Guide Dog Books / September 2008
Reviewed by: Martel Sardina
Books on writing are a dime a dozen, so why should anyone feel compelled to buy this one? The answer is simple. Each author brings their unique insights and experiences to the table, and Matthew Warner is no exception.
Horror Isn’t a 4-Letter Word is a collection of Mr. Warner’s editorial essays originally written for the Horror World website and a few articles from the Hellnotes Newsletter.
From his humorous look at why an aspiring writer might not want to hone his craft on company time to more serious matters, like his internship at Edit Ink, Warner covers a variety of topics that will interest not only genre writers but also fans and those who may be curious about the inner workings of the publishing industry.
This reviewer (who also writes fiction) found Warner’s essays on the craft of writing useful. In his essay on dialogue, Warner gives examples from other author’s published works, explains the error(s) made, and then proposes edits that improve the quality and/or pacing of the selected excerpt.
As a writer, have you ever wondered how to solve plotting problems? Warner suggests, “character is the best plot.” Using the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series as an example to prove his point, Warner states “The Buffy characters necessarily became as complex as the plots because the long-term conflicts were about the characters.” Problems with plot can be resolved by linking character-based sub-plots under temporary dilemmas. Another technique that writers may find helpful is having the conflict unfold over multiple episodes or chapters, making sure to end on a cliffhanger to keep the reader wondering “What will happen next?” and ensure that they will come back for more.
“With the Eyes of a Writer” is the craft-related essay that this reviewer found most insightful. The preceding essay entitled “With the Eyes of God” is a short story that Warner was commissioned to write for the fiction section of the Horror World website. The story ends in a manner that Warner did not originally anticipate. Knowing his editor’s preferences in terms of violence, Warner doubted the piece would be accepted.
In “With the Eyes of a Writer,” Warner dissects the story, explaining how he came to write the piece. Warner includes visual aids, showing the entry of the original “seed” of an idea in his journal. He discusses his outlining, writing and revision process. This essay is chocked full of good advice and backed up with the details of how Warner applied that advice to his own work. It also has a happy ending. The story was accepted despite its violent content because Warner handled the content with the respect it deserved.
Warner shares some personal, non-writing related experience over the course of the collection. While some may not be interested in the details of his personal life, Warner finds a way to tie those experiences back to writing in some way. While this reviewer knew the story of Warner’s first run-in with his future mother-in-law would no doubt be entertaining, discovering what that meeting taught Warner about being a storyteller made the tale even more enjoyable.
Warner’s eclectic tastes represent his journey as a student, a writer, a businessman and a husband. While this collection of essays is geared more toward horror writers, Warner’s conversational writing style will keep non-writers interested and that the lessons learned here can be applied to other walks of life.
Pre-Order/Purchase Horror Isn’t a Four-Letter Word by Matthew Warner.