The Classic Ghost Stories Podcast
A Ghost Story Every Week
How to Write a Ghost Story
How to write a ghost story: point of view and choice of tense.
One of the first things to do when deciding how to write your ghost story, is to choose a point of view. There are many writing books written on point of view and tense, but here are my thoughts:
Your primary aim is to create a chill. You need to get the reader feeling along with the main character as that person makes his or her way through the story. Because of this many ghost stories are written in the first person. ‘I hear a noise…’ ‘My heart thumps in my chest..’
You will see that I have gone into first person present tense. There is such a thing as the narrative present and when telling stories in ordinary life, people will start to relate an incident in the present tense. For example:
I was walking down this road, then I see a car coming at me. I jump out the way, and I hit a telegraph pole. The car drives off without even stopping. But it was okay. I wasn’t hurt.
Tony Walker, a few minutes ago.
Writing a whole novel in the present tense is fashionable at the moment. If you look back at classic stories, very few were written in the present, but go now (I command you!) to your local bookstore, pick up the new best-selling novels, and a good number of those will be in the present tense.
Carmilla by J Sheridan Le Fanu is written in the first person, present tense because it is supposed to reflect the main character (or protagonist) Laura writing in her journal for Dr Hesselius.
*In Styria, we, though by no means magnificent people, inhabit a castle, or schloss. A small income, in that part of the world, goes a great way. Eight or nine hundred a year does wonders. Scantily enough ours would have answered among wealthy people at home. My father is English, and I bear an English name, although I never saw England. But here, in this lonely and primitive place, where everything is so marvellously cheap, I really don’t see how ever so much more money would at all materially add to our comforts, or even luxuries.
Carmilla, Chapter 1
However, within the same chapter, Le Fanu slips into the first person past tense. Whether this is intentional or accidental, it’s hard to say. Certainly doing that would earn him condemnation from modern writing coaches and intense slagging off in fiction writing online fora.
I and my father constituted the family at the schloss. My mother, a Styrian lady, died in my infancy, but I had a good-natured governess, who had been with me from, I might almost say, my infancy. I could not remember the time when her fat, benignant face was not a familiar picture in my memory.
It’s fair to say that writing in the past tense is the traditional way to compose a story.
Classic ghost stories were more than not, written in the third person. That is to say,
He walked the long passageway, his footsteps echoing among the serried suits of armour.
Tony Walker, just now
But the choice of past tense over present tense, is not such a hard and fast rule as choosing first person over third person. I would go so far as to say that there are very few ghost stories written before 2000 that use the present tense, but nearly half use the first person point of view and probably just over half use the third person.
You can argue that using first person makes a story experience more immediate, so why wouldn’t you always use it? Why would you ever pick the third person?
There is a reason and this goes to my distinction between a ghost story and a horror story. Very often, most usually, the main character in a ghost story survives. They may be shaken or they may be uplifted by their supernatural experience, but by and large, they survive. However, in a horror story, there is a good chance they will come to a bad end.
In this case, how did they communicate the story to you? Now, we all know this is a fiction. It never happened, but for some reason we like to stick to the convention that we are being told a story ‘as if’ it really happened, and if it really happened, and the geezer in it died, then how come he’s telling it to the audience?
One way I got round this, was by having the main character type it up on his computer, and there the story was blinking on the screen, awaiting a reader. (Luckily the monster didn’t smash it up.) This is a modern version of the epistolary horror story. Dracula is an epistolary story in that it is told in letters and journal entries. Heck, there’s even a sub-genre called Epistolary Horror
But an easier rule for how to write a classic ghost story, is to write in the third person from the point of view of an all-seeing narrator: the voice in the sky, who sees everything, even in locked rooms. This does create a little distance between your audience and your main character, but it saves you having to explain how anyone found out about the horrific incident.
How to Write A Ghost Story: Make the Environment Hostile
What don’t people like? Cold, rain, snow, dark, being lost, an environment where you can’t see very far or your movement is hampered like a marsh or a forest. Yes, make your audience shiver and pine with the protagonist as he or she gets more and more desperate, is separated from all help, and gets colder and more scared. The thing is you have to create a plausible reason why the protagonist gets themselves into this fix. If you simply have them go to the attic in the killer clown’s house, people will ask: really?
In Amelia Edward’s The Phantom Coach , our man gets lost on the moors of Northern England, the snow is falling, the light is fading. But he’s been out shooting so he has good reason to have got himself into this pickle.
Well! It was just twenty years ago, and within a day or two of the end of the grouse season. I had been out all day with my gun, and had had no sport to speak of. The wind was due east; the month, December; the place, a bleak wide moor in the far north of England. And I had lost my way. It was not a pleasant place in which to lose one’s way, with the first feathery flakes of a coming snowstorm just fluttering down upon the heather, and the leaden evening closing in all around. I shaded my eyes with my hand, and stared anxiously into the gathering darkness, where the purple moorland melted into a range of low hills, some ten or twelve miles distant. Not the faintest smoke-wreath, not the tiniest cultivated patch, or fence, or sheep-track, met my eyes in any direction. There was nothing for it but to walk on, and take my chance of finding what shelter I could, by the way. So I shouldered my gun again, and pushed wearily forward; for I had been on foot since an hour after daybreak, and had eaten nothing since breakfast.
The Phantom Coach, by Amelia Edwards
He has every good reason to be lost, and he’s hungry too!
In Frank Cowper’s Christmas Eve on a Haunted Hulk our protagonist goes hunting duck in a dreary marshland. He finds a derelict ship, clambers aboard and then loses his boat and is marooned!
*What could have caused the splash, that luckless splash, I wondered. There was surely no one else on board the ship, and certainly no one could get out here without mud-pattens or a boat. I looked round. All was perfectly still Nothing broke the monotony of the grey scene–sodden and damp and lifeless. A chill breeze came up from the southwest, bringing with it a raw mist, which was blotting out the dark distance, and fast limiting my horizon. The day was drawing in, and I must be thinking of going home. As I turned round, my attention was arrested by seeing a duck-punt glide past me in the now rapidly falling water, which was swirling by the mud-bank on which the vessel lay. But there was no one in her. A dreadful thought struck me. It must be my boat, and how shall I get home? I ran to the stern and looked over.The duck-punt was gone.The frayed and stranded end of the painter told me how it had happened. I had not allowed for the fall of the tide, and the strain of the punt, as the water fell away, had snapped the line, old and rotten as it was. I hurried to the bows, and jumping on to the bitts, saw my punt peacefully drifting away, some quarter of a mile off. It was perfectly evident I could not hope to get her again.
Christmas Eve on a Haunted Hulk, Frank Cowper
There Must be a Gothic Building!
In Carmilla, the Gothic focus is the traditional castle, suitably set in a forest.
Over all this the schloss shows its many-windowed front; its towers, and its Gothic chapel.Nothing can be more picturesque or solitary. It stands on a slight eminence in a forest. The road, very old and narrow, passes in front of its drawbridge, never raised in my time, and its moat, stocked with perch, and sailed over by many swans, and floating on its surface white fleets of water lilies.The forest opens in an irregular and very picturesque glade before its gate, and at the right a steep Gothic bridge carries the road over a stream that winds in deep shadow through the wood. I have said that this is a very lonely place. Judge whether I say truth. Looking from the hall door towards the road, the forest in which our castle stands extends fifteen miles to the right, and twelve to the left. The nearest inhabited village is about seven of your English miles to the left.
From Carmilla by J Sheridan Le Fanu
In Charlotte Riddell’s The Open Door the Gothic habitation is an old abandoned English mansion.
*It was a long avenue, but at length I stood in front of the Hall–a square, solid-looking, old-fashioned house, three stories high, with no basement; a flight of steps up to the principal entrance; four windows to the right of the door, four windows to the left; the whole building flanked and backed with trees; all the blinds pulled down, a dead silence brooding over the place: the sun westering behind the great trees studding the park. I took all this in as I approached, and afterwards as I stood for a moment under the ample porch; then, remembering the business which had brought me so far, I fitted the great key in the lock, turned the handle, and entered Ladlow Hall.For a minute–stepping out of the bright sunlight–the place looked to me so dark that I could scarcely distinguish the objects by which I was surrounded; but my eyes soon grew accustomed to the comparative darkness, and I found I was in an immense hall, lighted from the roof, a magnificent old oak staircase conducted to the upper rooms.The floor was of black and white marble. There were two fireplaces, fitted with dogs for burning wood; around the walls hung pictures, antlers, and horns, and in odd niches and corners stood groups of statues, and the figures of men in complete suits of armour.
The Open Door , Charlotte Riddell
In Christmas Eve on a Haunted Hulk the gothic habitation is the haunted ship.
The old vessel lay nearly upright in the soft mud, and a glance soon told she would never be used again. Her gear and rigging were, all rotten, and everything valuable had been removed. She was a brig of some two hundred tons, and had been a fine vessel, no doubt. To me there is always a world of romance in a deserted ship. The places she has been to, the scenes she has witnessed, the possibilities of crime, of adventure–all these thoughts crowd upon me when I see an old hulk lying deserted and forgotten–left to rot upon the mud of some lonely creek.
Christmas Eve on a Haunted Hulk
And we see here that the derelict ship, like Carmilla’s schloss, has an air of adventure and mystery. There is something romantic about it, and so the Gothic habitation must have the horrible and the enchanting about it. They are in fact fairy habitations, no matter how disguised.
One of the most disguised Gothic Habitations and therefore most ingenious, appears in The Old Portrait by Hume Nisbet. Here the Gothic habitation containing the horrific, dangerous but sensually alluring vampiress is an old picture frame.
The frame, also, I noticed for the first time, in its details appeared to have been designed with the intention of carrying out the idea of life in death; what had before looked like scroll-work of flowers and fruit were loathsome snake-like worms twined amongst charnel-house bones which they half covered in a decorative fashion; a hideous design in spite of its exquisite workmanship, that made me shudder and wish that I had left the cleaning to be done by daylight.
The Old Portrait by Hume Nisbet
In Cynthia Asquith’s The Corner Shop , The Gothic Habitation as I am calling it, is the antique shop. In H G Well’s Magic Shop , it is the Toyshop. The Gothic habitation must be set apart from the world. It is an unusual place, not normally encountered and it may be terrifying or enchanting or both.
The message here when considering how to write a ghost story, is to put in a place or object that is fires the imagination of your reader, and transports them to the realm of Faerie. Because that’s what we’re doing after all.
As they say in that classic story, Lud in The Mist the country folk do not clearly distinguish between fairies and the dead. They are both called The Silent People, and ghost stories are in fact a kind of fairy story, where otherworldly denizens come to teach humans about right and wrong, even where they themselves give a bad example.
A Classic Ghost Story Needs Lots of Description
The glade through which we had just walked lay before us. At our left the narrow road wound away under clumps of lordly trees, and was lost to sight amid the thickening forest. At the right the same road crosses the steep and picturesque bridge, near which stands a ruined tower which once guarded that pass; and beyond the bridge an abrupt eminence rises, covered with trees, and showing in the shadows some grey ivy-clustered rocks.Over the sward and low grounds a thin film of mist was stealing like smoke, marking the distances with a transparent veil; and here and there we could see the river faintly flashing in the moonlight.
Carmilla, Chapter 2
A Classic Ghost Story Needs a Monster In The Shadows
M R James believed that ghost stories erred when they were too blatant. That meant being too obvious with their monster. The scriptwriters among you may be familiar with the late Blake Snyder’s manual on Scriptwriting called Save The Cat . It’s a must read book really, but one of the story templates Monster In The House , encapsulates most ghost and horror stories. Think of the Sci Fi movie Alien – the monster in the starship. For a good part, and probably the most effective part, of the movie, we do not see the monster. In the recent horror movie The Ritual, again, for the best part of the movie, we do not see the monster.
In classic ghost stories, most of the time we do not see the monster. In Algernon Blackwood’s The Kit Bag
the scariest effects are the sounds and sensations of the thing unseen on the stairs. In Christmas Eve on a Haunted Hulk the ghost action is never seen because it’s pitch dark, but we hear and feel the effect of the ghost. A fantastically effective modern ghost story, Michelle Paver’s Dark Matter , takes place in the Arctic Winter when it is dark all the time. We are aware of something moving in the dark, but we can’t see it.
In A M Burrage’s Smee , the twelve guests are playing hide and seek in the dark in a large house, when they realise there are thirteen people playing. One of them is dead.
The classic ghost stories that have supernatural things crawling around in the dark, often end with the protagonist being a mere witness to the supernatural occurrence. The problem with that is that it lessens the threat for the protagonist, and decreases the dramatic tension, so decreasing the scare effect for the reader.
I guess, as in most modern stories, the monster has to emerge from the darkness towards the end and actually threaten the characters.
One story where the tension is built in the dark, and the threat is real, only illuminated at the end when the lights go on, is Ray Bradbury’s The October Game . Strictly speaking this is a horror story rather than a ghost story.
So when writing your ghost story, I would suggest you keep the monster off-stage until the final denouement.
A Classic Ghost Story Needs Foreshadowing
The set-up is a large part of a ghost story. We have talked about a hostile environment, to put the main character far from help. Then we have him encounter the gothic habitation, the place that the wonders will take place: a setting quite extraordinary. In both of these sections we will see a lot of description using all the senses.
Meanwhile, the snow began to come down with ominous steadiness, and the wind fell. After this, the cold became more intense, and the night came rapidly up. As for me, my prospects darkened with the darkening sky, and my heart grew heavy as I thought how my young wife was already watching for me through the window of our little inn parlour, and thought of all the suffering in store for her throughout this weary night.
The Phantom Coach
Ideally, we are going to draw on all the senses to put our reader in that extraordinary place.
The afternoon was closing in, and the hall, which had no fire lighted in it, looked dark and gloomy; but we did not stay there a moment. The old servant, who had opened the door for us, bowed to Mr. Henry, and took us in through the door at the further side of the great organ, and led us through several smaller halls and passages into the west drawing-room, where he said that Miss Furnivall was sitting. Poor little Miss Rosamond held very tight to me, as if she were scared and lost in that great place; and as for myself, I was not much better. The west drawing-room was very cheerful-looking, with a warm fire in it, and plenty of good, comfortable furniture about.
The Old Nurse’s Story
‘One foggy evening, at the end of a day of enforced idleness in my chambers – I had just been called to the Bar – I was rather dejectedly walking back to my lodgings when my attention was drawn to the brightly lit window of a shop. Seeing the word “Antiques” on its sign-boar, and remembering that I owed a wedding present to a lover of 4 bric-à-brac, I grasped the handle of the green door. Opening with one of those cheerful jingle-jangle bells, it admitted me into large rambling premises, thickly crowded with all the traditional treasure and trash of a curiosity shop. Suits of armour, warming-pans, cracked, misted mirrors, church vestments, spinning-wheels, brass kettles, chandeliers, gongs, chess-men – furniture of every size and every period. Despite all the clutter, there was none of the dusty gloom one associates with such collections. Far from being dingy, the room was brightly lit and a crackling fire leaped up the chimney. In fact, the atmosphere was so warm and cheerful that after the cold dank fog outside it struck me as most agreeable.
The Corner Shop
But a large part of the job is to place information early on that seems unremarkable enough, but which is essential to the unfolding plot and particularly the ending. The Russian playwright, Chekov famously said that everything that has no place in the story should be removed, and only objects that are necessary to the plot should remain. This cues up an object and the wily reader will know that if Chekov mentions a pistol in Act I, it will be used by the end of the play.
August Heat does this in that we know that when:
A sudden impulse made me enter. A man was sitting with his back towards me, busy at work on a slab of curiously veined marble. *
That this piece of marble will be relevant. As indeed it is.
A Classic Ghost Story Needs Misdirection
Not all ghost stories do that, but it is something that readers love. Misdirection is the main card played by writers of crime fictions. You place the pistol in Act I, and the experienced reader thinks, ‘Aha!’ that will be relevant by the end. The fun thing is confounding the expectation of the reader so that it is relevant in an unexpected way.
For example in the Corner Shop, we are introduced to a grey-faced man who we are led to believe right through the story that he is one of the servants. And, then at the very end it transpires that we, and the protagonist have been wrong about that in a way that suddenly illuminates the central point of the story.
