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How to write your own spooky ghost story for Halloween and other horror events; familiar stories are about you.

Updated on May 17, 2013

What is a ghost?

We all know what a ghost is, right?  It is the part of a dead person that refuses to leave earth for some reason.  The part remaining might be the dead person's unfulfilled soul.  It could be more shallow characteristics of the person that composed their personality.  Maybe what is stuck is the aura that used to surround the body but now floats around, groundless.   

In one form or another, this apparition is stuck and most likely doesn't understand that its body is no longer sensing and is in fact, buried or even cremated.  Oftne they don't know they are dead because they did not have time to prepare for death.  These are not the people who died after a long bout with cancer.  These are the Dead Like Me deaths that were freakish or emotional and certainly unexpected. 

Ghosts often have unfinished business to complete, which makes them inspiring material for storytellers.

What might your ghost want?

To create a compelling ghost story, a writer must understand what it is this particular ghost wants. Realistically, a ghost wants to stop being a ghost, and go on its merry way towards a better life. Especially if the ghostly part left behind is the soul. Souls embody a person's deepest spiritual nature, so if you are telling the story of a soul ghost, righting a wrong might be what it needs to move it along down death row.  Or protecting a loved one until they can accept this person's death.  Or something pretty compassionate.  A soul ghost generally does not get stuck without a compelling reason.

For ghostly personalities, it is a whole different experience. Personality ghosts may dwell on revenge and other shallow thoughts. If you are considering writing a series, personality ghosts might be good candidates, because they don't want to leave earth as much as they want to throw tantrums and make life miserable for others by haunting them, etc. These are the types of ghosts who disappear by means of ghostbusters. These ghosts are not good protagonists. They make better supporting characters.

Ghosts who are merely auras must transcend the color chakra where they are stuck. This means somehow they must learn something and change. But they might not know they need to learn something. They might think they are just fine as they are. So they don't really know what they want. They need to be taught what they must do to move on to another reality. These ghosts can be very very stubborn and egotistical, but in the end, they leave readers changed and satisfied.

Create secondary characters

Stories do not evolve around ghosts alone.  There must be compelling characters surrounding them.  And each of these characters must want their own stuff.  Plots come alive when characters want opposing things. 

Like, in the book Evermore by Alyson Noel, everyone in Ever Bloom's family dies in a car accident but Ever.  And Ever's little sister Riley, now a ghost, refuses to leave her sister.  Ever wants her to stick around because Riley is all the family she has left.  But there is a small window of opportunity for Riley; if she doesn't join her parents in the spirit world soon, she will be doomed to hang around earth forever.  Yet, Riley knows her sister needs her AND she is living her high school life vicariously through Ever.  This builds tension, as the reader is torn.

Characters were invented to carry storylines even though the storylines originate from within characters.  It's all circular.  But characters who do not carry the storyline can be eliminated by considering whether they advance the plot or not.  Perhaps they carry a portion of the plot and then their usefulness is finished.  These are the characters that have unfortunate accidents, the ones evil ghosts might send into traffic, the one who dies to perhaps rise again with new qualities that further the storyline. 

You decide.  You are the author. 

BigGirlBlue recommended this in comments!

Appropriate a creepy setting and hit all six senses

Some ghost stories are silly, like Eva Ibbotson's Dial A Ghost, where a temp agency hires out ghosts. Of course the plot thickens when the agency mixes up the order and sends a nice family of ghosts who died when their home burned down to an evil household that wants them to frighten their nephew to death. Talk about feeling inadequate!

Generally, however, ghost stories are meant to send chills down reader's backs, so think of what scares you and write scenes that raise your hackles as well as your readers. Throw in a few eerie settings, but keep away from fog and dark alleys. They are dead giveaways. Something along the lines of a haunted mall escalator or ice cream store might create unexpected horror.

Be sure to balance out the tension so that your readers can break for lunch. A steady diet of fear does not a story make. Speaking of lunch, add in sights, sounds, tastes, touches and smells that contribute to the tension as if it was happening outside on the lawn.  The more details, the better.

