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Get Started Making Up a Ghost Story
Have you ever written a ghost story?
Making a Ghost Story for a Specific Audience
1. Writing a story is different than telling one
Are you making up a ghost story last-minute to tell on your upcoming camping trip? Or are you looking to write a ghost story of your very own to show off to friends? There are similarities and differences to telling a story over a campfire in the dead of night and writing a spooky story for others to read. When telling a ghost story among friends, for example, it easy to incorporate their personal fears into your storytelling to make the performance more effective; when writing a ghost story for a general audience, you don’t know every person who will be reading your work. Your story will need to written well, with detailed characters, settings and plot devices.
2. Keep your target age group in mind
Ghost stories differ in content depending upon the age group in question; small children are far more impressionable and easier to frighten than older children and young adults. Kids five years old and under will likely have nightmares and become upset if told disturbing or gory tales. Save the tougher material for an older age group. For example, if you are making up a ghost story for children up to five of six years old:
- include more fairy-tale or fantasy elements
- include humor - they will enjoy it more
- end on a light note if it seems scary
Older children are usually more capable of handling truly scary ghost stories (and tend to love them, too!). When kids hit anywhere from six to ten or eleven years old, they are more interested in ghost stories with more serious subject matter. Everyone loves a good scare, after all. If your story is directed at this age group, try to:
- include more scary ghosts or subject matter
- leave out the humor - they want to be scared
- incorporate the story into their daily lives
Popular stories for kids this age tend to involve ghost sightings and hauntings at school; you can easily spin a ghost story about a ghost that wanders their school because they died there (or another reason). If your age group is older, however, you can try a different tactic; teenagers are more difficult to convince when it comes to believing in ghosts and old legends. If you are creating a story for this crowd:
- include more disturbing elements or settings
- include disappearances and supposed murders
- use more realistic themes or settings
Have you ever told a ghost story?
3. Learn how to tell your story in person
If you are plotting a ghost story to tell around a campfire, you’ll need to practice how to tell the story to your friends. Telling your ghost story aloud requires a certain tone of voice, along with other behaviors and facial expressions; when telling a creepy ghost story aloud, you don’t want to giggle in between sentences or lose your composure. When it’s your turn to tell your ghostly tale, try to:
- use a somber, steady voice when storytelling
- keep a straight face - don’t laugh or smile
- look everyone in the eyes while you talk
If a friend makes a humorous comment while you're talking, do your best to hide your amusement. If you remain serious and unaffected, you’ll retain the eerie atmosphere and keep your companions on edge. Gazing around the room or circle while you tell your story will include everyone in your tale and keep their attention. You can even pretend to be nervous yourself if you are passing the tale off as real or an “old legend”!
Making Your Ghost Story More Believable
1. Create a detailed setting for your story
Setting is important in any story. However, the setting in a ghost story is often where the incident occurs and needs to have eerie and mysterious qualities. Depending on the subject matter of your ghost story, the setting should contain details about the people, animals, buildings, weather, natural surroundings and more. Giving a setting is more than stating that it’s dark or cold outside. When you’re describing the story’s setting, be sure to:
- show the reader (or listener) - be descriptive
- add in mysterious and dark elements for effect
- use places that sound plausible as haunted locations
When portraying your ghost story’s setting, try to use descriptive vocabulary; don’t simply say, “It was dark outside” - instead, try “The train of clouds obscured the moon, leaving the eerie cornfield shrouded in darkness”. Furthermore, you’ll want your setting to be strange, especially if it’s haunted; add in small details or parts of the landscape that are mysterious or don’t seem right. And remember to place your story in a location where a haunting makes sense; a haunted toaster isn’t going to scare most horror fans.
Key Character Traits
2. Have fleshed-out and relatable characters
Characters are an integral element of any ghost story; they are the people your audience has to understand events and relate to on a personal level. When making up a ghost story, it is important to have characters that your reader finds likable or connects to in some way. It’s okay to include a character that isn’t the most popular, but be sure to have others that can be seen as “just like anyone else”. For example, if you are making the story for teenagers, include characters whom:
- are of the same age group and academic status
- are members of different social “cliques”
- share the interests and personalities of kids their age
If the reader or listener can relate to the characters in your story, they are more likely to associate with their predicament and be more thrilled by it. A really successful ghost story has characters that most everyone can relate to on one level or another. Goosebumps books were popular with kids because the characters were children their age of middle class origin with similar behaviors and interests. If you don’t share anything with a character, you are far less likely to feel for them or care what becomes of them at the end of a spooky story.
3. Make your story relatable, not unbelievable
What makes a story truly frightening is the idea that the plot can happen to anyone, anywhere. Having you ghost story take place in an entirely make-believe setting with fantasy creatures is not the way to scare your audience. If your characters are everyday people, however, and your setting is an abandoned train station at the edge of town, chances are most readers know and see what you are describing to them. Don’t be extravagant; use common people and common places in your ghost story.
Making Your Audience Afraid of Your Ghosts
1. Everyone holds a fear of the unknown
One of the greatest fears everyone shares is the fear of the unknown. Many people become nervous in the dark because, without sight, they don’t know what is out there. Stories of the unexplained, such as UFOs or the Jersey Devil, are frightening because they are mysterious. Oftentimes, monster stories or films are more frightening when the appearance of the monster is unknown. Fear of the unknown is in us all - use that to your advantage in ghost stories.
2. Incorporate the fears of your audience
If you are telling a ghost story aloud to friends or family, chances are that you already know what some of them fear. You can then incorporate their fears into your ghost story and be sure to get some scares. If you don’t know your audience’s fears ahead of time, don’t fret - there are still common and popular fears that many people share. Some common phobias include:
- arachnophobia - fear of spiders
- ophidiophobia - fear of snakes
- acrophobia - fear of heights
Adding some of these elements into your ghost story can incite more fear into your audience if they share the sentiment. These can help build up the fear and suspense in your story until the last moment, and building up fear is important in all ghost stories. Anything that will help frighten your audience is a welcome addition to your tale, and worth considering.
3. End your story on an unforgettable note
If you’ve read a good ghost story - or heard one - you know that the end of the tale seals the deal and makes it memorable. Cheesy endings can sell the story short and ruin the effect. Sometimes a sudden plot twist or an eerie discovery can be the perfect ending. If you would rather be mysterious, don’t explain what happened at all - leave some hints, but leave the rest up for debate. Sometimes the reader’s imagination is the most frightening part of a ghost story. Above all, don’t forget to enjoy yourself!
© 2013 Jessica Marello