‘“Meet him?” she echoed in amazement as the footsteps neared. ‘“Yes, I may stay and see your father, mayn’t I? I heard your sister say he would soon be here.” ‘“Oh, now I understand!” she exclaimed. “You mean Bessie’s father! But Bessie and I are only step-sisters. My poor father died years and years ago.”’
One classic misdirection, often found in ghost stories is central to M. Night Shyalam’s Sixth Sense where famously at the end, Bruce Willis’s character realises that it is he who is the ghost. We find this in On The Brighton Road , where the tramp perhaps never realises he’s dead, though the reader does finally twig this at the end. This is a common motif in ghost stories, that of the dead not realising they are dead, and in fact I have used it myself, to good effect. Though it seems corny, when I’m doing a live reading of this particular story: The Hitcher (to be found in this collection Cumbrian Ghost Stories I always hear the ‘oh!’ from the audience and that makes me feel warm inside. Unlike the main character of The Hitcher.
When you are considering how to write a ghost story, I would urge you to consider this simple trick. After all, as it is often said, the oldies are the goodies!
To Be Classic A Ghost Story Needs a Moral Message
Since Biblical times, ghosts have returned to the living with the exhortation to do good and eschew evil. Sometimes they urge revenge, such as Hamlet’s father’s ghost in Shakespeare’s play of that name. Sometimes they come to accuse murderer’s as does Banquo’s ghost in Macbeth , but usually they are very concerned with right and wrong among the living, and redressing the moral balance.
When you’re thinking about how to write a ghost story, though there are many ghost stories written without a moral message, the audiences love to have their sense of right and wrong tickled, so whether you have your ghost urge revenge, punish the wicked or reward the good (after a little struggle obviously), put in a morally acceptable message. Good should prevail if you want to keep those One Stars at bay.
Please note, the book links to Amazon are affiliate links and if you buy from them I get a small commission.
Schalken the painter by j. sheridan le fanu.
Schalken The Painter by J. Sheridan Le Fanu Story Summary The unnamed narrator describes a painting he owns by Godfried Schalken. It depicts a woman in white holding a lantern in a church. The story flashes back to explain the painting’s origins. Schalken, a young artist, is in love with his mentor’s niece, Rose Velderkaust….
Irish Ghost Stories
Taig O’Kane and The Corpse Written by Douglas Hyde This story is also known as Tadhg O’Kane or Ó Catháin. An Irish ghost story, or perhaps an Irish fairy story, where a wastrel boy compromises the reputation of a local girl and when he goes out on the road to think, he meets a party…
The House and The Brain, or The Haunters and The Haunted by Edward Bulwer-Lytton
Join Tony as we explore Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s classic short story, ‘The House & The Brain’. This captivating tale, first published in 1859, follows a narrator as he investigates the strange occurrences in a haunted house. The story is notable for its suspenseful atmosphere, its examination of the power of the human mind, and its timeless…
Late Night Sleep Radio Bookshelf
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All Hallows by Walter de la Mare
All Hallows by Walter de la Mare Link to the Audio Version of All Hallows Brief Biography of Walter de La Mare Walter de La Mare (1873-1956) was an English poet, novelist, and short story writer known for his imaginative and evocative works. Born on April 25, 1873, in London, de La Mare began writing…
Harry by Rosemary Timperley
Harry by Rosemary Timperley Thank you to Steve Cuff for suggesting I read this story. Rosemary Timperley was born in 1920 in North London and died in November 1988. Her father was an architect and her mother a teacher. Timperley went to her local girls school and became a teacher herself. She taught English and…
How to Write Scary Ghost Stories that Terrify Your Readers
by James Colton
Fear is one of the hardest reactions to provoke in writing. Just flip through the pages of any ghost story anthology; how many of them are genuinely scary ? It takes more than tortured groans, rattling chains, and a splattering of gore; anyone can do that . But the art of raising goose bumps? That is an elusive art indeed. If you can write a scary ghost story, you can write anything. Are you ready to inspire nightmares? Then follow me…
Fear of the Unknown
People don’t fear death. No one’s afraid of ghosts. Monsters, murderers, darkness—none of the horror staples are really terrifying. If you rely on your audience being scared simply because your story includes any of the above, you’re doomed to fail. Instead, you must understand where terror truly lies.
Everyone fears the unknown.
People don’t know what comes after death, so they get scared. They don’t know what’s making that noise in the other room, so they call it a ghost and get scared. Darkness could be hiding anything—what exactly, we don’t know—so we get scared.
We fear what we can’t understand. That’s why a touch on your shoulder when you’re all alone is so frightening: it should be impossible. The best ghost stories take full advantage of this. You won’t see the ghost; you’ll only hear it, smell it, feel it. A ghost is like the wind; you see a curtain flutter, and the question remains in your mind, what is it?
When writing your ghost story, don’t be afraid of withholding information. Your readers, by the very act of reading, have activated their imaginations. Use this against them! Don’t bog them down with long descriptions of a gruesome specter; instead, use simple words to sketch a vague impression. Your readers will imagine the rest, filling in the gaps with whatever scares them most.
Another way you can introduce an element of the unknown is to limit how often you use trope words. If you’re constantly mentioning ghosts or vampires, then the reader knows exactly what they’re up against. By not attaching a label to your entity, you produce doubt. Doubt makes people uncomfortable, which makes them easier to scare.
Examples of the Unknown
Something is not right.
Why is it that one smile can put you at ease, while another makes you want to get out of the room as quickly as possible? Does it reveal just a few too many teeth? Are the eyes above it just a little bit soulless? Is the accompanying laughter a tad too enthusiastic?
We may not be able to tell what , but something is…off. Something friendly has been distorted. You were climbing a familiar staircase, and the last step was missing. You were listening to a pleasant tune, but that one note—was it off-key? What’s wrong with this picture?
This is a natural extension of our fear of the unknown. A defense mechanism. It tips us off that someone around us bears a sickness that we don’t want to catch, that someone is pretending to be something they’re not. In the realm of robotics and computer graphics, it is called the uncanny valley . When something comes so close to being real, but falls short in some subtle way. This is why mannequins, dolls, and clowns are common phobias.
So how can you leverage this in your ghost story? There’s the obvious: characters with slightly deformed features or unnatural movements. Houses with strange angles. Unexpected behavior works as well.
Then there’s the more subtle: mentioning a detail that would be innocuous anywhere else, but in this particular scenario is out of place. There’s nothing quite like a child’s laughter—especially coming from your basement at 3 in the morning. Is it really a child? Or something like a child?
You can also work it into your writing style. Phrase something in an odd way. Intentionally break the rules of grammar. Just don’t overdo it, or you’ll come across as illiterate instead of terrifying.
Examples of the Uncanny
What are the most iconic ghosts you can think of? How are they described? I’ll bet the words that just drifted through your mind weren’t college-level terms like ectoplasmic , ominous , or stygian . Rather, you probably imagined something white, something tall, a shadow.
You reached for simple terms that your brain could instantly understand.
Amateur writers often gravitate toward heavy descriptions. This is likely the result of high-school English teachers encouraging them to be more creative and expand their vocabulary. But let me remind you of a very important fact: you aren’t writing a ghost story to impress your high-school English teacher. You’re not trying to prove how clever you are.
You’re trying to scare people.
At best, advanced or overly descriptive words are harder to process. At worst, they lead to overwriting and the dreaded pit of silliness.
Simple words, on the other hand, are subtle. They conjure clear sensations in our minds, sensations that we didn’t expect. If you’ve set up your scene properly, everyday words that are innocent by themselves will take on new, sinister meanings.
If you have trouble with this, Lean on the basic structure of the English sentence: subject, verb, object.
He opened the door. The room was dark. He stepped inside. Something dripped on his shoulder. He looked up.
If you need something more, pick a single adjective and apply it to either the subject or the object. Don’t apply anything to the verb; it should stand on its own. If it doesn’t, you either used the wrong verb, or the preceding sentences didn’t set up the right context.
Examples of Subtlety
Do you feel afraid.
Emotion is vital in any form of literature, but especially ghost stories. Remember, the end goal is to make your reader feel what the protagonist is feeling: pure, unbridled terror.
Simply telling the reader that your character is scared isn’t enough. You’ve heard the adage “show, don’t tell.” When writing about emotions, try forbidding yourself from using words like:
Instead, show the character’s fear by writing what their body is doing. Write exactly what they’re hearing or smelling, even if it’s only in their head.
But the protagonist is only half of the emotional equation. The other half is the ghost. The scariest ghosts always project some kid of emotion. It doesn’t matter what that emotion is as long as it’s dangerous:
A dangerous emotion doesn’t necessarily have to be a negative one. It could be a positive thing taken in a bad direction. Dysfunctional love, overzealous affection—as long as the ghost’s emotions project some kind of threat, you have the makings a terrifying specter.
Fear isn’t the only emotion you can use when writing a ghost story. Try enhancing the terror with sadness, depression, or anger. Positive emotions can have a tremendous impact as well. Offer a glimmer of hope, then replace it with something awful. The contrast can be unnerving.
Examples of Emotion
A dreadful descent.
Fear must be built up gradually. Think of it like you’re taking the reader on a journey from the safety of their world to the nightmare of yours. Like any journey, it’s a transition from point A to point B. If you skip that transition by presenting your scariest scene right up front, it won’t have any effect. The audience is still comfortably seated at point A: a soft armchair by a warm fire.
That’s not to say you can never start with a spooky scene—in fact, it’s a good way to catch the audience’s interest and entice them to keep reading. Just make sure you save the best for last. Wait until the reader has gotten out of their comfy chair; wait until they’re curled up in the cold, damp corner of the basement. Once a reader is primed, they’re much easier to scare.
This priming process is called foreboding . It’s similar to the more common literary device of foreshadowing, but with an emphasis on the ominous. It helps your reader suspend their disbelief and gradually draws them into your nightmare world.
Start small. In a ghost story, this is the quiet noise, unexpected but not altogether unusual, that the protagonist dismisses, attributing it to natural causes.
Then go a little bit bigger. A more demanding noise that piques the protagonist’s curiosity. Perhaps they investigate, but once more can only shrug their shoulders and move on with life.
Then one night the noise becomes a knocking. Maybe someone is at the front door? But the protagonist looks and no one is there. Now they’re nervous, and maybe the reader is too.
The next night, however, the knocking comes not from the distant front door, but the protagonist’s own bedroom door.
And the wood begins to splinter.
Examples of Foreboding
The end…or is it.
If you want to make your ghost story truly memorable, it needs a killer ending. You want your reader to keep thinking about the story long after they’ve finished it—after the lights are out, when they’re trying to sleep.
The key is to put your scariest scene last. Your scariest scene isn’t necessarily the one in which your character’s life is in the most danger. This is the horror genre, after all; death is expected. Rather, your scariest scene is the one in which your character’s identity , sanity , or relationships are in the most danger.
This may mean leaving the reader with a disturbing question or a terrifying revelation. These reveals will threaten the character’s understanding of the world and trigger the darkest aspects of your reader’s imagination.
Putting your scariest scene last might require a non-linear narration. If your scariest scene takes place three quarters of the way through your story, write around it, then use a flashback at the end to explore the scene in greater detail.
If you’re having trouble coming up with an impactful twist for your ending, try asking yourself these questions:
- What single fact would make this good situation bad, or this bad situation worse?
- What detail would alter the character’s understanding of the situation in a terrifying way?
- How can the situation force the character into a choice?
- How can that choice be bad no matter what the character chooses?
Regardless of how you end your ghost story, be careful not to overextend the ending. After the big reveal, it may be tempting to offer further explanation, but this can dampen the effect. Don’t be afraid to leave some things up to the reader’s imagination. Leave some questions unanswered, some conflicts unresolved. This produces doubt in the reader and forces them to think about your story late into the night.
Examples of Endings
Writing a good ghost story is hard, but when your readers say they can no longer walk down dark hallways and complain of trouble sleeping, that feeling is totally worth it!
To sum up, here are the main things to keep in mind when writing a ghost story:
- Use the unknown to turn your readers’ imagination against them
- Exploit the uncanny valley to make your readers uncomfortable
- Write simple language to paint a sinister picture
- Create empathy to manipulate your readers’ emotions
- Build the fear gradually before springing your scariest scene
Finally, the most important advice I can give you is this: read . Immerse yourself in the genre, and you’ll find you naturally improve. A good place to start would be my own library of horror stories .
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Last updated on Jun 20, 2022
How to Write a Horror Story: 7 Tips for Writing Horror
In our era of highly commercialized crime and thriller novels, it may seem like zeitgeist-defining horror books are a thing of the past. Indeed, Stephen King was once the perennial bestselling author in the world, and children in the 90s devoured Goosebumps books like The Blob devoured, well, everything.
But let’s not forget there’s a huge base of horror fans today, desperate for their next fix . So if you’re hoping to become the next Crown Prince of Dread, your dream can still come true! Here are seven steps to writing truly chilling horror:
1. Start with a fear factor
2. pick a horror story subgenre, 3. let readers experience the stakes, 4. create suspense through point of view, 5. consider plot twists to surprise your audience, 6. put your characters in compelling danger, 7. use your imagination.
The most important part of any horror story is naturally going to be its fear factor . People don’t read horror for easy entertainment; they read it to be titillated and terrorized. That said, here are a few elements you can use to seriously scare the pants off your reader.
Fears that have some sort of logical or biological foundation are often the most potent in horror. Darkness, heights, snakes, and spiders — all these are extremely common phobias rooted in instinct. As a result, they tend to be very effective at frightening readers.
This is especially true when terror befalls innocent characters apropos of nothing: a killer traps them in their house for no apparent reason, or they’re suddenly mugged by a stranger with a revolver. As horror writer Karen Woodward says, “The beating undead heart of horror is the knowledge that bad things happen to good people.”
Monsters and supernatural entities
These stretch beyond the realm of logic and into the realm of the “uncanny,” as Freud called it. We all know that vampires , werewolves, and ghosts aren’t real, but that doesn’t mean they can’t shake us to our core. In fact, it’s the very uncertainty they arouse that makes them so sinister: what if monsters are really out there, we’ve just never seen them? This fear is one of the most prevalent in horror, but if you decide to write in this vein, your story has to be pretty convincing.
Another great means of scaring people is to tap into societal tensions and concerns — a tactic especially prevalent in horror movies. Just in recent memory, Get Out tackles the idea of underlying racism in modern America, The Babadook examines mental health, and It Follows is about the stigma of casual sex. However, societal tensions can also easily be embodied in the pages of a horror story, as in Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery .
The right atmosphere for your story depends on what kind of horror you want to write. To use cinematic examples again, are you going for more Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Silence of the Lambs? The tone and atmosphere of your story will hang upon its subgenre.
- Thriller-horror employs psychological fear, often occurring near the beginning of horror stories before very much has happened
- Gross-out horror involves vivid descriptions of spurting blood, hacked-up flesh, and gouged-out organs in order to shock the reader; think gore movies of the 70s
- Classic horror harks back to the Gothic (or Southern Gothic ) genre, with spooky settings and bone-chilling characters like those of Dracula and Frankenstein
- Terror provokes a feeling of all-pervasive dread, which can either serve as the climax of your story or be sustained throughout
It’s also possible to combine subgenres, especially as your story progress. You might begin with a sense of thrilling psychological horror, then move into gothic undertones, which culminates in utter terror.
But no matter what type of horror you’re working with, it should be deeply potent for your reader — and yourself! “If you manage to creep yourself out with your own writing, it's usually a pretty good sign that you're onto something,” editor Harrison Demchick says.
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In order for readers to truly thrill at your horror story, you need to make them aware of the stakes. Clearly establish the main problem or motivation for your character(s) , and what they have to lose if they don’t figure it out. These stakes and motivations might involve:
Survival. The most basic objective of characters in any horror story is to survive. However, there are nuances that accompany that goal. Perhaps their objective isn't just to stay alive, but to defeat their murderous nemesis while doing it — whether that’s another person, an evil spirit, or even themselves, if it’s a Jekyll and Hyde-type scenario.
Protecting loved ones. The more people the protagonist has to keep safe, the higher the stakes. Many horrific tales peak with a threat of death not to the main character, but to one or several of their loved ones (as in Phantom of the Opera or Red Dragon ).
