How to write a great ghost story

Why do some ghost stories keep you up all night, looking in your closet and checking under your bed?

Why do other ghost stories produce laughter or utter boredom?

Here are thoughts on what makes the PERFECT ghost story.

1) Atmosphere

There is no ghost story worth having without atmosphere. Readers must be gradually removed from their cozy surroundings and brought into the spooky world of ghosts. The author must engage all the senses including sight, smell, hearing and touch. A skilled author can evoke other ‘senses’ such as premonition or ‘female intuition’. The ghost story requires the reader to be shown the atmosphere, not told. Of all the elements that make up a great ghost story, atmosphere is probably the most important.

Where should a ghost story take place? A ghost story doesn’t have to take place in a decrepit mansion or graveyard. Expert ghost writers like Ambrose Bierce or Peter Straub use various settings for their ghost stories, including cabins in the woods or a diner. It’s how the authors use the settings to produce the hair-raising that matters.

2) Emotion

You can’t have a scary read without the characters feeling increasing levels of fear. The reader will identify with the gradual sensation 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 when presented with a blunt approach to a ghost story. The reader requires a modicum of faith to be truly scared.

3) Plot

A ghost story needs a plot. The reader longs for a reason to keep reading the pages. A flashy beginning, a breathless middle, and a satisfying ending are paramount.

Be original. Nothing will lose a reader’s interest more than a rehashed plot. If I read another story about a group of teenagers abandoned in an old house in the rain, I’ll wear a dress. And that’s sure to get the neighbors screaming!

Create a mystery. All great ghost stories have a mystery behind them. The reader engages with the characters to solve the story behind the ghost. Do not present a ghost with no prior record. Remember that the ghost is the main character in the ghost story and should be a living part of the story. However, it’s not exactly living…

So take out your feathers, draw the curtains, light your candle and start writing your ghost story… I dare you!

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