for writers and readers….


how to write a ghost storyFrom the archives – as I am in the middle of assignment season. I wrote this post in November 2010 and November  seems the right month for ghost stories.
Here are the three things you must have in a ghost story.

1) You need a ghost. Ok, that one is easy, but remember that it’s not a sprite or devil from the underworld or a monster from outer space. It can be an animal, but it is far more likely to be human. The crucial thing is that it is something that was once alive and is now dead.

2) There is one big difference between ‘real life’ accounts of  ghostly appearances and stories crafted for the big screen or the printed page. In fiction the ghost has to have a purpose

A ghost story only works if the ghost has a reason to appear. The ghost may be seeking revenge for what happened to it in life, it might be intent on dishing out punishment to the descendants of a wrong doer. Some ghosts may want the truth to be uncovered or justice done, some may be altruistic and want to alert the living to a secret. They may even want to bring comfort and consolation. It doesn’t matter what it is – evil or benign – as long as it is something they want to do, say or make happen. Without that you may have a ghost but you haven’t got a story.

3) Ghost stories are about creating atmosphere. This is a real test of a writer’s skill. Without spooky music or special effects, with words as your only tool you have to create tension and suspense. You have to convince your reader to see with your eyes and hear with your ears, to be afraid of the thing that’s scaring you…

Weather can play a big part. There’s a lot of it about today, so it’s a good research day. Here’s some pages from the notebook…

…Heavy clouds hanging over a crazy sea, frothing in anger. Cold thin rain, needle sharp, carried by an east wind with the chill of the Alps on its back…relief to be home but it’s a cold house that greets me, the boiler refuses to co-operate, and I am still twiddling knobs and swearing when the lights go out ….and I can feel…

….a bony dead finger on my neck…

My favourite ghost film is The Devil’s Backbone written and directed by Guillermo del Toro, It is set in an orphanage in the last year of the Spanish Civil War. It is truly scary and, as in del Toro’s later film Pan’s Labyrinth, sometimes the living can be a lot more frightening than the dead, especially if the living are fascists.
Have you got a favourite ghost story?
photo credit: Anant N S ( via photopin cc


  1. Gaelan Hamilton
    November 27, 2013

    Reblogged this on Gaelan Hamilton's Blog Thing.

  2. Pingback: Writing a ghost story | The Proof Angel

  3. Pingback: Write a chilling ghost story…international competition and publishing opportunity | BRIDGET WHELAN writer

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  5. Ian
    April 2, 2021

    Reblogged this on Untold Stories.

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This entry was posted on November 27, 2013 by in Muse and tagged , , , , , .


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