Cracking unsolved mysteries. Because some horror stories aren’t about escaping peril in the present, but rather about uncovering the terrors of the past. This especially true in subgenres like cosmic horror , which have to do with the great mysteries of the universe, often involving ancient history.
Again, as with atmosphere, you can always merge different kinds of stakes. For instance, you might have a character trying to solve some mysterious murders that happened years ago, only to find out that they’re the next target!
The main thing to remember when it comes to horror — especially horror stories — is that straightforward stakes tend to have the greatest impact. Says author Chuck Wendig, of his perfect recipe for horror: “Plain stakes, stabbed hard through the breastbone.”
Bonus tip! Need help conjuring stakes and suspense? Try reading some masterfully crafted true crime — which can be even scarier than bone fide horror, since it actually happened.
Your reader should feel a kinship with your main character, such that when the stakes are high, they feel their own heart start to beat faster. This can be achieved through either first person or third person limited point of view. (When writing horror, you’ll want to avoid third person omniscient, which can distance your reader and lessen their investment in the story.)
We'll get into only the major POV's to consider in this post, but if you want a full point of view masterclass, check out our free course below.
Understanding Point of View
Learn to master different POVs and choose the best for your story.
First person POV
Speaking of beating hearts, for a great example of first person narration in horror, look no further than The Tell-Tale Heart . Many of Poe’s stories involve deranged first-person narrators ( The Black Cat , The Cask of Amontillado ) but none are more notorious than this one, in which the main character is driven to murder his elderly housemate. Notice Poe’s chilling use of first person POV from the very first lines of the story:
It’s true! Yes, I have been ill, very ill. But why do you say that I have lost control of my mind, why do you say that I am mad? Can you not see that I have full control of my mind? Indeed, the illness only made my mind, my feelings, my senses stronger… I could hear sounds I had never heard before. I heard sounds from heaven; and I heard sounds from hell!
First person POV is excellent for hooking your reader at the beginning, and keeping them in suspense throughout your story. However, it might be too intense for longer, more intricate pieces, and may be difficult to execute if you’re trying to conceal something from your readers.
It’s also worth thinking about the implications of first person, past tense POV in a horror story — it suggests they’ve lived to tell the tale, which might ruin your dramatic ending. Therefore if you do decide to use first person narration, you should probably keep it in present tense.
Third person POV
If you find yourself struggling to make first person POV work, consider a third person limited perspective instead. This kind of narration is often used in longer-form horror, popularized by the likes of Stephen King and Dean Koontz . Look how it’s used here in King’s 1974 novel Carrie , in the description of its eponymous character:
Carrie stood among [the other girls] stolidly, a frog among swans. She was a chunky girl with pimples on her neck and back and buttocks, her wet hair completely without color… She looked the part of the sacrificial goat, the constant butt, believer in left-handed monkey wrenches, perpetual foul-up, and she was.
This narration paints an intimate picture of the character, while still allowing the freedom for commentary in a way that first person narration doesn’t as much. Third person limited narration also works well for building to a certain atmosphere, rather than jumping right into it, as Poe’s narrator does — which is part of why third person is better for lengthier pieces. (See more of King's masterful use of POV to wrack up tension in our Guide to King! )
Alternately, if you’re committed to having a first person narrator but you don’t want to reveal everything to your readers, an unreliable narrator could be your perfect solution! Many mystery and thriller novels employ unreliable narration in order to work up to a big twist without giving away too much. So whether or not you’ll want an unreliable narrator probably depends on how you end your story: straight down the line or with a twist.
Plot twists are exciting, memorable, and help bring previous uncertainty into focus, releasing tension by revealing the truth. However, they’re also notoriously difficult to come up with , and extremely tricky to pull off — you have to carefully hint at a twist, while making sure it’s not too predictable or clichéd.
So: to twist or not to twist? That is the question.
Big plot twists in horror writing tend to follow the beaten path: the victim turns out to be the killer, the person who we thought was dead isn’t really, or — worst of all — it was all in their head the whole time! But keep in mind that small, subtle plot twists can be just as (if not more) effective.
Take William Faulkner’s short story A Rose for Emily . After Emily dies, the villagers discover the corpse of a long-vanished traveler in one of her spare beds — along with a strand of silver hair. While the discovery of the body might be gruesome, it’s the presence of Emily’s hair (suggesting she enjoyed cuddling with a cadaver) that really haunts you.
Not to twist
The ending of your story doesn't have to come out of left field to shock and horrify readers. The classic horror approach leaves the reader in suspense as to precisely what will happen, then concludes with a violent showdown (think slasher films).
In this approach, while the showdown itself might not be a surprise, the scenes leading up to it build tension and anticipation for the climax. That way, when the big moment does arrive, it still packs a dramatic punch.
“A horror novel, like any story, is about a character or characters trying to achieve a goal based upon their individual wants and needs,” says Demchick. “If you let concept overwhelm character, you'll lose much of what makes horror as engaging as it can be.”
To scare your characters, you need to have a solid understanding of their psyche. Filling out a character profile template is a great start to fleshing out believable characters, so give ours a try.
Reedsy’s Character Profile Template
A story is only as strong as its characters. Fill this out to develop yours.
As you write, you need to stay conscious of basic storytelling techniques and not get carried away with the drama of horror. It might help, before you begin, to answer these questions about your characters and plot:
- What fear or struggle must your protagonist overcome?
- What decision do they make to put them in this situation?
- How will they defeat or escape their adversary, if at all?
- What are the ultimate consequences of their actions?
This will help you create a basic outline for your horror story, which you can embellish to create atmosphere and suspense. In plot-driven genre stories, a thorough outline and emotionally resonant elements are vital for keeping your reader invested.
A great horror story balances drama with realism and suspense with relief, even with the occasional stroke of humor. Gillian Flynn is the master of this technique — as seen in this excerpt from her horror story The Grownup , wherein the narrator is scheming how to capitalize on her “spiritual cleansing” services:
I could go into business for myself, and when people asked me, “What do you do?” I’d say, I’m an entrepreneur in that haughty way entrepreneurs had. Maybe Susan and I would become friends. Maybe she’d invite me to a book club. I’d sit by a fire and nibble on Brie and say, I’m a small business owner, an entrepreneur, if you will.
In order to stand out from the crowd, you need to think about overused trends in horror and make sure your story’s not “been there, done that.” For instance, the “vampire romance” plot is a dead horse with no one left to beat it after all the Twilight, Vampire Diaries, and True Blood hype.
However, that doesn’t mean you can’t use certain elements of popular trends in your writing. You just have to put a spin on it and make it your own!
For example, zombie horror was already a well-worn genre when Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies came out in 2009. But by setting it in the regency era and featuring Jane Austen’s well-loved characters, he created a brilliant original work and carved out a brand new audience for zombie fiction. You can also pay homage to well-known horror tropes, like the Duffer brothers of Stranger Things did for Stephen King and Steven Spielberg — and which savvy audiences are sure to appreciate.
It certainly feels sometimes like all the good horror stories have already been written, making your own ideas seem trite. But don’t forget that new horror comes out all the time, and it only takes one great idea to be a hit! So try not to stress out about it, and remember: just by having read through this guide, you’re already that much closer to becoming a literary graveyard smash .
04/11/2018 – 19:34
Thank you so much for writing this article. I am currently writing a short horror story. Sometimes when I write a horror scene, I get really terrified, but after some days it all feels shitty.
↪️ dilinger john replied:
08/05/2019 – 12:28
it happens with everyone don't stress over it and pass your work to someone who will review it. you are a writer and can not be a critic at the same time.
↪️ Shane C replied:
28/09/2019 – 21:15
Sawan -- been writing for 22 years... NEVER judge your own work. You write it -- finish it off -- then have some friends that enjoy horror and reading read your work and give you honest critique. Record their critique or take accurate notes. Repeat this with several friends (but only those you can trust not to try to steal your work, Creative Commons and/or Registered Mail can be your best friend BEFORE this stage). Pick the best one you like, that makes the most sense -- but if several people say "blah blah blah should have happened," or a really close variation throughout reader opinions... Go with it! I know most people hate that, feels like butchering your art (I know I hate it), but use it anyway. It'll likely be more widely received... Just a few pointers.
21/05/2019 – 01:51
This is awesome I love this! I’m writing my own horror novel too.🙂
↪️ Andrew replied:
31/10/2019 – 20:23
what is it?
29/07/2019 – 15:22
i am at the age of sixteen and i decided to write a horror story. thanks a lot!!
Bobette Bryan says:
27/08/2019 – 19:09
Ghosts are real. I've seen many in my lifetime and have had some very terrifying experiences with some.
↪️ smr replied:
03/01/2020 – 13:25
what the hell ??
↪️ John Brown replied:
16/01/2020 – 02:28
Me too! And I think it actually helps with writing horror stories, because you have more experience than most.
John Brown says:
16/01/2020 – 02:27
I’m 14 and I love writing horror novels, but I usually freak my self out too much to keep writing... 😕
Comments are currently closed.
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How to write a modern ghost story
W e don't believe in ghosts, so writing ghost literature for a modern readership presents particular challenges. How does one write for an audience that is cynical, yet still wishes to be terrified? What exactly is a ghost, anyway?
We live in an age of reason, a more secular culture than that of those great ghost writers, the Victorians; we rely on the proofs and disproofs of science, psychology and medicine, on the digital recording of much of our lives. We live in brightly illuminated rooms on streets devoid of the terror of something moving just outside the lamp light. Wraiths don't tend to show up on CCTV cameras, holograms are explicable phantoms and we all know what Freud made of ghosts.
It was only after I was approached to write a novella with a supernatural aspect that I realised all my novels are haunted: by the past, by desire or by guilt. And so it took only a small shift to see that I could take this one step further. The ghosts should not be visible – at least not in any straightforward way. Who can forget Peter Quint standing outside the window in The Turn of the Screw ? He is always at one remove: behind glass, or in the distance on a tower, just as his companion Miss Jessel is glimpsed on the other side of a lake. While writing Touched , it felt important to me that unexplained presences were not the walking dead, but were just perceived as sounds, scents or misidentifications; at most, they are reflections, or reported sightings, or something captured in the split second of a film still. As Roald Dahl boldly claimed: "The best ghosts stories don't have ghosts in them." And, as Susan Hill says: "Less is always more."
The contemporary writer must trade on the power of anticipation, on the unnerving aspects of less obvious settings than candlelit wrecks in fog. I sought brightness for my unease: brilliant green grass and relentless sunshine, so the glimmer in the trees, the hint of eyes in a window, were all the more unexpected. Perfection can be eerie. The power of a ghost story lies in what is feared beneath the surface of the narrative, terrors glimpsed or imagined in the cracks, rather than what leaps out of the shadows.
Form is an issue. Novels are far more popular than short stories, but there are very few full-length ghost novels because of the difficulties of sustaining suspension of disbelief. Even in ghost writing's heyday, it was the short story – by Dickens , HP Lovecraft , Charlotte Riddell – that was the dominant form, while the longer classic of the genre, The Turn of the Screw , is only 43,000 words. Readers need to be in a state of tension for the unfathomable to prey on fearful minds, yet this can be maintained by the writer for a limited time without risking nervous exhaustion.
There is a fine balance between the psychological and the spectral. Ghost writing must involve a blurring between reality and madness or projection. So Sarah Waters's doctor in The Little Stranger slowly reveals himself to be an unreliable narrator; the protagonist of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper is either insane or accurate. The theory that the Governess in The Turn of the Screw may be a neurotic fantasist began when Edmund Wilson wrote his Freudian psychopathology interpretation in 1934, though I believe that James did not intend this. The dead Rebecca of Daphne du Maurier 's novel skews the narrator's mind as powerfully as if she had appeared thumping round Manderley. The modern ghost writer inherits a tradition of unreliable narrators, vastly ramped up by later psychoanalytic thinking. I found it interesting to subvert this by writing about apparent madness, in a girl who insists on dressing as a shabby Victorian, while the real chaos lies where no one is looking.
Endings can be a problem. It is paramount that narrative demands are satisfied, yet what explanation can there be? Ghost writing is in many ways the opposite of crime or detective fiction, whose worlds are more logical than real life – you find out who did it – whereas the supernatural can have no straightforward point of revelation to work towards. So there is a necessary ambivalence. I firmly believe in tying up narrative strands, so while every human story must be followed to its conclusion, the reader must be left plot-satisfied but intentionally uneasy, the paranormal at play in the margins.
If visions and voices are rationally explained, it's not a ghost story; if they're not, incredulity can set in. And again, Freud's influence can muffle the shivers: if a ghost is a mere psychological delusion, the gleam of the supernatural is dulled. Apparitions cannot be mere symbols, metaphors or projections: the characters, however warped, must experience them as hauntings, the reader on side.
The conventions of traditional ghost stories are there to play with, and, for the modern writer, there is pleasure to be had in hidden rooms, with resistant houses and barely heard sounds. Tropes can be ignored or upended, and chilling child patterings and mysterious stains are an enticing part of what Henry James called "the strange and sinister embroidered on the very type of the normal and easy".
This is an era conversant with extreme horror and increasingly successful crime genres, with console games that scatter images of blood on the screen. Yet we still seem to desire less definable hauntings in the form of the gothic, vampiric and ghostly. France leads the way, with its hit supernatural series Les Revenants , while ghost writer Marc Levy is now the most read living French writer in the world. The truth is an audience can be deeply scared by the very phenomena they don't believe in, haunted as they are by childhood reading or by that primal fear of the noises outside the cave. Or, worse – inside it.
Above all, ghost writing is about atmosphere. The mood and resonance, the sounds, scents and tense awareness that here is a place where anything could happen. Even the most sceptical can be seduced by it. What has always appealed to me is the modern gothic, the unsettling and even the unsavoury in literature. It's the glimmer of another presence that lies just outside our normal understanding that intrigues.
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How to Write a Horror Story
Sometimes it’s fun to be frightened. A scary story can get us out of our routine thoughts and tasks and send us into the unknown—full of omens, strange characters, and dark magic. Horror stories guarantee that something bad will happen; we just don’t know when or how until it’s too late to turn back. If you’re someone who likes getting a shiver down the spine, and you’ve got a scary story you want to share with others, maybe it’s time for you to write your own terrifying narrative.
Writing a horror story isn’t for the faint of heart: You’ll need lots of imagination, a measure of research and planning, and some clever plot twists to keep the story moving. Here, we’ll go over everything you need to know to write a bone-chilling story that will keep your readers riveted until the end.
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Do you like scary stories?
Horror literature can sometimes be seen as “less than” when compared to other genres. People might consider it gimmicky or lowbrow. If this is how you view scary stories, scratch your writing itch elsewhere. Writing a good horror story isn’t easy, and horror fans are as discerning as any reader and will detect if the writing is insincere.
And consider this: Even Charles Dickens wrote ghost stories, and much of William Shakespeare’s oeuvre can be considered horror. Shirley Jackson, the author of “The Lottery,” spent her entire career writing horror stories.
Your writing can be as artful as it is terrifying.
What scares you?
Where should you begin? Dig deep into your own subconscious and consider what frightens you personally. If ghosts don’t scare you, maybe the thought of a serial killer sneaking in your window gives you the shivers. If so, write about that, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you. That squirmy feeling is exactly the position you want to put your reader in.
Just like you shouldn’t choose to write in the horror genre for cynical reasons, you shouldn’t choose the subject of your story based on current trends. Ghosts, for example, may be popular now, but if ghosts don’t scare you, that’ll come through in the writing. But if your personal fears happen to be on trend, so much the better.
It’s your personal style, your subtext, your heart, and your soul that make your writing stand out from the crowd. If you’re afraid of zombies , consider why that is. Is it because of their grotesque, rotting bodies? The loss of self? Being alone against a horde? Be as specific as possible, and your horror story will be as unique as you are.
Who should you put in your story?
Once you’ve come up with your terrifying situation, it’s time to consider who you’re going to put into this horrifying story. As with a lot of stories, your protagonist should be the last person who’d be willing to get involved.
