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How To Write A Terrifying Ghost Story

Many authors have said that no genre is more difficult to write for than ghost stories. This certainly seems to be the case; pick up an anthology of short ghost stories, and only a select few will be genuinely scary. Others will rely overt descriptions of gore or vile acts, but these alone are not enough to truly frighten. So what does it take? Read on…
Fear of the Unknown
Everyone is scared of different things, with a few universal commonalities. Perhaps the biggest one is this: we fear what we do not understand. If you think of some of the scariest movies you have seen, you will notice that the parts that really give you goose bumps are the moments leading up to a big scare. It is the anticipation, because you don’t know what is going to happen next.
Not knowing. That is key. Do not be to withhold information. Avid readers have active imaginations, so use that against them. You do not have to describe everything; your readers will fill in the gaps themselves, and I guarantee you that they will be more frightened by what they come up with than anything you can conjure. After all, they know what scares them most, and you do not.
Make sure you do not withhold too much information, however. You have to give your audience’s imaginations something to work with. It is a balancing act that can only be perfected through reading some truly scary ghost stories and practice.
To help with this balance, consider describing things that are not, in themselves, frightening. For instance, the short story Dancing Men by Glen Hirshberg describes the motion of a wooden carving-a harmless thing if ever there was one. The manner in which the author executed the description, however, combined with the setting and other elements of the story, was so haunting it may as well have been a soul-sucking specter.
Now, there are exceptions to every rule, and this is…no exception. Sometimes, describing the ghost is exactly what you need. This is something you have to judge for yourself.
Another exception: while describing a ghost’s appearance may be the a mistake, consider describing something else related to it, like the sound it makes or the way it smells.
Setting
When writing a ghost story, a genre plagued by cliches, strive to come up with a setting that is spooky without resorting to the typical haunted house on a stormy night. Find ways to make ordinary locations scary. The short ghost story Harry by Rosemary Timperley takes place on a warm sunny day, and is no less effective for it. In fact, the author uses the blinding sun and bright colors as a point of horror for the main character. An every day setting can make your tale more believable, which is vital if you are to draw your reader into your fictional world.
Remember, there are exceptions to every rule. An unbelievable location can work if you make it believable, or use it to enhance the mystery. Be careful though! People are not as easily frightened by rehashed descriptions of haunted houses. They know what to expect, which prepares them for the scares, which in turn makes them less effective.
Emotion
Emotion is important in any form of literature, and ghost stories even more so. This is one rule that has no exceptions or caveats. If you want your audience to be scared, you must successfully convey that your protagonist is terrified! First person narratives are especially good at this, but that doesn’t mean a third or second person story won’t work.
The Twist
It would be sad if someone read your ghost story and forgot about it the next day. To prevent this tragic outcome, leave your reader with a surprise ending or haunting last sentence. Spend lots of time on this. This can be the perfect moment to give your audience goose bumps.
Conclusion
Writing a good ghost story can be a taxing venture, but causing your readers peer over their shoulder in dark hallways is totally worth it. To sum up, here are the main things to keep in mind when writing a ghost story. Remember, there are exceptions to every rule:
People fear what they do not know-use your reader’s imagination against them!
Stormy nights and haunted houses can work, but try to avoid cliches.
Make your reader feel what the main character feels-utter terror!
Make a lasting impression with a haunting revelation at the end.

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