And end each chapter on a page turner... with a question the reader MUST have answered or they will put the book down and forget to pick it up.

Accomplish this much and viola! You are a ghostwriter!

© 2009 Barbara

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    • profile image

      chappers :P 5 years ago

      omg that video :O its so scary at times :L

    • Bruce Clark profile image

      Bruce Clark 5 years ago

      It must be really spooky while writing a ghost story. Never done it, but I'd like to write one just to try it out. Thanks for sharing your experience Storytellersrus.

    • Storytellersrus profile image
      Author

      Barbara 6 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      John B Badd, please do and let me know when you publish it! I would love to be scared!

    • John B Badd profile image

      John B Badd 6 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

      This is a very inspiring Hub. As Halloween draws near I think I may just have to write a ghost story.

      Voted up :)

    • Storytellersrus profile image
      Author

      Barbara 6 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      Thanks LucellaDenny! I look forward to reading yours! Please send me the link when it is finished.

    • LucellaDenny profile image

      LucellaDenny 6 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

      What an awesome subject to write about, who doesn't love a good ghost story? Thank you for the inspiration!

    • bonny2010 profile image

      bonetta hartig 6 years ago from outback queensland

      I grew up on ghost stories told by the old stockmen...love a good ghost story and really liked this hub..but dont know if I could write one...still its worth thinking about..thank you for your hub and relevant information

    • DStettler profile image

      DStettler 7 years ago

      Well I know it's a little late but I think I'm gonna write one for THIS Halloween. Thanks I love the info

    • Artin2010 profile image

      Artin2010 7 years ago from Northwestern Florida, Gulfcoast

      Hi, storytellersrus,

      I wrote a short ghost story and was hoping you'd be kind enough to read and share it to your buddies. I was trying to get in the contest Scott.Lifes was hosting, but it wasn't done soon enough for the voting I suppose. Anyway, here it is; https://hubpages.com/literature/When-a-Ghost-Comes...

    • Storytellersrus profile image
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      Barbara 8 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      Okay, Hi Jinks. Tell me her name and the first paragraph of what happened...

    • Hi-Jinks profile image

      Hi-Jinks 8 years ago from Wisconsin

      Maybe a better ending instead of the fate that occurred.

      That was an example of a hitchhiking ghost. Do you really want her name?

    • Storytellersrus profile image
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      Barbara 8 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      And your point is...?

    • Hi-Jinks profile image

      Hi-Jinks 8 years ago from Wisconsin

      I already know the ending. Sorry.

    • Storytellersrus profile image
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      Barbara 8 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      Danielle, YES, that certainly is an intriguing seed... go for it! I need to get going on mine as well.

    • Danielle Farrow profile image

      Danielle Farrow 8 years ago from Scotland, UK

      Great ideas, Story, thanks - I really hope I manage to write something inspired by this. Oh, where does time go? Hmm, there might be a story seed in that question . . .

    • Storytellersrus profile image
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      Barbara 8 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      Thanks for the idea, Hi Jinks! But why don't you write it and send me a link? I have my own ghost story already!

    • Hi-Jinks profile image

      Hi-Jinks 8 years ago from Wisconsin

      I can give you a seed to start a ghost story. A young man picks up a beautiful woman from a dance hall. On the way of taking her 'home' she screans at you to stop the car and she disappears across the street into a cemetery. True story, now write a story around this.

    • Storytellersrus profile image
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      Barbara 8 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      Thanks Victor. I assume you are not spam!

      Hi Jinks! I appreciate your serious approach to what is often treated more lightly. There is much truth in what you say, I am sure. Thank you very much.

    • Hi-Jinks profile image

      Hi-Jinks 8 years ago from Wisconsin

      I am busy writing Sci-Fi romance. But please find the rules of writing the Paranormal. Two I know of is, spirits tend not to cross moving water. And one, do not REPEAT do no take small children into these places. Preadolesence and adolesence children are a magnet to evil spirits.