Jonathan Harker is a straitlaced British businessman who is not at all prepared for the wild mysticism of Transylvania in Bram Stoker’s Dracula . And Father Karras isn’t sure he believes in God anymore when he’s called to exorcize a little girl in The Exorcist . Or consider how Shirley Jackson developed the story for The Haunting of Hill House after reading a study by paranormal researchers: “ The story that kept coming through their dry reports was not at all the story of a haunted house, it was the story of several earnest, I believe misguided, certainly determined people, with their differing motivations and background,” she told The Guardian .
In our hypothetical ghost story, who would be the worst person to get stuck in a haunted house—someone who’s terrified of ghosts, or someone who doesn’t believe in the afterlife at all? (There’s a reason the supernatural-proof father is a trope.) It all depends on the point you’re trying to make with your story.
The character’s arc is how you demonstrate the theme . It’s the reason you’re writing anything at all. So don’t just create any bland protagonist to follow—write someone who’s going to be genuinely challenged by the horror. How are they going to grow (or not grow) when faced with this situation?
Remember, your reader comes to your story to be scared—it’s why they’re reading your horror story instead of a historical romance or a sci-fi comedy, but they stay for the characters.
Nuts and bolts of a scary story
Angus Fletcher, a professor at OSU’s Project Narrative, once said that audiences laugh when the Three Stooges gouge each other’s eyes out, but not when the same thing happens to Oedipus. The difference, he explained, is tone . “Tone is the writer’s version of a camera lens.”
What he means is, your tone is deciding what to show, and what not to show, your audience. Every word choice is a question of tone. It makes the reader feel scared, amused, enchanted, or disgusted.
In a sense, every story has a narrator. It could be an unreliable narrator who loses their mind over the course of the plot, as with the unnamed governess in The Turn of the Screw . Or it could be a scientist coldly observing and reporting facts about the paranormal in an SCP Foundation report . But even if there isn’t an obvious narrator with a point of view , you determine how the reader experiences the story.
Think about what, exactly, you’re describing. The things you focus on (like a director framing her shots) tell the audience what to focus on, too. Say you’re describing the house your story is set in. Should you pay special attention to the kitchen and living room where the family gathers? Or are you going to concentrate on the dark, dank basement and musty attic? You’re the writer; it’s up to you.
4 Word choice
As you’re starting out, don’t feel the pressure to be a word stylist who constantly turns a clever phrase or writes a pithy description. Write in a way that feels natural to you, and your style will emerge on its own. One thing to note: While there are many cases when you should avoid the passive voice , sometimes it’s the best choice. The passive voice eliminates, or at least obscures, the agency of the subject. At times, that’s exactly what you want to do when writing a horror story. After all, the most terrifying thing is the unknown. “He was stabbed in the heart. His body was dragged across the floor. The crime wasn’t discovered for days.” These are perfectly cromulent sentences in a story meant to hide the killer’s, or monster’s , identity from the reader.
Writing is rewriting
Fantastic writing doesn’t simply pour out of writers’ fingertips. In fact, you’d probably be shocked at how terrible even a genius’s first draft is. This is perhaps truer of horror stories than most other writing. There is a specific effect you’re going for (as created by the tone we addressed earlier), and it can easily go wrong. There’s something intriguing about the fact that a horror story, poorly written, becomes comedic, but a poorly written comedy doesn’t become scary.
In any case, how does a writer ensure their readers gasp with terror rather than laugh with derision? Ultimately, the only way to find out is by testing it. As Stephen King puts it in his (not scary book) On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft : “Take your story through at least two drafts; the one you do with the study door closed and the one you do with it open.” In other words, your first draft should be written as fast as you can, without input from anyone whatsoever until it’s done. It may not be good, it may not even be coherent, but it’ll be pure. This raw first draft will be the material you can mold into the thrilling story you ultimately hope to create.
To produce the final product, you have to have an audience, which can include friends, significant others, your writers’ group, and family. As long as they will give you constructive and honest feedback, you’ll have something to build on. Remember that your reader is never wrong for reacting a certain way. If you don’t like their response to a scene, character, or plot point, it’s up to you to rewrite it.
Don’t overdo it
Just like some novice writers may ignore the necessity of rewriting, it’s possible to go too far in the other direction. You can get stuck in a cycle of editing and polishing until you begin to wonder why you started writing this story, or any story for that matter, in the first place!
You’ll be much better served, especially if you’re a new writer, moving on after a couple of drafts. Take another pass based on your first readers’ notes, and then share that second version with some others who can read it with fresh eyes. After that, maybe one more draft to clean it up ( grammar , proofreading , spell check , etc.).
Finally, here’s a rewriting formula from King, the master of horror: 2nd draft = 1st draft – 10%.
Share your scary story
What should you do with your story now that it’s done? Share it with the world, of course! There is still a small (though not lucrative) market for short stories. Horror Tree is a wonderful resource for finding magazines and websites that publish scary stories. Of course, if you’re a horror fan, you might already know about some great horror publishers, such as LampLight , The Dark , Psuedopod , and Crystal Lake .
And in this day of social media and Web 2.0, you can always find an audience. The SCP Foundation is open to editing by anyone, and it only takes a Reddit account to reach over 16 million readers on r/nosleep .
Self-publishing, especially short stories, is also an option. Medium , Substack , and WordPress are all free and relatively easy to set up. If you market yourself and build an audience, they can all be monetized as well.
What’s stopping you?
At this point, the only thing holding you back from writing the next “Tell-Tale Heart” or “Call of Cthulhu” is your own inertia. Now that you have the tools to start writing, clear the cobwebs from your mind and start your first draft. You may be surprised at where your imagination takes you and your readers.
How to write a ghost story
Developing the Premise
- The fear of the unknown is one of the most powerful devices for a good scary story. People fear what they don’t know.
- For example, if you fear being trapped in an elevator, ask yourself, “What if I was stuck in an elevator with a dead person?” Or, “What if the elevator mirror was a door into an evil world?”
- Make sure to keep the climax of your story in mind as you develop the setting.
- Or, add a twist to a familiar horror trope, like a vampire who enjoys cake instead of blood, or a man trapped in a dumpster rather than a coffin.
- Another way to generate story ideas is to use writing prompts. These could be as simple as writing a suspenseful story about staying at a haunted hotel. You might use a prompt about an important party gone wrong or an envious friend who begins to act strangely towards you. Use the prompts to generate a story idea you connect with.
- Other supporting characters (family member, best friend, love interest, etc.)
- Minor characters (postal worker, gas station attendant, etc.)
- Name, age, physical description (include height, weight, eye color, hair color, etc.)
- Personality traits
- Likes and dislikes
- Family history
- Best friend and worst enemy
- Five things the character would never leave home without
- Be clear about what will happen if the character does not get what they want. The stakes of the story, or the consequences if the character does not achieve their desires, is what drives the story forward. The stakes also build tension and suspense for your reader.
- Try giving your villain a distinguishing gesture that they use often, such as clenching their fists or twitching their nose.
- Give your villain a deep booming voice, a soft raspy voice, a creaky nasally voice, or a very mad voice.
- The tension between what the reader wants for the character and what could happen or go wrong for the character will fuel the story. It will also propel your readers through the story.
- However, don’t go overboard with these mistakes or bad decisions. They should be believable and not merely stupid or inane. For example, don’t have your character, a young babysitter, respond to a masked killer by running outside into the deep, dark woods.
Writing the Story
- Exposition: Set the scene and introduce the characters.
- Inciting incident: Have something happen in the story to start the action.
- Rising action: Continue the story, building excitement and suspense.
- Climax: Include a moment that holds the most tension in the story.
- Falling action: These are events that occur after the climax.
- Resolution: Here, the character solves the main problem.
- Denouement: This is the ending in which the characters resolve any remaining questions.
- ”I was too scared to open my eyes, even though I heard footsteps coming closer.”
- “I wrapped the blankets tighter around me and let out a sick whimper. My chest was tight, my stomach rotten. I would not look. No matter how close those shuffling footsteps came, I would not look. I would not, I would…not…”
- The second example gives the reader more of an insight into the character’s physical feelings.
- Hint at the story’s direction and possible climax by providing small clues or details. You might briefly mention a label on a bottle that will later come in handy for the main character. There might be a sound or voice in a room that will later become a sign of an unnatural presence.
- Another effective way to build tension is to alternate from tense or bizarre moments to quiet moments. Allow your character to take a breath, calm down, and feel safe again. Then, amp up the tension by re-engaging the character in the conflict. This time, make the conflict feel even more serious or threatening.
- Keep in mind that foreshadowing is most effective when the reader and characters are unaware of the significance of the clues until the end of the story.
- Scared, scary
- Terrified, terrifying
- Horrified, horror
Writing a Good Ending
- In Poe’s short story, the climax of the story occurs at the very end. Poe applies more and more pressure to the narrator by having the police visit him. He uses the narrator’s internal struggle to keep his cool and achieve his desire of getting away with murder to create a climax. But by the end of the story, the narrator’s guilt pushes him over the edge and he reveals the body under the floorboards.
- While you want to create a satisfying ending for the reader, you also do not want to make it too closed and settled. The reader should walk away from the story with a lingering feeling of uncertainty.
- Consider if the ending feels like a surprise or an obvious answer. The key to suspense if not to answer the dramatic question too soon. Poe’s short story ends on a high note because the outcome of the narrator’s dilemma is revealed in the last line of the story. The suspense in the story is sustained until the very end.
Finalizing Your Story
- Sometimes, readers may be aware of the answer or ending to the dramatic question upfront. But they may be willing to read the story until the end because the lead up to the ending is engaging and suspenseful. They care enough about the characters and the story to read about the events that lead to the climactic event.
- Print out your story and comb through it carefully.
- Characters: Are the characters believable? Do they engage in action that is realistic?
- Continuity: Does the story make sense? Does it follow a logical order?
- Grammar and mechanics: Is the language readable? Are there run-on sentences, misused words, etc.?
- Dialogue: Are conversations between characters realistic? Was there enough (or too much) dialogue?
- Pacing: Does the story move along at a good pace? Do you get bored in certain areas? Do you think too much happens too quickly in other areas?
- Plot: Does the plot make sense? Does the character’s objective make sense?
- You might find it helpful to take some time away from your story before you try to revise it. Put it aside for a few days or more and then come back to it with fresh eyes.
- “The Monkey’s Paw,” an 18th century tale by William Wymark Jacobs. This story is about three terrible wishes granted by a mystical monkey’s paw.
- “The Tell-Tale Heart,” master horror writer Edgar Allen Poe’s psychologically disturbing story of suspense and murder.  X Research source
- Any horror story by Stephen King. King has written over 200 short stories and uses many different techniques to scare his readers. Read “The Moving Finger” or “The Children of the Corn” to get a sense of King’s style.
- Contemporary writer Joyce Carol Oates’ horror story, “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” It uses psychological terror to great effect.  X Research source
- Add a mysterious ending. It's cliched, but it'll get readers every time. Something like "And the young boy and his dog were never seen again. And, as legend has it, every fall equinox, the ghost wolf still returns". Get creative, but be sure to leave them hanging, especially if the story is short. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
- If you are conducting research for your scary story in order to make it more realistic, make sure you are careful and sensible. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
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- ↑ http://www.writersdigest.com/writing-articles/by-writing-goal/improve-my-writing/the_premise_of_your_story
- ↑ http://thewritepractice.com/get-freaky/
- ↑ https://thewritepractice.com/get-story-ideas-headlines/
- ↑ http://www.writersdigest.com/qp7-migration-conferencesevents/nine-tricks-to-writing-suspense-fiction
- ↑ https://allwritealright.com/how-to-write-a-creepy-character-realistically/
- ↑ http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2011/10/11/25-things-you-should-know-about-writing-horror/
- ↑ https://www.eapoe.org/works/essays/philcomp.htm
- ↑ http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/6-secrets-to-creating-and-sustaining-suspense
- ↑ udleditions.cast.org/craft_elm_foreshadowing.htm
- ↑ http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/there-are-no-rules/the-horror-genre-on-writing-horror-and-avoiding-cliches
- ↑ http://thewritepractice.com/7-steps-to-creating-suspense/
- ↑ https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/plot-reveals/
- ↑ http://literarydevices.net/climax/
- ↑ http://xroads.virginia.edu/~hyper/POE/telltale.html
- ↑ http://celestialtimepiece.com/2015/01/21/where-are-you-going-where-have-you-been/
About This Article
To write a scary story, start with an exciting event that launches the action. For example, you could have the main character find a severed ear while they're out for a walk. As the story progresses, build suspense by making the reader feel empathy towards the characters and creating an immanent danger, like being trapped in a lift. Then, build the climax by adding to the problems your characters confront. Finally, present the climax, which could include a threat to the character's physical or mental wellbeing. For tips on how to develop a theme and characters for your story, read on! Did this summary help you? Yes No
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How to Plot a Ghost Story
Updated: Jan 29, 2021
Want to write a ghost story, but not sure where to start? Wanna plot it FAST? Well, my friend, have I got some good news for you.
It's Friday the 13th and I am all about ghost stories, in any medium. (See what I did there?) But writing one myself has felt intimidating because there are so many facets to consider. I wasn't even sure where to start.
Fun fact: Feeling like a subject is too difficult is a surefire motivator for me to figure it out. If it taunts me, I must win. Shoutout to the French language as exhibit A.
So how do we break down the elements of a ghost story? And how do we translate them into a Plotting Strategy? Glad you asked.
We're gonna break it down into these 5 categories, because I love organization.
Overall mood and goal
Main character (the living one)
Your ghost story's overall mood/goal
What's the overall mood you're aiming for? You might want your reader/audience to feel unsettled, afraid, regretful, satisfied…
The story's mood influences all the following choices, so decide that first.
Your ghost story's setting
For the setting, consider both the literal setting and the societal setting.
The physical setting can mirror the spookiness or make the story eerie via juxtaposition.
Classic spooky settings include abandoned hospitals and asylums, because we associate them with the patients' pain and historical malpractice, plus abandoned buildings are always creepy in general. Dreary or stormy weather adds to the ominous aura.
Juxtaposition in the setting can up the eerieness factor. A sunny day, a playground, a club or party… Anywhere that your character should be enjoying themselves but can't relax because they have a Bad Feeling, because someone/something is following them, because they keep seeing a dead person, etc.
For the social setting, what's the society's general approach to ghosts and the supernatural? Do people know and accept that ghosts exist? Do they know but hate it and try to exterminate them? Do most people not believe at all? This will influence your MC's approach and how the side characters respond.
Your ghost story's main (living) character
The main aspects to consider about the MC:
Does your MC start out as a believer or a skeptic?
Why does the MC first encounter the ghost(s)?
Why does MC continue to interact with the ghost(s)? (What does the MC get out of it?)
How do the ghost and the MC communicate?
What's the MC's relationship with the ghost, and how does that relationship evolve over the course of the story?
Does your MC start out as a believer or a skeptic? On top of this, keep in mind how society in general would perceive their position. If MC believes in ghosts but society generally doesn't (or vice versa), is MC outspoken or secretive about their belief?
Why does MC first encounter the ghost(s)? Are they looking for answers about something, unknowingly attached to the dead person, avoiding something important, intentionally seeking out a ghost, etc.?
Why does MC continue to interact with the ghost(s)? When the ghost first shows up, your MC could say "nope, bye" and move out of town and the end credits would roll… but unless you're writing a satire, that's not how the story's going to go, is it?
So why does the MC return to the haunted place or contact the ghost again? If they first encountered the ghost intentionally, maybe they think the ghost can help them find answers.
If the ghost needs help, maaaybe MC is kind and generous, but that's not a good enough reason to hold a story together.
To solidify the plot, decide what the MC wants to get out of this.
Does the ghost promise them something in return? Is MC trying to make up for something they feel guilty about? Did they know and care about the dead person? Was the person murdered by someone who will kill again unless MC finds and stops them?
How do the ghost and the MC communicate? They have to be able to get their thoughts across somehow. Do they have audible conversation? Does the ghost write and MC talks? Does the ghost manipulate music or radio waves to create sentences? Do they both know sign language?
What's the MC's relationship with the ghost, and how does that relationship evolve over the course of the story? In other words, how do they start out and what do they become?
Are they strangers at the beginning and grow into allies?
Do they fall in love (prime angst potential)?
Were they close in life and now allied in death?
Do they start out as strangers, become allies, and then become ENEMIES because one betrays the other?
