Horror Writers Association Blog

Interview with Horror University instructor Tim Waggoner


Here’s the latest in our series of interviews with StokerCon 2017’s Horror University instructors – take it away, Tim Waggoner!

Tim Waggoner: The Ultimate Guide to Writing Horror


This session presents techniques for creating original, effective horror fiction. Topics covered include:

· The difference between crime, suspense, thriller, and horror.
· The difference between dread, terror, horror, disgust, and shock.
· The horror equivalent of the hero’s journey.
· Avoiding clichés.
· Making your horror personal.
· Taking new approaches to old archetypes.
· Avoiding clichéd story patterns.
· What, if any, are the limits in horror fiction?
· How much – or how little – should you reveal?
· Using the techniques of suspense to build horror.

Shirley Jackson Award finalist Tim Waggoner has published over thirty novels and three short story collections. He writes both original and media tie-in fiction, and he teaches creative writing at Sinclair College in Dayton, Ohio. Find out more about him at:http://www.timwaggoner.com/


Tell us something about your Horror University workshop that is not in the original description.

One of the things that’s not immediately apparent from the description is how much of the workshop is designed to help writers think more deeply about how they view horror, not so much how I or anyone else does. A better title for the workshop might be The Ultimate Guide to You Writing Your Best Horror. Because of this, it’s a workshop that absolute beginnings and old pros alike can gain something from.

What skills or achievements make you ideally suited to lead this workshop?

I’ve published over thirty novels and three story collections, most of which have been in the genres of horror and dark fantasy. I’ve also taught writing at the college level for thirty years, and I’ve conducted numerous writing workshops as well. As a writer, teacher, and reader of horror, I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about what qualities make for effective horror fiction, and I’m prepared to share those dark and forbidden secrets with whoever signs up for my workshop. And I can juggle – does that count?

Why do you feel that your workshop subject is especially important?

No matter how much writers read, we experience stories primarily as visual media – movies, TV shows, video games, etc. – and because of this, we tend to use techniques from those media in our fiction, and we end up writing only the most basic surface-level horror because of it. The Ultimate Guide to Writing Horror is about going deeper than that, learning to truly understand the foundations of horror and how to use that understanding to create fiction that is not only entertaining, but which is also artistically satisfying for both writers and readers.

If you could participate in one other Horror University workshop, which one would you choose and why?

Jack Ketchum’s “Writing From Experience, Writing From the Wound.” Jack’s a master at creating rich, vivid characters and delving into their psyches to generate emotionally complex dark fiction. He’s quite simply one of the best there’s ever been.

Do you approach the craft of writing horror differently from other genres?

Horror is my first love, so in many ways I take it more seriously than other genres. It’s important to me that I not only write a good story, but one that pushes me as a writer and (hopefully) stretches readers’ view of what horror is and what it can do. I’m also aware of the history of the genre and those writers who’ve come before me, and I do my best to contribute – even if just a tiny bit – to the genre I love. In terms of technique, I emphasize description and setting more, and I probably write with a deeper point of view than I do in other genres. Horror is – whether literally or symbolically – psychological, so it’s important that both the outer and inner worlds work together to create a sense of that something weird and very, very bad is happening.

Apart from teaching your workshop, what are you most looking forward to at StokerCon?

Reconnecting with old friends, making new friends, talking about horror and writing, and returning home creatively energized and recommitted to making my writing the very best it can be. Oh, and alcohol. Lots and lots of alcohol.

What do you most hope that those attending your workshop take away from it?

I hope people will gain some tools to improve their writing, but more than that, I hope my workshop will change the way they view horror and help them take their fiction to the next terrifying level!


StokerCon 2017 is happening from April 27th to April 30th aboard the historic Queen Mary in Long Beach, California. To purchase memberships or enroll in Horror University workshops, please visit www.stokercon2017.org .

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