, to use another.