Your ghost story's ghost(s)
This ghost is as much of a main character as your actual living main character. Craft him/her carefully.
The main aspects to consider about your ghost:
How does the ghost look?
How did the ghost die?
Why didn't the ghost Pass On?
What does the ghost need to Pass On?
Who or what is the ghost tethered to?
What's the ghost's overall mood?
How does the ghost look? Are they invisible? A shimmer in the air? A translucent version of themselves in life? A solid-looking version of themselves in life? Or do they look like their dead body post-murder? Looking at you, Hanging Lady.
How did the ghost die? Odds are good that the person didn't die peacefully in their sleep at the end of a long, happy life. Murder is a common reason. Suicide or murder framed to look like suicide also come up a lot. (For obvious reasons, you need to handle this subject delicately.) It might also be an untimely death or an odd death somehow connected to whatever secrets they might've been hiding.
Why didn't the ghost Pass On™? (Whatever "passing on" entails in your story.) Usually the person has unfinished business, was murdered, weren't buried, has a secret that needs to come out, or doesn't know or refuses to accept their death.
What does the ghost need to Pass On? Obvs, this is directly connected to the reason they didn't pass on. Do they need justice? Answers? Revenge? A proper burial? To finish their unfinished business? To have their big secret unveiled? To accept their death? To finally beat that last level on Mario Kart?
Who or what is the ghost tethered to? Your ghost is trapped in this dimension for one reason or another. They shouldn't be touring the world for funsies. To emphasize that they're trapped here, stick them to one thing or person in particular.
Is the ghost stuck near a person , such as their murderer or a loved one? An item , such as a favorite toy (for a child ghost) or treasured possession? A place , such as their home or the place they died? Their dead body/remains ?
Note: This refers to tethering , as in, the ghost can only travel so far from whatever the thing is. Not the same thing as possession , which is typically reserved for demons.
What's the ghost's overall mood? Are they regretful, sad, angry, playful, guilty, lonely…? Stay away from neutral, and stay FAR away from contentment. If the ghost doesn't care or is happy as is, there's no motivation for the MC to do anything.
Your ghost story's side characters
Your story may primarily feature the MC and the ghost(s), but at least 3 side characters should show up:
Who believes MC about the ghost and/or informs them about the ghost in the first place? Someone points them in the right direction. This may be the only person who makes the MC feel like they're not out of their mind.
Who disbelieves the MC and/or preemptively dismisses any rumors about the ghost(s)? Someone scoffs at the idea and leaves MC feeling more alone. Cue the angst.
Who or what is the antagonist or opposing force? It could be a Bad Guy, or it could just be someone with goals that oppose the MC's goal. It could be a ghost hunter, another ghost, a demon, the ghost's murderer, THE GHOST ITSELF… It could even be the Believer or the Skeptic we just discussed. Plot twist.
Ask yourself these questions as you plot your ghost story:
What's the overall mood you're aiming for?
Is the physical setting spooky or eerily normal?
What's the society's general approach to ghosts and the supernatural?
Why does MC first encounter the ghost(s)?
Why does MC continue to interact with the ghost(s)? (What do they get out of it?)
Who believes the MC?
Who scoffs at the MC?
Who is the MC's and/or the ghost's opposition?
Now go forth and write a creepy ghost story! I believe in you!
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25+ Ghost Story Prompts
Need a scary ghost story to tell over the campfire? Today we bring over 25 ghost story prompts to inspire you to write your own paranormal short story or novel.
A ghost story is a type of horror story that emphasises the theme of the supernatural, apparitions, and otherworldly ghost-like creatures. Generally revolving around death, hauntings or the afterlife. This genre often has an uncanny air about it, producing feelings of fear, dread, and the unfamiliar. A ghost story is one of the oldest forms of literature and can be found in all cultures.
If you’re looking for some new ideas for your next ghost story, these 25+ paranormal story prompts are perfect for writers of all levels. You might also find this ghost name generator useful.
The spookiest time of year is here, and that means it’s time for ghost stories! Whether you’re writing a ghost story for Halloween , a seasonal short story , or even a standalone novel, these ghost story prompts are a great place to start:
- A young woman moves into an old house and finds herself in a terrifying situation with her new roommate, a ghost. The only way to escape is to get out of the house alive.
- A man is haunted by his past and must face the demons that come back to haunt him.
- A group of college students decide to spend their summer vacation in a cabin in the woods. But what starts as a fun vacation turns deadly when they realize that the woods aren’t quite as safe as they thought.
- Use this story starter for a ghost story: The first time I saw it, I was only six. It was night and I was playing in my granddad’s garden when I heard this weird sound coming from the forest. I followed the sound and found myself in the middle of a circle of tall trees. It was so dark that I could barely see my hands in front of me. Suddenly, something grabbed my leg.
- A woman is haunted by the ghosts of her ancestors, but she must learn to accept her fate and embrace the spirits before they are all gone forever.
- An orphaned boy is taken in by a family of ghosts after his parents die in a fire. They teach him how to use his supernatural abilities to help people in need. But soon the boy starts using these powers for evil.
- A group of teenagers visit their favourite haunted house during the Halloween season, but they never make it home again.
- A couple gets married on Halloween night and discovers that their marriage is cursed. They must solve the mystery of the ghost bride to break the curse.
- A boy finds a box of his grandfather’s old slides in the attic, and when he goes back to school, he starts seeing his grandfather’s ghost everywhere.
- A man hears strange sounds coming from his attic, and he’s determined to find out what they are. He sneaks up to the attic to investigate, but when he does, he stumbles upon something much more frightening than he could have imagined.
- An abandoned mansion on a lonely island is rumoured to be haunted by the ghost of a pirate who was hung for his crimes. A group of friends decide to spend the night in the mansion, and they quickly learn that there’s more than one kind of ghost in the house.
- A family moves back into their old family home where their son died years ago. The father becomes obsessed with finding out who killed his son. He believes he knows who the murderer is but no one will believe him.
- A man is tormented by a ghostly hitchhiker. He is forced to take them on a road trip until they reach their final destination…a mysterious abandoned town.
- A family moves into an old Victorian home, where the previous owner mysteriously disappeared after getting locked in one of the rooms. Now the family is trapped inside by a malevolent entity.
- A man is on his way home from work when he is attacked by a group of ghosts. He manages to escape, but now he has a few more problems than he started with.
- Use this story starter for a ghost story: I woke up in the middle of the night, and I felt a cold hand touching my face. I tried to scream, but my voice wouldn’t come out. Then, I felt a sharp pain in my neck.
- My father told me about his experience while we were driving home. He said he saw a dead girl walking towards him just after I was born, but when he got closer, she disappeared. He thought if was imagining things at the time.
- My father used to scare me at night. One time he came into my bedroom and woke me up, telling me to come downstairs. He took me to the living room, and there he told me that a ghost had put a curse on me.
- It was the most beautiful cemetery ever. People would come from far away just to walk through the grounds. There was a rumour about a ghost that roamed the graveyard at night.
- A teenage girl is forced to spend her summer with her grandmother who believes she can communicate with ghosts.
- A young woman moves into an apartment next door to an old house where she hears a woman screaming and sees a little girl standing in the window.
- A woman hears a baby crying in her house, but she can’t find it. She keeps hearing it crying in another room, so she goes to check on it. When she opens the door, there is no baby there. But then, the door slams shut and locks itself.
- A girl is staying at her grandmother’s house with her family for the night. She is sleeping in her grandmother’s bed, but she can’t get comfortable. Every time she falls asleep, she wakes up to see her dead grandmother sitting on the edge of her bed.
- A woman is walking down a deserted road when she sees a figure standing in front of her. It turns out to be an old man in a top hat, holding a cane. He says to her, “Hello, young lady. My name is John Marley. I am a spirit from the other side.”
- One night, a mother wakes up to hear her son crying in their room. When she goes into his room, he is not there. She looks everywhere for him and calls out his name. The only answer she gets is a terrible scream that echoes throughout the house.
- In a small village, there lived a woman who was very lonely. Her husband had passed away and she was left all alone with her two sons. The boys were grown and had families of their own. The woman was so lonely that she began talking to herself. “I’m all alone,” she said to no one in particular. “I’m all alone.” And then she hears a voice.
- There was once a man who lived by the beach. He loved the sound of the waves crashing against the shore. One day, he decided to go for a walk on the beach and ended up drowning. When he died, he came back as a ghost. Every night, he would come back to the place where he drowned, and stand there.
- There was once a little girl who loved to play hide and seek. One day, while playing, she got separated from her family. She found a tree stump and went behind it, but when she peeked around the edge, she saw that no one was there. The stump began to move, and suddenly the girl felt herself being lifted off the ground and into the air. As she looked at the tree stump, she noticed that it had eyes. The eyes were staring right at her. Then, before she could scream, the tree stump opened its mouth.
For more spooky ideas, check out this list of over 110 horror story ideas .
How do you write a ghost story?
The basic structure of a ghost story includes an opening sequence that presents the reader with a situation that seems normal but is actually supernatural in nature. The protagonist then encounters the ghost and experiences events that are often strange and frightening, leading up to a climax where the ghost is defeated or disappears. Writing a ghost story is the same as writing a horror story . Before you start writing you need a good ghost story plot idea, like the list above. Both ghost stories and horror stories have a set of characters, a spooky setting, an opening, a middle part and a dramatic ending.
What is the shortest ghost story?
The shortest ghost story is just two sentences long. It was written by Frederic Brown in 1948. The story reads: “The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door …” Just by reading these two sentences, we can imagine a scary situation. There are two key themes used here, the fear of loneliness and the surprise element at the end. Both these are important themes in ghost stories.
What makes a ghost story scary?
Ghost stories are typically scary as they focus on death and going into the unknown. But the key to a scary ghost story is fear. It is important to make the reader feel uneasy or frightened. Here are some key elements of a good ghost story:
- An encounter with a ghost or spirit
- A supernatural force that can be both good and evil
- Sense of dread
- The feeling of being watched or followed
- Feeling helpless
- Being lonely or lost
Just like all stories, a ghost story must include these basic elements of a story : Characters, Setting, Plot, Conflict and Resolution.
How do you finish a ghost story?
Most ghost stories end with the haunting being explained away as something natural. This explanation can be a spiritual one (the ghost was a real person who died), or it can be a psychological one (the ghost was a product of the protagonist’s mind). The ghost story can also end with no explanation at all. Some ghost stories don’t even bother to give an explanation for the haunting, but let the reader figure it out themselves.
Did you find this list of over 25 ghost story prompts useful? Let us know in the comments below!
Marty the wizard is the master of Imagine Forest. When he's not reading a ton of books or writing some of his own tales, he loves to be surrounded by the magical creatures that live in Imagine Forest. While living in his tree house he has devoted his time to helping children around the world with their writing skills and creativity.
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Geek Culture | Movies, TV, Comic Books & Video Games
The Greatest Ghost Stories Ever Written
October 29, 2016 by Sean Wilson
In time for Halloween, Sean Wilson takes a look at some of the most delightfully ghoulish and flesh-creeping stories ever put to paper.
The Turn of the Screw
Author Henry James described his own sensational chiller as a ‘pot-boiler’ but it’s clearly so much more than that. A deeply unnerving tale of a young governess who suspects her wards are under the influence of malign spirits, it’s a creepy classic that muddies the waters between spine-tingling spook story and frightening psychological drama, exerting a massive influence over every subsequent entry in the genre. In 1961 it received a timeless adaptation The Innocents , directed by Jack Clayton, scripted by Truman Capote and starring Deborah Kerr.
The Woman in Black
Not just a mainstay of English literature courses but one of the most genuinely frightening stories ever written, Susan Hill’s hair-raising tale of supernatural menace is infinitely superior to its long-running stage spin-off, 1989 TV movie and 2012 Daniel Radcliffe hit. The key is its subtlety: in relaying the cautionary tale of the Woman in Black, Hill leaves gore at the door and builds a deliciously Gothic atmosphere in the manner of master M.R. James that builds to a forbidding, bleak ending that leaves the reader poleaxed. Never has the sound of a rocking chair been scarier.
The Empty House
Sometimes the scariest stories are the most simple. The name of Algernon Blackwood may not immediately spring to the lips of horror fans but he was one of the most revolutionary ghost story writers the genre has ever seen. His trippy piece of ‘weird fiction’ known as ‘The Willows’ is perhaps his most famous work but even scarier is this slice of raw, distilled terror in which two people decide to spend a night in an unassuming house said to be haunted. Blackwood’s ability to escalate the sense of terror through his acute description of sound and atmosphere is genuinely masterful.
The Rats in the Walls
More a proponent of trend-setting ‘weird fiction’ than ghost stories in their own right, Lovecraft was nevertheless a massive admirer of supernatural contemporary M.R. James, and in between his own Cthulhu mythos he turned out some deliciously eerie stories playing around with possibly supernatural happenings. This disturbing story of a man who makes a terrifying discovery within his crumbling English ancestral pile is one of Lovecraft’s most understated yet genuinely bone-chilling offerings, building to a shrieking climax that, in the writer’s typical style, rips apart the very fabric of reality and consciousness itself.
Never one for economy, Stephen King’s typically sprawling supernatural tome is the story of an alcoholic caretaker at the remote Overlook Hotel, and the malevolent spirits that pose a threat to him and his family. Far more literal-minded and explicit than Stanley Kubrick’s ambiguous 1980 movie adaptation (which King himself hated), the book builds a steady sense of dread (bar some silly interludes like topiary animals coming to life) and, like any great ghost story, is centrally grounded in a genuine sense of compassion for its characters, namely central figure Jack Torrance whose background is explored in much greater detail than in the film.
What constitutes a ghost, exactly? Is it a spectre or the echo of a long-distant memory? It’s a question posed by the opening of Guillermo del Toro’s fantastic Spanish Civil War chiller The Devil’s Backbone , but a century before writer E.F. Benson was already playing around with conventions in this deeply poignant and beautiful work. The story of a successful, ageing merchant haunted by happy childhood memories who makes the decision to purchase the Cornish property where he grew up, it could well be the most moving ghost story ever written.
The Haunting of Hill House
“ Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood for eighty years and might stand for eighty more…” One of the most famously frightening opening passages in literature inaugurates one of its greatest ghost stories, courtesy of genre master Shirley Jackson. The author’s ability to imbue the aforementioned Hill House with malevolent personality is unsurpassed but it’s the psychological slipperiness that lingers in the mind: are ghosts to blame, or is it all in the mind of spinster Eleanor? Forget the dreadful 1999 movie remake; Robert Wise’s seminal 1963 does superb justice to its source.
Not just one of the great literary practitioners of the 19th century, Charles Dickens was also a populist trendsetter in the realm of the ghost story. His timeless 1843 tale A Christmas Carol famously mixes a wintry atmosphere of supernatural intrigue with a stirring story of redemption but his 1866 short story The Signalman offers no such sentimental respite. The final work completed by Dickens in his lifetime (inspired by his own involvement in the Staplehurst rail crash), this chilling story of a spectral locomotive that seemingly acts as a harbinger of doom helped paved the way for the menacing likes of M.R. James, and was masterfully adapted by Andrew Davies in 1976, staring Denholm Elliott.
Man-Size in Marble
Best known for her beloved The Railway Children , Nesbit also proved she could turn her hand to a creepy yarn when necessary. This overlooked horror story is quite something, a deeply unnerving account of a young newlywed couple terrorised by an apparently innocuous marble figure found within a church. It’s a fine example of an author taking a frankly ludicrous concept and investing the reader in it absolutely, steadily building a sense of threat until the tragic end game.
Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad
Arguably the greatest ghost story writer in the history of the medium, M.R. James was extraordinarily adept at honing a sense of the uncanny in his tales, ones that helped cement ghosts as malevolent and terrifying forces of evil. A master in establishing seemingly minor details and plot points that gain added menace with every passing page, James delivered his crowning glory with this dread-inducing story of an academic and an ancient whistle that summons up dark forces. Jonathan Miller’s windswept 1968 adaptation starring Michael Hordern distills the terror of James’ work brilliantly, the crisp black and white photography perfectly reflecting the precision of the author’s writing.
