10 Scary Horror Books for October - Writer's Digest

10 Scary Horror Books for October

Writer's Digest editor and Halloween enthusiast Robert Lee Brewer shares 10 great horror books to get readers in the mood for October.
Author:
Publish date:

We love a good scary tale in the Brewer household, and October is our favorite month. We get to watch some Halloween specials, decorate the house and yard, and even eat a little (okay, a lot of) candy. And with the longer evenings, there's even more time to read spooky books.

(Deconstructing five spooky children's picture books.)

I've listed some of my all-time favorite scary horror books below. These are listed in chronological order from when they were originally published. Most of them, though not all, were published before I was born.

I know there are quite a few great stories that couldn't make the list. In fact, our newest editor Moriah Richard will share a more contemporary list next weekend. That said, please feel encouraged to share your favorite snubs in the comments below.

And have a spooktacular October!

*****

horror writing kit

Learn from the experts on how to write a horror story that excites readers for decades (or centuries)! Even the scariest and most attention-grabbing horror story ideas will fall flat without a foundation of knowledge about the genre and expectations of the audience. In this collection, you'll find practical tips for writing horror stories that are plausible and cliché-free.

Click to continue.

*****

Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley (1818)

frankenstein_mary_shelley

IndieBound | Amazon

(Writer's Digest uses affiliate links.)

Before any of the other books on this list, 20-year-old Mary Shelley published Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus anonymously on January 1, 1818. It was composed by an 18-year-old Shelley, who wrote it as part of a ghost story competition (which she won) with Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron during the year without a summer. This is perhaps my wife's favorite novel, and it's hard to argue against it.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, by Washington Irving (1820)

the_legend_of_sleepy_hollow_washington_irving

IndieBound | Amazon

Many of the best horror stories have an element of humor to help take the edge off. Enter the ambitious scholar Ichabod Crane and his night-time encounter with the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow. While the story itself was set in 1790, it was first published in 1820 as part of a collection of stories and essays titled The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. As a shorter work, most readers would have no trouble reading (and enjoying) it all in one sitting.

The Tell-Tale Heart and Other Writings, by Edgar Allan Poe (1843)

the_tell_tale_heart_and_other_writings_edgar_allan_poe

IndieBound | Amazon

Edgar Allan Poe's classic short story "The Tell-Tale Heart" was originally published in January 1843 in the inaugural issue of The Pioneer (possibly paid $10 for the story). Of course, this collection includes many other short stories, including "The Cask of Amontillado," "The Masque of the Red Death," and "The Fall of the House of Usher." But it also includes the immortal poem, "The Raven." A lot of terrifically terrifying reads in this volume. 

The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde (1890)

the_picture_of_dorian_gray

IndieBound | Amazon

I almost didn't include this novel on the list, because I often don't think of it as a scary story. Rather, I consider it one of the most beautifully written novels. However, that beautiful writing belies a horrifying premise that a beautiful man can act like a monster without it impacting his physical beauty, instead all of his ugliness is transposed on to a painting of him. It truly is the definition of the adage "never judge a book by its cover."

Dracula, by Bram Stoker (1897)

dracula_bram_stoker

IndieBound | Amazon

Bram Stoker's Dracula was a critical success upon its initial publication, but it was not a commercial and iconic success until after the author's death in the 20th century. That said, it's a great read that jumps from journal and diary entries to letters and even a "Cutting from 'The Dailygraph,' 8 August." Of course, this is the birthplace of so many Dracula retellings since, but it also helped shape the vampire genre that shows up again later on this list. 

The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson (1959)

the_haunting_of_hill_house_by_shirley_jackson

IndieBound | Amazon

This book is simultaneously one of the scariest reads I've ever experienced and one of the best third person narratives ever for any genre. Plus, it has about as perfect a framing device as possible, which makes perfect sense since this book is as much about a house as it is about the people who come into contact with it.

The Halloween Tree, by Ray Bradbury (1972)

the_halloween_tree_ray_bradbury

IndieBound | Amazon

This one makes the list, because it's a sentimental favorite that reminds me of Halloweens of my youth. Bradbury's The Halloween Tree is also a fun novel to read to the kids at night time throughout the month of October. There are 19 chapters, so reading a chapter an evening starting on the 12th will finish up on the 30th.

'Salem's Lot, by Stephen King (1975)

salems_lot_stephen_king

IndieBound | Amazon

There are many King novels I could've included on this list, but 'Salem's Lot is the one that scared me the most as a teenager. It has an interesting prologue and poetic epilogue sandwiched around three sections of convincingly contemporary vampire fiction specifically inspired by Stoker's Dracula

Interview With the Vampire, by Anne Rice (1976)

interview_with_the_vampire_anne_rice

IndieBound | Amazon

Interview With the Vampire is not the scariest vampire novel. In my opinion, it's not even the best novel in Rice's Vampire Chronicles (Lestat is such a great narrator), but it does kick off the series. The premise is beautifully simple and captured in the title of the book: It's quite simply an interview with a vampire. Finally, we get their perspective. But I love many of Rice's novels (including the Mayfair witches), because she really creates an incredibly sophisticated alternate world that exists alongside our contemporary world (or at least, contemporary at the time). 

Beloved, by Toni Morrison (1987)

beloved_toni_morrison

IndieBound | Amazon

Finally, let's end this list with a ghost story and the only book published during my lifetime. It also happens to be set in my home state of Ohio. It could come off as some home-grown favoritism, but this is a seriously great story that won the Pulitzer and was a finalist for the National Book Award, in addition to being ranked the best work of American fiction between 1981 and 2006 by The New York Times

*****

So what do you think? I can't believe Wuthering Heights didn't make my list. Or The Shining. And, of course, there are so many other novels and stories that could've been contenders, and I was probably more than a little vampire-heavy. I'll probably re-arrange the list as soon as I hit publish, but that's the life of a list maker. 

Which books would you add? Leave a comment below.

plot_twist_story_prompts_fight_or_flight_robert_lee_brewer

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Fight or Flight

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, it's fighting time.

Garfield

Vintage WD: 10 Rules for Suspense Fiction

John Grisham once admitted that this article from 1973 helped him write his thrillers. In it, author Brian Garfield shares his go-to advice for creating great suspense fiction.

Pennington_10:21

The Chaotically Seductive Path to Persuasive Copy

In this article, author, writing coach, and copywriter David Pennington teaches you the simple secrets of excellent copywriting.

Grinnell_Literary Techniques

Using Literary Techniques in Narrative Journalism

In this article, author Dustin Grinnell examines Jon Franklin’s award-winning article Mrs. Kelly’s Monster to help writers master the use of literary techniques in narrative journalism.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 545

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a cleaning poem.

new_agent_alert_amy_collins_talcott_notch_literary_services

New Agent Alert: Amy Collins of Talcott Notch Literary Services

New literary agent alerts (with this spotlight featuring Amy Collins of Talcott Notch Literary Services) are golden opportunities for new writers because each one is a literary agent who is likely building his or her client list.

5_tips_for_writing_scary_stories_simone_st_james_horror_novels_hauntings

5 Tips for Writing Scary Stories and Horror Novels

Bestselling and award-winning author Simone St. James shares five tips for writing scary stories and horror novels that readers will love to fear.

on_vs_upon_vs_up_on_grammar_rules_robert_lee_brewer

On vs. Upon vs. Up On (Grammar Rules)

Learn when to use on vs. upon vs. up on with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.