      Look for the oldest books in the library for more information and seek the advice of local pagans.

      Oh, look on the internet for 'Showmans Rest' near Chicago.

    • profile image

      victor 8 years ago

      Your hubs are more amazing

    • Storytellersrus profile image
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      Barbara 8 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      Hi Jinks, I am curious as to what you might write! Please let me know if you ever put a ghost story on paper.

    • Hi-Jinks profile image

      Hi-Jinks 8 years ago from Wisconsin

      Hi Story..., I was from Chicago the seeming hot bed of ghosts. You know ghost voters. We seen many sites around that city that would leave you shitless. We have seen them, felt them, and smelled them.

      Research on ghosts and spirits is like religion. Everyone has an opinion. Eventualy you may find that the truth is out there. Hope that helps if not e-mail me.

    • Storytellersrus profile image
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      Barbara 8 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      ralwus, I will post links to your ghost stories above. Thanks!

    • profile image

      ralwus 8 years ago

      Hey, I got a great new one taking place, the beginning of a real thriller you might like. Duncan's Passion 2 parts so far.

      Start with A ghostly Tale first, I promise you won't be let down. If ya don't read it, I'll send Olivia for ya. ;)

    • Storytellersrus profile image
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      Barbara 8 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      Hi Jinks, I woud like to know where you got your information! It is not quite what I have read. For example, a couple who claims to deal with ghosts on a regular basis reports, "A ghost or spirit is a mind without or outside a physical body. That’s it. Spirits, apparitions, angels, psyche, ego, id and souls are the synonyms of the same." You can check out their site at http://evansnf.wordpress.com/2008/02/07/what-are-g... I would like more information on where your comment comes from, ie, experience, or what? Thanks!

      Am I dead, if you write one (please!) send me a link!

      mayhmong: great hub. Thanks for connecting us.

    • mayhmong profile image

      mayhmong 8 years ago from North Carolina

      I did my share of writing a hub about my ghostly encounters and hopefully I don't have to live through it anymore! But I am still curious about the paranormals. Anyways, check out my hub. https://hubpages.com/religion-philosophy/Living-in...

    • profile image

      Am I dead, yet? 8 years ago

      I never thought about writing a ghost story for Halloween...curious. As for the hub, Story--wonderful writing! I have already enjoyed the links you have here as well. Happy Halloween!

    • Hi-Jinks profile image

      Hi-Jinks 8 years ago from Wisconsin

      There are ghosts and there are spirits. They are different.

      Ghosts act out their living lives like a rerun movie. Ghosts wear clothes. Spirits have a soul and have no need of clothes.

      It doesn't manner if you don't believe in them. They are the only proof of an afterlife.

    • Storytellersrus profile image
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      Barbara 8 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      Got it linked above!

    • profile image

      ralwus 8 years ago

      I am linking my ghost story to this hub dear, and the next.

    • Storytellersrus profile image
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      Barbara 8 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      Amanda, I would love to hear THAT story! Alert me when it's finished!

    • Amanda Severn profile image

      Amanda Severn 8 years ago from UK

      That's a creepy clip you have posted it here! The poltergeist activity looks like a set-up, but as I've been in a house with an active poltergeist, I know all too well how real they can be. This is all great advice for writing a ghost story. Perhaps I'll try and write one for halloween.

    • Pleasure Venues profile image

      Pleasure Venues 8 years ago from South West US

      That was neat and thanks! I think I could mix a good ghost story in one or more settings!

    • Storytellersrus profile image
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      Barbara 8 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      That is so cool! I am rushing over immediately!

    • rsmallory profile image

      Rebecca Sue Mallory 8 years ago from Central Texas

      hey, I took your advice and wrote a ghost story-check it out and let me know what you think. It's called 'Lady in White'. I tried to utilize your tips and advice. Hope I did it justice.

    • Storytellersrus profile image
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      Barbara 8 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      Great idea, Benjimester! I can't wait to read it. Please give me a heads up when it is finished.