The House by the Churchyard
Along with Charles Dickens, Irish writer Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu was another pioneer of the populist horror story, composing not only one of the earliest vampire novellas (the unforgettable Carmilla ) but also some of the first ghost stories, too. His first, The Ghost and the Bonesetter , was published in 1838 but his sprawling 1863 mystery The House by the Churchyard is his greatest accomplishment. Not consistently scary and intentionally digressive throughout, the novel nevertheless contains within it the deeply scary ‘An Authentic Narrative of the Ghost of a Hand’, an offshoot of the main narrative that has even been published separately.
Better known as an expert in dissecting the classic system and social mores with heavyweight novels like The House of Mirth , Wharton was also one of the greatest-ever writers of spooky tales. The Eyes takes the classic story-within-a-story conceit so deliciously apt for ghostly chillers, recounting two separate occasions when handsome central character Culwin was tormented by a pair of monstrous red eyes peering out from beneath his bed. Rippling with Wharton’s usual undercurrents of sexuality and identity, it’s one of the most sophisticated horror stories ever penned.
A Warning to the Curious
M.R. James’ later life was deeply shaken by the emotional after-shock of World War I, a conflict that robbed his beloved Cambridge University of many of its bright young minds. Consequently his penultimate ghost story, found in his fourth and final collection A Warning to the Curious and Other Ghost Stories , is one of his starkest, bleakest and most unashamedly frightening, the story of an archaeologist who digs up a cursed Anglo-Saxon crown and brings down the wrath of supernatural evil. Lawrence Gordon Clark’s eerie 1972 Ghost Stories for Christmas adaptation remains one of the finest James adaptations ever put to screen.
Sean Wilson is a film reviewer, soundtrack enthusiast and avid tea drinker. If all three can be combined at the same time, all is good with the world.
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- ghost story
a tale in which such elements as ghostly visitations and supernatural intervention are used to further the plot and a chilling, suspenseful atmosphere.
Origin of ghost story
Words nearby ghost story.
- ghost prisoner
- ghost runner
- ghost shrimp
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023
How to use ghost story in a sentence
It’s about the huge differences between urban and rural California, the rich and the poor, how a town overcame being dragged to hell and back, and what we have to learn from the fading ghost stories of the 20th century.
Tell ghost stories or don’t, drink or don’t, ditch your tent and sleep under the stars, doze off under the stars and crawl into your tent at two in the morning.
Feeling a bit like a Dickensian tale of a boy going to the big city, it soon morphs into a ghost story .
When, over the years, I’ve wanted to learn more about Jules Verne, fantasy and science fiction or the classic ghost story , I started by hanging out — either online or in person — with scholars and fans who generously shared their expert knowledge.
Housebound begins like a fairly straightforward ghost story , but then takes a few turns that keep it tonally interesting.
For so much of the Harry Potter series, Voldemort was the ghost story , but Dolores Umbridge was the actual ghost.
After all, what is history, but a very detailed ghost story ?
Along this sky-high route, nearly every 19th-century saloon or historic hotel has a ghost story to tell.
You Are One of Them By Elliott Holt A novel of the Cold War experience told through a ghost story .
You hope that the narrative will go off the rails, but Holt sticks to the boundaries of a ghost story .
It may be said that the truth of this ghost story rests mainly on a stick—leans upon a "heavy white cane."
The ghost story is as old as human speech,—and perhaps even antedates it.
The ghost story may thus quite conceivably be the first form of tale ever invented.
If I did not accomplish these things my ghost story would be unworthy of its name.
If I did not accomplish these things, my ghost story would be unworthy of its name.
Read Like the Wind
A collection of spooky short fiction by Edith Wharton and a historical nonfiction narrative about a woman who claimed to be haunted.
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By Sadie Stein
We all have our forms of escapism.
Whenever something very difficult has happened in my life, I have taken refuge in ghost stories. In the case of bereavement, the reasons seem clear enough; and maybe in every other case too — the possibility of the unexplainable can be a balm when the world itself feels beyond our understanding. October is designated haunting season, but the uncanny is perennial. There are almost too many ghost stories to choose from — Sarah Waters’s “Affinity, ” Marghanita Laski’s“The Victorian Chaise-Longue” and Virago’s peerless collection of ghost stories have all gotten me through a lot — but your time is valuable, so I’ll limit myself here to two of my favorite comfort reads.
“Ghosts,” by Edith Wharton
“‘No, I don’t believe in ghosts, but I’m afraid of them,’ is much more than the cheap paradox it seems to many,” Wharton wrote in her preface to this collection. Wharton was not an avowed believer, but like many writers she found the ghost story to be the perfect medium (pun intended) for exploring questions of sexuality, class and consciousness. And given her mastery of all three subjects it should come as no surprise that the stories in this collection are a paradigm not just of the genre but of short fiction generally.
Because it collects stories written between 1902 and 1937, it’s a faithful chronicle of a changing world: Read “The Lady’s Maid’s Bell” — featuring a full staff of servants — followed by “All Souls,’” among the last written in this collection, in which an elderly matron is left alone and helpless (one of the subtlest scary stories ever written, for my money). The relationship between classes is a recurring preoccupation; so is real estate; so is repression. Is my favorite “The Pomegranate Seed,” that amazing exploration of jealousy? Or “Miss Mary Pask,” a meditation on aging? Or maybe the Jamesian “The Eyes”? How to choose?
Read if you like: Any Edith Wharton novel; no Edith Wharton novels; if you love ghost stories; if you hate ghost stories Available from: NYRB Classics — and I do think this is one you’ll want a physical copy of, if only to better read before bed. But many of the stories can be found individually online. And here is a different version , not sequenced by Wharton, containing a number of the same stories.
“The Haunting of Alma Fielding: A True Ghost Story,” by Kate Summerscale
In 1938, a young matron in the London suburbs claimed to be the subject of a dramatic possession; as she recounted to the avid tabloids, her home was suddenly full of flying objects and her person regularly assaulted by violent attacks. She also suddenly had the ability to manifest live insects and pieces of jewelry. The story ultimately garnered the attention of a psychical researcher named Nandor Fodor, who became deeply invested in the case and made the woman, Alma Fielding, the subject of increasingly intrusive and public scientific tests. Was Fielding a fraud or a phenomenon — or was she just very unwell? The same could be asked of her investigator. And who, if anyone, was exploiting whom?
Summerscale, always a deft and humane storyteller, brings this deeply uncomfortable story to life with characteristic élan; the focus of one’s outrage and sympathy shifts from chapter to chapter, and the evocation of a (barely) between-the-wars Britain is vivid.
Read if you like: “Devil in the White City,” “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” Available from: Wherever fine books are sold. I like the Moravian in Bethlehem, Pa., because it’s supposedly haunted
Why don’t you …
See how it all started? I don’t think there’s a book in my library I recommend more than Deborah Blum’s “Ghost Hunters: William James and the Scientific Hunt for Proof of Life After Death.” (In fact, I seem to have loaned out both my copies!) Amid the spiritualism craze of the 19th century, a group of respected scholars, including Henry James’s brother, a titan of American psychology, seriously undertook psychical research — which proved thorny, inconclusive and utterly fascinating.
Hear a bump in the night? For obvious reasons, ghost stories make incredible audiobooks . Vernon Lee — the pen name of Violet Paget — was one of the great Victorian ghost-story scribes (often using the supernatural to encode queer themes), and “A Phantom Lover” is an atmospheric, eerie pleasure.
Get extra credit? One of Edith Wharton’s best ghost stories, “The Looking Glass,” is not in the collection I recommended above, but it is in her book “ The World Over. ” It’s about an aging beauty in thrall to spiritualism, and contains this incredible quote: “There was nothing she wouldn’t do for you, if ever for a minute you could get her to stop thinking of herself … and that’s saying a good deal, for a rich lady. Money’s an armor, you see; and there’s a few cracks in it. But Mrs. Clingsland was a loving nature, if only anybody’d shown her how to love. … Oh, dear, and wouldn’t she have been surprised if you’d told her that! Her that thought she was living up to her chin in love and love-making.”
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Spooky Tales: 13 Ghost Stories in English You Don’t Want to Miss
Are you ready to get scared?
Being scared by a story , movie , or anything else you know is not real can be fun and exciting.
There are many different ghost stories, urban legends and horror tales in the English language.
Reading is an excellent way to learn English better, so why not learn and get spooked (scared) at the same time?
Why Do We Love Ghost Stories?
How to learn english from scary stories, 13 spooky english ghost stories that’ll keep you up at night, 1. “the legend of sleepy hollow”, 2. “the monkey’s paw”, 3. “the diary of mr. poynter”, 4. “the tell-tale heart”, 5. “the haunting of hill house”, 6. “the shining”, 7. “the screaming skull”, 8. “the woman in black”, 9. “the bone key”, 10. “the graveyard book”, 11. real ghost stories, 12. two-sentence horror stories, 13. “the big book of ghost stories”, and one more thing....
Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)
Ghosts, ghouls, monsters and all sorts of supernatural beings have fascinated humans for many years. There have been countless horror stories written, or just told around a campfire to excite and scare. But why do we love scary stories so much?
Famous author Neil Gaiman puts it perfectly on Brain Pickings : “Fear is a wonderful thing, in small doses.”
There is something comforting about knowing that what you’re reading or watching is not actually real. You can experience the physical and mental effects of fear, without being in any actual danger.
It’s like when you watch scary movies or shows on Netflix: You know they’re not real, but you can let yourself get lost in the stories.
Reading scary stories can be a bit like watching them on screen. But when you read, you rely (depend) completely on your imagination to picture the characters, the scenery and the events of the story.
You create the thrill of fear in your own mind.
Reading a ghost story lets you have fun with fear, instead of being afraid or stressed over the real things in your life.
In other words, scary stories are harmless but exciting, and that makes them fun!
You can always just read the stories below and enjoy them. But to really learn from them, there are a few tips you should follow.
- Read with a notebook. We know it ruins the effect, but to learn from the story you’re reading, you should read with pen and paper nearby. Use these to write down any words or parts you don’t understand.
- Read things twice. Read once for vocabulary, and a second time for understanding. This is a great way to read books and stories that are a bit higher than your current learning level. If you learn what a word means, you will understand the story better when you read it a second time, and be getting practice with the new words.
- Learn the cultural impact. Many ghost stories use ideas that have been around for a long time, and some have been repeated or rewritten into modern culture—like the jack-o’-lantern from “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” which you’ll find on the list. Take the time to look up ways in which the stories you read have been reused in culture, or what the stories themselves can tell you about the culture it comes from. For instance, the American idea of a ghost is a bit different from the Chinese. Do you know how ? Learning interesting things about the culture of the language you’re studying can help you understand it a lot better.
- Ask questions. You already know that you should ask questions if you don’t understand something. But you should also ask questions to understand better. As you read, ask questions like “What’s going to happen next?” and “What made that story so scary?” Reading and discussing books helps you improve your English for everyday conversation .
- Enjoy what you read. Once you learn enough about the words the story uses, you can get into the actual story. Don’t forget to enjoy what you’re reading!
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Some of the best ghost stories are classics, and many are old. Below is a list of some of our favorite spooky stories in the English language. Some of the older stories might be a challenge, but since many are available to read for free, you can at least give them a try. Enjoy!
Written by: Washington Irving
Skill level: This story is old, so it uses some old language which may be difficult for beginners.
On his way home from a party, a schoolteacher meets with a terrifying headless horseman. This famous story is a favorite on Halloween nights, especially since the head of the horseman is often shown as a jack-o’-lantern (a carved pumpkin face with a light inside). This story has also been turned into a movie .
Find the book here or read it free here .
Written by: W. W. Jacobs
Skill level: Another old story, this one is easier to understand, although you may need to look up some words that are not commonly used anymore.
A man gets a monkey’s paw that will grant him three wishes—but these wishes have terrible consequences (results). More creepy than scary, “The Monkey’s Paw” has been used many times in other stories, movies , TV shows, and many other places. It message is “be careful what you wish for!”
Written by: M. R. James
Skill level: This is an older story, though it’s accessible to intermediate level learners.
This story has given birth to a creepy urban legend that is retold many times: You stroke the head of your dog while your attention is on something else… then suddenly remember you don’t have a dog. M. R. James is a great author of short ghost and horror stories that might not have any blood or violence, but will still make you scared to turn off the lights in the dark.
Find the book of short stories here .
Written by: Edgar Allan Poe
Skill level: Poe’s writings are simple and clear, and should be understandable for early intermediate learners.
A man is haunted by the beating of a dead man’s heart. Edgar Allan Poe is very well known for his horror stories, many of which are about the darkness inside humans and not actual monsters. Horror story lovers should read at least one of his stories!
Written by: Shirley Jackson
Skill level: This is a full book, not a short story. The language is not too difficult but the writing style can be a little tough to get used to.
Four people come to Hill House hoping to get evidence that the house is haunted. But the house is not only haunted, it’s looking for its next victim, and it has chosen one of the four to make its own.
Written by: Stephen King
Skill level: Modern, clear writing makes this a good book for learners of any skill. Watch out for some obscenities (offensive/vulgar words or behaviors).
A man is left in charge of a hotel during winter months when it’s closed, along with his wife and his son. Something is strange about the hotel, though, and it begins to affect the minds of everyone—with some terrible results. Stephen King is a modern master of the horror genre, and this book is a great read even if you’ve watched the classic movie .
Find the book here .
Written by: F. Marion Crawford
Skill level: The language and writing style can be tough to follow, but Crawford’s writing is varied. So if you don’t like or understand one story, try a different one.
A man finds a skull in his house, which screams every time he tries to remove it. He learns to live with it, until a visitor comes to the house, and even stranger things start to happen. Crawford’s other stories are just as weird and scary.
Find the book here or read free it here .
Written by: Susan Hill
Skill level: Hill loves long sentences, which might be difficult to follow. The writing is not too advanced, though.
A lawyer is sent to handle the affairs of an old house, but the house is more that it seems and hides many secrets and ghosts. You can also watch the movie version of this book, starring Daniel Radcliffe (who played Harry Potter).
Written by: Sarah Monette
Skill level: Clear and simple writing makes this a good choice for any level, though it does contain plenty of vocabulary words.
A stuttering museum archivist wants nothing to do with the supernatural, but for some reason ghosts and ghouls just keep coming to him. In a series of connected short stories, Monette creates a strange world not too far from our own, and a very likeable character.
Written by: Neil Gaiman
Skill level: There are some challenging words, but it was written with young adult readers in mind, which means it is good for learners of any level.
A young boy is raised in a graveyard, where ghosts and apparitions are the normal, and the real monsters might just be the living humans. Neil Gaiman is a great storyteller who creates worlds of magic and reality, where something dark is around every corner.
Written by: Many different people
Skill level: It depends on each story! Browse around and find something for you level.
Some books claim they’re based on real stories. On this website, you can find stories submitted by real people, about real strange things they’ve seen. Some are well written stories, and others are more like conversational blog posts. All are about real events—a great way to get spooked on Halloween night.
Find the stories free here .
Written by: Reddit users
Skill level: The level varies a little, but since there are only two sentences to each story, they are mostly simple and easy to understand.
“What is the best horror story you can come up with in just two sentences?” This is the question someone asked on Reddit, an online commenting and sharing community. Many of the top-rated stories are truly creepy, and manage to create a terrifying story in less than a paragraph.
Find the stories free here , or if Reddit is too confusing, see a free collection of the best stories here .
Written by: Many different authors
Skill level: This collection is so huge, there’s something for everyone here!
If you just can’t make up your mind about which ghost story to read, you can always just get them all! This massive collection of ghost stories has almost 1,000 pages, including classics, old and new stories. There are plenty of creepy, spooky and scary stories for any kind of reader.
Light a candle and turn out all the lights, because it’s time for some spooky reading!
If you like learning English through movies and online media, you should also check out FluentU. FluentU lets you learn English from popular talk shows, catchy music videos and funny commercials , as you can see here:
If you want to watch it, the FluentU app has probably got it.
The FluentU app and website makes it really easy to watch English videos. There are captions that are interactive. That means you can tap on any word to see an image, definition, and useful examples.
FluentU lets you learn engaging content with world famous celebrities.
