Why do some ghost stories keep you up all night, staring at your closet and checking under your bed? Why do other ghost stories produce giggles or complete boredom?
Here are thoughts on what makes the PERFECT ghost story.
There is no ghost story worth one goose bump without atmosphere. Readers need to be gradually removed from their cozy surroundings and brought into the spooky world of the ghost. The author should involve all the senses including sight, smell, sound and touch. A skilled author can evoke other ‘senses’ such as premonition or ‘women’s intuition’. The ghost story requires the reader to be shown the atmosphere, not told. Out of all the elements that create a great ghost story, the atmosphere is probably the most important.
Where should a ghost story take place? A ghost story doesn’t have to happen in a decrepit mansion or a graveyard. Expert ghost authors such as Ambrose Bierce or Peter Straub use various settings for their ghost stories including cabins in the woods, or a coffee shop. It is how the authors use the settings to produce the willies that matter.
You can’t have a scary read without the characters feeling escalating levels of fright. The reader will identify with the gradual feeling of dread and begin to feel the same. The best stories creep up on the reader with gentle nudges into fear. Today’s reader will either laugh or fall asleep if presented with a bludgeoning approach to a ghost story. The reader requires a modicum of belief to be truly scared.
A ghost story needs a plot. The reader craves a reason to continue to peruse the pages. An eye-catching beginning, a breathless middle, and a satisfying ending are paramount.
Be original. Nothing will loose the interest of a reader more than a rehashed plot. If I read another story about a group of teenagers abandoned in an old house in the rain, I will wear a dress. And that will be sure to make the neighbors scream!
Create a mystery. All great ghost stories have a mystery behind them. The reader becomes involved with the characters in solving the story behind the haunting. Don’t present a ghost without a background. Remember the ghost is the primary character of the ghost story, and needs to be a living part of the story. Not exactly living, however…
So get your quills out, draw the curtains, light your candle and begin to write your ghost story…I dare you!