Writing Ghost Stories
Why do people write ghost stories?
Firstly, to entertain; There is little doubt that from childhood on we actually like being scared, as long as we are safe at home
in the real world. They are ‘escapism’ of the spooky kind, designed to provide that vicarious thrill.
Secondly writing ghost stories, tales of the supernatural and fantasy enables us to challenge the natural world. Some of the
limitations and constraints of reality can be loosened or abandoned to imagination, by the writer and for the reader.
Just including deaths, darkness, monsters will not do – what is scary is the unknown. Good ghost stories evoke the imagination rather than giving gruesome detail, often avoiding saying what the heroes are up against; ghosts, vampires, werewolves….for as long as possible. Doubt creates unease and the audience is then easier to frighten and thrill.
For themes, we only need to think of things that scared us when we were children; the face in the mirror or at the widow; a shadowy figure in the corner; things heard slithering, shuffling, moaning; running away and knowing that something, unidentified but horrible, is gaining on you; finding things have been moved in a room where no-one could possibly have been… These are the stuff of nightmares.
Successful author, Susan Hill says ‘’ – Less is more ̶ ‘Ghosts’ are best apprehended ‘removed’ across a lake, outside a window, momentarily from the corner of the eye.’’
Power lies in what is under the surface, anticipated, doubted, feared, not in what is in front of your eyes. Clues need to be subtle, suggestions that something is not quite right, something is out of place.
It is usually better to write in the third person so that the reader is led into what they would do, how they would feel rather than just reading the thoughts and ideas of the character (although there are examples of very good ghost stories written in first person).
As ever, ‘show don’t tell’:
I closed my eyes and turned away, afraid to look at whatever was approaching.
This is a straightforward telling of what the character did, how he felt and why.
He pressed himself into the corner, clutching his jacket tightly to his chest
What was it!
The scraping, dragging noise stopped. The door handle slowly turned.
This shows the same scene without telling us how the character felt (afraid). It leaves the reader to imagine how they would feel, using ‘close first person’ to allow us to identify with the character, and provides much more tension.
Modern audiences may be more ready to challenge, more cynical, more insistent on proofs, in real life; often priding themselves on their more ‘scientific’ approach. Get the characters in. It helps to carry the reader along if the story and characters are still ‘believable’ at some level, if the setting is clear and the action is something that could happen. They must be able to follow the story, the plot must make sense. Only in the actual spooky scenes should there be doubts, a suggestion that all is not as it seems. Do not over explain but give enough clues and hints to intrigue.
Often a ghost story will include confusion over whether something supernatural really is happening, or the ‘victim’ has an overactive imagination or deep troubling neuroses that are being played out.
A satisfying ending demands that the human story-line should be tied up. Those threatened or pursued should escape/ be saved (or not if they deserve it) but the paranormal cannot be just explained away, or it is not a ghost story. There must always be at least a doubt left in the reader’s mind even if there appears to be a logical explanation for what has been happening, even if it only a last, throw-away line to suggest that maybe there really was a ghost!
Category:Advice and Info. Tags: Imagination, Invention, Story telling