For example, when you tap on the word "searching," you see this:
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‘A Ghost Story’: The Craft of a Low-Budget Indie Shouldn’t Be Forgotten During Awards Season
Chris o'falt, executive editor, crafts & special projects.
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During awards season, craft discussions often focus on films in which large teams of technicians create whole worlds of images, effects, and sounds. However, as we saw last year with “Moonlight,” it’s a mistake to dismiss the craft of a low-budget film.
After making Disney’s “Pete’s Dragon,” director David Lowery wanted to shoot “A Ghost Story” with a small crew of friends, in a small home, and in a limited time period. And yet from composer Daniel Hart’s evocative score that works in perfect harmony with Johnny Marshall’s sound design, to costume designer Annell Brodeur’s remarkable feat of turning a bedsheet into a practical and beautiful ghost costume, the level of below-the-line talent was just as impressive as the small cities of people who made “Dunkirk” and “Blade Runner 2049.”
Possibly the biggest challenges on “A Ghost Story” belonged to Lowery and his cinematographer, Andrew Droz Palmermo, in creating the film’s evocative visuals. What follows is the director and DP talking about working with limited space, crew, and a narrower 4×3 aspect ratio to create the film’s distinct look.
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Lowery: I just called them both [stars Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara], “I’m making this weird thing in Texas. You want to come hang out?” The one ultimatum I made going into this was I wanted to keep it as small as can be and only work with friends.
Palmermo: For the scene where Casey is singing, he suggested we shoot on Saturday, which was our day off. It was just Casey, David, and myself. All those shots made the movie and that plays to the movies’ strengths, which is a very intimate, emotional movie. Sure, the light could have looked a little better, but being that intimate gets you such great material. I certainly don’t care if we have a lack of perfection occasionally for something that’s so raw and real.
Lowery: The big movies are big for a reason. They need that army, but it does get overwhelming at times and it can slow you down. By doing something so stripped down and making it intimately with such a small, tightly knit group of friends, we were able to do more and try more things and go exploring.
Palmermo: On a film this size, we had to schedule around where the sun would be. I would then remove light by blocking out windows that I didn’t want to be active. That’s purely budgetary. We would have loved to overpower the sun, but that wasn’t in our fixtures budget.
When the sun was overhead, it would be bouncing off this green grass and green leaves and it was sending a ton of green into the house. With Rooney, who has very fair skin, when she walked up to a window she would take a lot of green in her face. I laid out big pieces of muslin so it’d bounce warmer white light — that’s all I could really do, besides blacking out windows.
An Evolving Visual Look
Palmermo: One of the things that was challenging was creating a different look – the way the camera moves, the lighting, the look of the house — for each of the different phases of the film. The house and movie is different with Rooney and Casey, than when the Latino family moves in, or the squatters at the party.
Lowery: Visually, the film was initially conceived to be just a series of tableaus, before it expanded and we had the next family move in. I was just conceiving of it as a series of very quiet, haunting scenes in this space between two people and that remained for the beginning of the movie. I knew the shots would last for a sustained length of time and I talked to Andrew a lot about how to create frames that carried emotional weight and where we should put the camera to engage and hold the audiences’ attention.
Palmermo: The house is super small, so we thought it would be great to have a smaller-body camera [Arri Alexa Mini] so we could get it where we needed it to be. A s we moved into the future, we had to find a way to make it look different but still feel part of the same cinematic universe. It was at this point in the film that I first introduced fluorescent lighting and seeing modern LED lighting versus the standard house bulbs or practicals we used in the beginning. More than lighting, the camera is doing different things than it was doing before.
Lowery: When the family moves in after Rooney has left the house… we decided just be more fluid and let the camera just sort of float around the space versus being so rigidly formalist in our approach. And that was very conducive to the way time starts to flow in that sequence.
Palmermo: We started going handheld and using a gimbal, so the Alexa Mini’s light weight became key. For this part of the film, I switched to modern lenses. I was using ’60s lenses up to that point and I brought out these ‘90s Panavision lenses, which are sharper and contrast-y in a way that renders things more faithfully. That combination of a new technology and this free-floating camerawork really marks the change in the film. We then did nearly the exact opposite for the pioneer scenes, where we used zoom lenses and long-lens shots that give it the feeling that you are looking in on the past. As the ghost becomes more isolated, I started making things cooler and we’d play with that throughout the film, adding or taking away a little color in the light as the film evolves.
4×3 Aspect Ratio
Lowery: I love the square aspect ratio as a moviegoer, especially because our screens are so wide now. Looking through frames like that makes my eyeballs happy. Thematically, it’s relevant [on “A Ghost Story”] because it’s about a character stuck in box. Also, it’s a movie starring someone wearing a bedsheet, and I wanted audiences to know from the beginning this is not a typical ghost movie, just in case someone comes wandering in thinking, “All right, ‘The Conjuring.’” So if I put the 4×3 up there at the beginning of the movie, everybody will know this is slightly left of center. Also, I wanted the creative challenge.
Palermo: We both think in widescreen. We love anamorphic frames and love utilizing the wide space, so there definitely was a learning curve. When you watch classic films shot 4×3, they don’t feel claustrophobic. They manage to use the 4×3 frame that doesn’t feel suffocating or like everybody is in a closeup. But the way contemporary films are shot, it would feel claustrophobic if you shot it the same way.
Lowery: I thought it would come naturally. “Oh, it’s a square, we’ll just reframe things.” But our minds are so trained to think in rectangles at this point. To adjust to that frame, at least to me, was an incredible challenge and it was uncomfortable. The first couple days of production we shot things wrong.
Palermo: We shot the scene where the ghost comes back home two or three different times. It was just a learning curve. “Oh, when he walks too much he looks really goofy, or if he gets too close to the lens he looks really goofy.”
Lowery: It’s about where the actor is in the frame and how you can’t shoot a closeup the same way. It’s remarkable how much goes into that. You don’t anticipate how every little detail plays differently when you are using that aspect ratio and how you have to think about space in a different capacity. We were learning as we shot, but we were in a situation where we had time to experiment and make sure we liked what we were seeing.
Editor’s Note: This feature is presented in partnership with ARRI, a leading designer, manufacturer and distributor of motion picture camera, digital intermediate (DI) and lighting equipment. Founded by two filmmakers 100 years ago, ARRI and its engineers have been recognized by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for contributions to the industry with 19 Scientific and Technical Awards. Click here for more about ARRI.
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67 Ghost TV & Streaming Shows Ranked
Do ghost stories make for good TV? You boo -tter believe it.
Whether it’s spooky dramas like Netflix newcomer The Fall of the House of Usher (releasing Friday) and 15-season horror stalwart Supernatural or comedies like short-lived, but Certified Fresh Truth Seekers and, well, Ghosts ( US and UK versions), many a dearly departed character’s favorite medium is television. And, yes, this includes the Patricia Arquette–starring TV show Medium .
But ghosts do have the power to show up in unexpected places. Shows like Lost and Angel saw their share of spirits, while kinder apparitions offered guiding advice on nighttime dramas like Providence and A Gifted Man and in teen programs like Julie and the Phantoms . Ghosts are also popular storylines on soap operas like General Hospital (although some daytime soaps use that narrative device more than others) and have conjured a whole genre of reality TV, but we’ll save those discussions for another list.
Rotten Tomatoes has compiled the best and worst ghost stories on TV and streaming and some that don’t have Tomatometer scores, but need to appear on any “ghostly TV” list worth the claim. While the series don’t have to solely focus on ghosts to be included, they do have to routinely include storylines about them.
The series are ranked by Tomatometer score, then shows without Tomatometer scores are listed by Audience Score (denoted by “A” and its rank; see Audience Scores on the series’ pages). Those without any scores — either because they didn’t get enough reviews or have scores on less than half of their seasons — are then listed alphabetically.
Being Human (2008) 100%
Ghosts (2021) 96%
Ghosts (2019) 95%
Marianne (2019) 94%
Supernatural (2005) 93%
The Haunting of Hill House (2018) 93%
Julie and the Phantoms (2020) 93%
Lockwood & Co. (2023) 93%
The Fall of the House of Usher (2023) 91%
The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020) 88%
Angel (1999) 87%
The Kingdom Exodus (2022) 87%
The Umbrella Academy (2019) 86%
Lost (2004) 86%
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997) 85%
The Adventures of Merlin (2008) 85%
Dead Like Me (2003) 84%
School Spirits (2023) 83%
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018) 82%
Being Human (2011) 77%
Ravenswood (2013) 75%
Truth Seekers (2020) 74%
Wednesday (2022) 72%
Constantine (2014) 72%
Shining Vale (2022) 71%
The InBetween (2019) 67%
A Gifted Man (2011) 66%
American Gothic (1995) 63%
Midnight, Texas (2017) 61%
Haunted (2002) 54%
Not Dead Yet (2023) 50%
Dark Shadows (1991) 50%
Bedlam (2011) 44%
Dark Shadows (1966) --
Secrets of Sulphur Springs (2021) --
Surfside Girls (2022) --
Charmed (1998) --
So Weird (1999) --
Ghost Whisperer (2005) --
Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! (1969) --
Nancy Drew (2019) --
Saving Hope (2012) --
The Ghost and Molly McGee (2021) --
Phantom Pups (2022) --
Danny Phantom (2004) --
A Christmas Carol (2019) --
SurrealEstate (2021) --
Deadbeat (2014) --
Ghostwriter (2019) --
Medium (2005) --
The Ghost Bride (2020) --
Charmed (2018) --
Jennifer slept here (1983) --.
My Mother the Car (1965) --
Oh My Ghost (2018) --
Big Wolf on Campus (1999) --
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1968) --
Ghostwriter (1992) --
Green Door (2019) --
The Haunted Museum (2021) --
Hex (2004) --
Kindred Spirits (2016) --
Kingdom Hospital (2004) --
Poltergeist: The Legacy (1996) --
Providence (1999) --
So haunt me (1992) --.
The Spooktacular New Adventures of Casper (1996) --
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"His Spirit Has Been Looking Out For Us" — Here Are 25 Paranormal Experiences That People Say Actually Happened, And I'm Low-Key Freaking Out
I am hiding under the covers.
(Spooky Narrator voice) Hello and happy October, little BuzzFeeders. Since it's spooky season, I recently asked members of the BuzzFeed Community to share their wildest experiences with the paranormal. I got some seriously scary stories in response — as well as a few heartwarming ones. Here are a few of the best; read on if you dare.
1. "back in october 2005, when i was 15, my family and i were living in an apartment above an esso gas station in bostrak, norway. one night i had a very lucid dream of a little blonde boy, probably aged eight or nine, crying in our living room. he was wearing a striped t-shirt with a silver star printed in the middle of his chest. when he saw me, he spoke in swedish.".
"I'm Norwegian, so I understood what he was saying, especially 'bus accident.' He kept pointing down to the Esso station. I woke up (it was October 31), convinced a bus was going to crash into [the station]. I told my mom and dad EVERYTHING about the dream, and my dad told me to get a grip, nightmares happen. That didn't stop my high anxiety. Every bus that stopped to deliver packages I was sure would crash. Nothing happened.
BUT, that evening, my siblings and I went down to the station to buy snacks for a horror movie marathon, and I saw a newspaper headline: ' Bus Accident in Tenerife. ' It had a picture of a bus in front of a Shell gas station. Naturally, I bought it, because it was a Swedish tourist bus that went off the road in Tenerife, not too far from the airport there, with 28 people on board. A Norwegian tourist leader died.
Front and center [in the article] was a picture of two blonde boys crying in the aftermath of the accident. One of them was young, aged 8 or 9, in a striped t-shirt with a star print in the middle. HE SURVIVED.
I don't believe in psychics, mediums, witches, or anything paranormal. But I still have the paper to remind myself I don't know sh*t. How can a little boy appear in a dream of mine (a stranger!) to warn of an accident happening as it was happening on October 30, 2005? I haven't had anything like that ever happen to me again. I still can't explain it."
2. "My dad passed away when I was 15. On several occasions, it has seemed like his spirit has been looking out for us since."
"One such occurrence was when my niece was a toddler. She was upstairs in her bedroom, asleep, while my sister and I were downstairs watching TV. Since the TV was on, we couldn't hear my niece choking on her own vomit — she had been fine when she went to bed, and we had no idea that she had become sick so quickly. All of a sudden, a framed picture of my dad as a baby dropped from where it hung on the staircase, the frame shattering all over the stairs. We ran to clean up the glass when, closer to her room, we could hear my niece in distress. It has often felt to us like that was my dad getting our attention that night to save his granddaughter's life."
3. "Not me, but my cousin. We were very close to our grandmother, and things got a little spooky for my cousin the year after our grandmother's passing. Our grandmother was allergic to kiwis. A couple of weeks after the funeral, my cousin was feeling really sad and having a general mopey day. She went to the fridge where she had a four pack of kiwis, and took two and ate them. The next day, she went back to her fridge for breakfast and saw that the package (still opened) had four kiwis."
"Around the one-year anniversary of her passing, my cousin spoke out loud to our grandmother before going to work, saying that she missed her. Upon her return home, she found a birthday card that my grandmother had written her laying on the floor. The card had been safely stored inside of a book, on a bookshelf, and there were no pets or other people living there besides my cousin. It was a very nice moment for her."
4. "I've worked in historic houses for years. The number one question I'm always asked is if the house is haunted. I was always able to say 'no' — until one weird day. Keep in mind, I've always been respectful and remembered that this was once someone's home; people lived, loved, and died here."
"Anyway, one day I was closing up and had locked the only entrance. I was alone. I accidentally slammed the basement door shut after turning off the lights. It was so loud, I automatically said out loud, 'Ohhh, sorry!', like an idiot.
Then I heard a woman on the floor above me laughing . Again, I was completely alone. At least I amused the spirit! She knew I meant no harm. I was never scared there, I stayed respectful and was left alone."
5. "I lived in a spooky dorm my freshman year of college. It was built on the site of the Confederate cannon line from the major Civil War battle that took place in our town, so it was bound to have some bad omens around. We had several things happen to us. For instance, my friends lived in the room next door. Nightly, their door would fly open. It did not matter if it was deadbolted; the door would fly open anyway. [My friends] would run into the hallway, but there was never anyone there."
"One evening as I sat alone on my bed watching TV, a box just shot out from under my bed, all on its own. Nobody was around, as it was a Friday night and everyone had gone to dinner.
Perhaps the strangest was one weekend when things went from spooky to downright scary. My friends (next door) were both going out of town. I knew this, but as I sat at my desk, there was knocking coming through the wall. I thought they were still there, so I played along and knocked back a few times. Each time, I was met with more knocks.
When I texted them about it, they were both confused; they'd already left campus, and no one was in their room."
6. "When I was 13, my family stayed at a friend's old farmhouse while traveling through the area. When I was going to bed, my mother told me that someone had once passed away in the room I was sleeping in. Then she wished me goodnight. (She has a fucked up sense of humor.) After I finally fell asleep, I was awoken to the feeling of a hand pressing onto my forehead, as if my temperature was being taken."
"I felt it touch my hair. When I opened my eyes, there was a shadow of a woman beside the bed leaning over me. In the dark I thought it was my mother, so I just tried to brush her away and went back to sleep. The next morning when I asked why she came into the room so late she told me that she hadn’t, she’d actually gone to bed right after me."
7. "One night shortly after my good friend passed away, I was sitting on the edge of my bed, and suddenly, he was sitting right next to me."
"He told me he was okay, and that I would be okay too. I asked him what it was like to die. I don’t remember what he said, or anything else after that. I woke up the next morning normally in bed. I wasn’t tired [when it happened, and] was totally sober. He came to me. It meant everything."
8. "Little did my parents know when they purchased their 1911 dream home, their second born would be best friends with the little girl in the attic. Ever since I can remember, [I've known] things I shouldn't be able to and [have seen] things that weren't technically there. As a young child, my parents played [these things] off as 'my imaginary friends.' Time went on, I grew up, but my imaginary friends never went away. One 'friend' in particular stayed close to me for a long time. She began peering in my doorway at age 3, and she aged alongside me. Years after the little girl first appeared, my family and I were cleaning out our basement. Above the exposed rafters, my brother uncovered a stack of old photographs."
"On top of this pile of dusty images was my 'imaginary' best friend, and beside her face was a name. Jane.