    • Benjimester profile image

      Benji Mester 8 years ago from San Diego, California

      That's a really intriguing idea. I never thought about writing a ghost story before. I like it! And I like your mindset of trying to figure out what a ghost personality would act and feel like. I think I'll set mine in the woods somewhere. Woods are scary :)

    • Storytellersrus profile image
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      Barbara 8 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      If any of you write ghostly tales, please let me know. (I am not familiar with Scott.Life's challenge and am uncertain where to find it, pgrundy. Is he on hubpages?) I love all of your ideas angali, dohn, pgrundy and Jess! I look forward to reading the final results.

    • Jess Killmenow profile image

      Jess Killmenow 8 years ago from Nowheresville, Eastern United States

      Being here and being alive is pretty fun, but being here dead would be pretty boring! Maybe that will be my premise...

    • profile image

      pgrundy 8 years ago

      Spooky clip! Thanks! I started a ghost story today for Scott.Life's challenge. I might post it in sections like Teresa McGurk did with her sci fi story and have the endingy by (or on!) Halloween. Great hub. Boo! :)

    • dohn121 profile image

      dohn121 8 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

      I might be able to try my pen at one. Goodness knows that I used to make up ghost stories on the fly when I was a kid to scare the heck out of my friends during sleep overs so we could stay up later. I'll definitely let you know if I do, Storytellersrus! Thanks for dissecting this great topic.

    • anjalichugh profile image

      anjalichugh 8 years ago from New York

      Ghost stories have intrigued me since my school days. Even now I love watching a movie on this subject, uninterrupted. That's quite childish I believe but... that's me. I'm glad I was directed to your hubs otherwise I would have missed some great stuff. Thumbs up!

    • Storytellersrus profile image
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      Barbara 8 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      Great idea, rsmallory! Having a target audience really makes a story good because you can speak to their fears and make it very real!

    • rsmallory profile image

      Rebecca Sue Mallory 8 years ago from Central Texas

      Great idea Story, I will give this concept some thought. I have often made up ghost stories on the numerous family and scout camping trips I have been on. Perhaps I will jot a few down...

    • Storytellersrus profile image
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      Barbara 8 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      BigGirlBlue, I added it above. Thanks for your suggestion!

      Ibtrader, interesting. I look forward to seeing how you enact this concept. Sounds very precise and effective. Like tying on a fly.

      ralwus I will read Michelle's Ghost immediately if you have posted it. Thanks!

      starbug, thanks for reading my hub even if you don't believe in ghosts. But if you don't believe in ghosts, why would Halloween be different from any other night? What evil would be lurking? I am asking because I would like to know your thoughts. Again, thanks for stopping.

    • profile image

      starbug5052 8 years ago

      Count me out. Don't celebrate Holloween. It is an evil night and a day of darkness. Don't believe in ghosts.

    • profile image

      ralwus 8 years ago

      Well now, very interesting, hehe I have invented a new ghost dear and a whole new way of thinking about them in my latest story. Is it coincidence that you wrote this hub? I think not. Come read about Michelle's Ghost. LOL Wot fun.

    • lbtrader profile image

      lbtrader 8 years ago from Canada

      Goa Gil, one of the original trance disc jockeys might say that the story or trance must be broken just slightly and just at the perfect moment with what he calls "a sample" in order to redirect "the medium". No pun intended. Maybe i'll call mine "The mediums sample".

      Nice story strus...

    • BigGirlBlue profile image

      BigGirlBlue 8 years ago from Eastern Ontario, Canada

      Another good ghost story is The Mercy of Thin Air. I quite enjoyed it.

    • Storytellersrus profile image
      Author

      Barbara 8 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      Wow, that was quick Bail Up! Thanks for stopping by.

    • Bail Up ! profile image

      Bail Up ! 8 years ago

      That's scary stuff to think about. Count me out of the ghost story writing :) but kudos to you - well written hub.