Jane would come into my room almost nightly. She would walk down the attic steps, stare at me through my doorway, and enter my room, sometimes playing with my things but always praying at the foot of my bed.
Jane would finish her nightly visit by walking down the stairs to the family living area. When our alarm was set, she would set the motion sensors off — still, my parents never believed me. They said it was dust. I spent the next few years sleeping with my lights on so Jane wouldn't startle me so much, and soon, as I aged, I began to see her less and less. At 15, I stopped seeing her altogether.
She became more of a feeling, or a voice I would hear at times of struggle: a spirit I credit with saving my life more than once. After finding her photograph, it became my most prized possession, and I stored it in a china cabinet in our kitchen. It wasn't the most secure location; one afternoon when I was 15, our kitchen had a fire, and the stack of pictures burned.
In adulthood, I started stretching my psychic muscles and seeing things again, which reassured me the whole thing wasn't just my imagination and made me long for Jane, who I'd last seen 20 years ago. I began to want to know if I could prove through documentation that she was really a natural person who died in childhood.
Thankfully, with time, genealogical websites became very proficient, and I researched my house and the families who've lived there. Then, in an obituary in a 1918 newspaper, I found her. Jane Hill Patrick was born on July 19, 1903, and died on July 24, 1918 of Rheumatic Fever. She died in my home; the address was listed in her obituary because her wake was held in our house. She died at 15, the same age I was when I stopped seeing her and when the picture burned.
Thankfully, through my research, I've located her brother's child. Her now 90-year-old nephew had only ever heard stories of his aunt; however, he did have a photograph. He graciously shared with me the only known remaining image of her. The face I saw was unmistakable. It was my earliest friend and my favorite spirit, Jane."
9. "Hauntings were part of my childhood experience. My siblings and I all had our own individual encounters. My very first memory was when I was around six, and my bed started to shake, really bad. It happened regularly. I usually hid, very still and very quiet, under the heavy wool blankets of my bed. This time was too much, and instead of hiding I just started to scream as I laid there."
"I recall seeing my sisters open my bedroom door and just stand there with their big eyes and mouths agape. My mom ran in and turned the light in and my bed felt like it dropped. My sisters later said that I had screamed that there was an earthquake under my bed.
From then on, sh*t got weird. Lights and stereos would blast on, and we'd take refuge outside until my parents came home from work, or my older siblings came back from wherever they'd been (it was the 80s). We never felt able to go down the hallway without running - it felt like a being was there, watching, waiting."
10. "I swear my mum is still present in my dad's house. She died in 2007, and we played her favorite song, Three Times a Lady by Lionel Richie, at her funeral. Late on the night after her funeral, I was watching the music channels and that song came on. I changed channels quickly as I was obviously still emotional, and as I did all the sympathy cards on the shelves moved, as though someone had run their hand across them. I put the song back on!"
"Since then, every now and then she’ll make herself known: all my old posters came off the wall in the night, my very heavy CD rack has been pushed over, and sometimes my bed shifts as though someone has sat down on it. I find it comforting."
11. "We used to live in an old house in Virginia, and weird but easily explained or dismissed things often happened. Things like cupboards being left open, things placed in the fridge that didn’t go there, etc. Nothing convincing. But one day I was home alone and I 100% heard a child’s voice very clearly say ' Mom? '"
"I looked everywhere and there was no one home, no one outside, no TVs on or anything. From then on, that became a regular occurrence. Especially if I was in the bathroom or the kitchen. It still gives me the chills. I was glad when we moved."
12. "I’ve had several paranormal experiences, but one really stands out. In 2012, I was finishing my senior year of high school. My bedroom was in the basement of our house. I woke up one night because a voice in my head was telling me I was being watched. Standing at the foot of my bed was a man. He had smoke coming off him, looked kind of like he was charred , and was wearing a long coat and cowboy hat with no clearly defined features except for the most electric blue eyes. He stared at me for what felt like hours, but was more like a few moments. That’s all I remember."
"Years later, I was talking to my brother about paranormal experiences and told him that one. My brother was living in Georgia in 2012. When I told him that story, my badass West Point grad, Army Ranger brother got tears in his eyes and told me he saw the exact same apparition in the same year. Except his walls bled. That's of the weirder ones."
13. "My house had a lot going on for awhile, and it started with the kids. My youngest son was the main target: he said his bed was being shaken. Once, we were in the kitchen together and he was pouring milk for cereal when his arm went up like it had been bumped and he spilled milk all over the counter."
"Another time, I had something grab me by the leg and try to pull me out of bed. My husband was next to me, but I was frozen with fear and nothing would come out of my mouth.
I've experienced the bed shaking and and unexplained breezes around my bed in a closed room. Things have calmed down since the kids grew up and moved but I have taken videos in the house and seen orbs floating around."
14. "I was working an opening shift at a food place in the mall. My friend worked at another food place, and I saw him walk by my store that morning to go out for a smoke break. We looked at each other and said hey. He was quiet and shy, as am I, and he went on and I continued working on opening the store."
"Not even a few hours go by, and I got a call from our mutual friend. He told me that our friend had passed away that night. 'But how, I just saw him?' I said. There was no explanation. It was heartbreaking.
I still to this day see that morning in my head. His other coworkers swear they saw him as well, and I never will doubt it."
15. "This isn't a ghost story, but I'll give it a shot. I was visiting a friend who had been going through a rough patch and he said he really appreciated me coming to visit him. I randomly thought of that Bible verse about showing hospitality to strangers because you may be entertaining angels unaware (it's Hebrews 13:2)."
"I momentarily felt an odd sensation: I was sitting down, but I suddenly got the kind of feeling you get if you've been sitting down for a while and stand up too quickly. It passed just as quickly as it came but my friend said, 'That was weird — were you just thinking about where it says in the Bible you may invite angels in by being hospitable to strangers?'
I've heard stories before about people supposedly experiencing telepathic communication. I think these people are being sincere when they tell these stories, but most of them can be explained by coincidence, or subconsciously reading body language and getting the idea of what the person is thinking about. My experience was NOT like that. This was a very specific thought, and we weren't talking about anything similar at the time."
16. "When I was about 9 years old, I was staying with my maternal grandmother. She lived in the country in a old farm house my grandfather had built in 1920s. My grandmother and I shared a room with 2 twin beds. It was the middle of the night and I woke up to a man standing at the foot of my bed, just nodding his head."
"I was terrified and closed my eyes tight shut. When I opened them back up, he was gone.
The following morning I told my grandma about what happened, and she went and got a picture I had never seen before. It was a picture of my late grandpa; I had never met him because he passed in 1956. He was the man I saw at the foot of my bed the night before. Thank you grandpa for such a great memory."
17. "At the end of my hometown, there’s a big, dark forest, and unsurprisingly, there are a ton of stories about it. I believe this one from firsthand experience. The story goes that decades ago, to celebrate the first day of June, a school was having a picnic in the woods when a little girl wandered off to pick flowers and was never seen again. If you go into the woods in the first of June, they say you might meet her, and that she’s not scared or sad or anything, just picking flowers peacefully."
"When I was a dumb 13-year-old, I decided to see if that was true. I walked into the woods on the first day of June. And I heard a little girl laughing. I jumped, like, a foot in the air and turned around to see if anyone was there. There was no one, just a pile of uprooted flowers. I've never fucked around with the supernatural after that."
18. "I want to preface this by saying I was very skeptical prior to this experience. In 2011 my mom and I visited the Queen Mary, a reportedly haunted ship. We were in the pool area and I went off by myself because I figured that my best chance to experience something was to be alone. As I stood on the opposite side of the pool as everyone else, I felt this hard tug on my shirt."
"I kind of brushed it off until about 1 minute later when the tour guide said that a little girl died in the pool and the main way she likes to let people know she’s still around is by tugging on their shirts. After that experience I am a firm believer in the paranormal."
19. "I work in an old courthouse that is , no question about it, haunted . Historically, the building hasn't been just the courthouse, but the building where all county offices (and the jail) were housed. My office used to be upstairs in what used to be the county clerk’s office, and when I worked up there, odd things would happen."
"In my first encounter, I was there alone, and I heard what sounded like papers being shuffled through near my coworker’s desk. But he hadn’t left any papers there, and anyway, there wasn’t a fan or vent. I left quickly after that.
The next time, my coworker and I were up there together and something started knocking on the walls while we were talking — and then it would stop [as soon as] we stopped. It happened a few times in a row, then we told it to stop, and it did .
My boss once said when he was up there once he stepped out to do something and when he came back one of the phones was off the receiver. We have affectionately taken to calling the ghost Judge Haunty."
20. "Does lucid dreaming count? I took a nap one day, and woke up within my dream to my room exactly as it was when I had fallen asleep. The only reason I knew I was still dreaming was because my deceased pets were trying to get into the bed for snuggles."
"Then I looked over my shoulder and saw a pale child, maybe no older than 10, dressed in dirty Edwardian style dress. He walked into my room through the already opened door with a blank expression on his face.
He didn't see me, he just walked slowly into my room directly toward the back wall. I woke up not too long after I saw him and I couldn't shake this feeling that I used to know that child, and had been visited by more than just the ghosts of cats and dogs when I slept."
21. "While watching TV one night, I fell asleep in the recliner in the living room of my 1835 home. I woke up once, but was too tired to go upstairs so I turned off the TV and went back to sleep. I awoke later to see a young woman leaning over me, watching me sleep."
"I immediately sat up, startled. She straightened up, smiled, then turned and started to walk away. I was wide awake and I knew I wasn't dreaming. She was as real as could be, with long, reddish brown, frizzy hair. She was wearing a dark, high-collar Victorian dress, with a white apron with large straps. As she started to walk away her left side vanished into the television and its stand, and then she completely disappeared. I looked at my phone and it was 2:18 a.m. It was, of course, very memorable. Not frightening, but exhilarating."
22. "Once when I was a teenager and nearly finished with high school, I was alone one night at home. My mother was a single parent as my father had died a couple of years before, and she was working nights as a nurse. We had a set-up where I'd wake her up when I came home from school in the afternoons and make dinner for the both of us, and then she'd head into work as I started on my homework."
"That particular night I'd seen my mother off to work and finished my homework and everything when I realized I'd forgotten to take out the trash when I got home for the day. It was already pretty late, and really dark outside, but the trash bin was just on the other side of the car port. We also lived in a reasonably safe neighborhood, so I didn't see a reason why I shouldn't take it out.
I flipped on the dim exterior light that really only illuminated the trash bin and single corner of the carport and walked out with the trash. When I walked outside, I realized that it was really dark, much darker than usual for that time of night, and I reasoned it was most likely due to cloud cove. I quickly disposed of the trash and closed the bin, and when I turned around to go back inside I stopped dead in my tracks. In front of me was this human-sized being of pure light.
It struck an unnatural level of fear into me. I remember being frozen in shock, staring at it and trying to make sense of it. It stood with its glowing arm extended towards me, completely unmoving. Looking back, I have never been able to really articulate just how horrifying this thing was; it didn't move, it didn't make any sound, it simply was , and it didn't fade away or disappear when I blinked. I don't really remember how I got away from it, I just know that a few minutes later I was standing inside my house, with the door locked behind me, shaking like a leaf and crying like a toddler. I've never been able to figure out what I saw or what it wanted from me."
23. "We created a Ouija board from scratch, because we read it made them safer. My best friend and I put my rocking chair under my bedroom door knob to keep my mom out and tried for hours to get the board to work, but nothing happened. We went to sleep. I was awoken by my dog, digging at the bed and yowling."
"Before I could grab the dog, she launched herself off the bed, crawled under it, and continued to dig and yowl. Simultaneously, the door to the bedroom flew open, sending the rocking chair across the floor. It slid directly to the end of the bed and rocked violently.
As if on cue, my bestie sat bolt upright in bed and yelled ' George, stop it! ' The chair stopped rocking, the dog stopped digging, and the bedroom door closed itself. My bestie laid back down and was sound asleep. This was 40 years ago. She doesn’t remember, but I’ll never forget! We might have failed to talk to bad spirits through the board but clearly we had invited them into the house.
P.S., we found out YEARS later that my bestie’s house was built by a sea captain whose first name was George."
24. "At my elementary school, there were rumors that a child who went there had once murdered another child, on school grounds. I have gone out of my way to not learn details about it, because I’m a pretty sensitive person and I think it would really upset me, but at that school weird things happened."
"Several times doors slammed by themselves suddenly, and lights flickered on and off. A lot of times, there would be knocking on the doors to classrooms, but when you opened the door no one would be there. Once the fire alarm was pulled and everyone thought the building was actually on fire, but it wasn’t. Someone had pulled the alarm, but the security cameras showed that there was no one in the hall when it happened. I was not sad to move on to middle school, I’ll say that much."
25. And finally, "When I was in middle school, a ton of weird stuff happened on the second floor girls’ bathroom. Doors slammed. Lights flickered a ton. Sometimes the mirror would somehow get fogged up and weird messages like “HELP” would get written in the glass. Every girl at the school knew it was haunted and we all tried our best to avoid it at all costs. But it makes me think, did someone die in a middle school bathroom? Because I literally cannot think of a worse way to go."
...i wanted to end on a little bit of a funny note. some of these would literally traumatize me for life but some of them are very sweet. i loved all of these, so if you have any spooky stories you'd like to share, seriously, leave them down below, share this article.
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The Orioles were one of three 100-win MLB teams to lose in the playoffs. It’s too early to blame the format. | ANALYSIS
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Rangers Jonah Heim is late with the tag as Orioles Gunnar Henderson slides safely into home on a single by Aaron Hicks in the first inning. Game 2 of ALDS at Camden Yards. (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun)
Since 1990, MLB’s winningest team has won the World Series just seven times.
The two teams tied for the most single-season wins in MLB history — the 1906 Chicago Cubs and 2001 Seattle Mariners — both had losing playoff records. The 2006 title-winning St. Louis Cardinals had a winning percentage of .516, just above average. And as recently as 2021, the Atlanta Braves — with the 12th-most regular season wins — won the World Series.
The postseason is home to the unpredictable, where healthy rosters and timely performances reign supreme. If anything is to blame for MLB’s best getting bounced this year — the Orioles (101-61), Braves (104-58) and Los Angeles Dodgers (100-62) combined to go 1-9 in the divisional round — it’s the randomness of the playoffs and those teams falling flat for a few days in October, not the five-day break each of them received.
“It’s a round bat and a round ball and a round Earth that we live in, and sometimes, the ball just doesn’t bounce your way,” Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said Thursday.
[ The Orioles say they’ll be back, and for the first time in decades, they have good reason to believe it ]
If the best teams were guaranteed to advance, the postseason would have little mystique. And that unknown, both beloved and despised come autumn, reared its head again this year, leaving the league’s three 100-win teams in its wake.
In other words: That’s baseball.
The Braves and Dodgers lost to divisional foes whom they finished at least 14 games ahead of in the regular season. The Orioles were surprisingly swept for the first time since May 2022.
“Still irritated, still frustrated, still pissed,” manager Brandon Hyde said Thursday.
In the 2001 book “Curve Ball,” an analysis of chance in baseball, authors Jim Albert and Jay Bennett simulated 1,000 seasons, finding that the “best” team won the World Series 21% of the time.
“The cream won’t generally rise to the top,” the authors wrote.
Orioles starter Grayson Rodriguez reacts after walking a batter to load the bases in the first inning of Game 2 of the ALDS. (Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun)
Anything can happen in a best-of-five or best-of-seven series and postseason baseball is so revered for the improbability of it all. It’s what makes October heroes: No one could have expected Tito Landrum, who retired with 13 career home runs, to belt the Orioles to victory in the 1983 American League Championship Series.
The playoffs are so gripping because of it. If one team is expected to beat another 55% of the time, the worse club will still win a seven-game series four times out of 10, mathematician Leonard Mlodinow wrote in his 2009 book, “The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives.”
The sheer chance of it offers a reminder that just because the Orioles, Braves and Dodgers won 100 games does not mean they were shoo-ins for the next round. It’s a challenge for any team, no matter how good, to win a postseason series.
Over the past two years, since MLB adopted a new playoff system that gave four teams byes through the first round, only three of those eight clubs have advanced past the division series. Some have pointed to rust as the culprit: In a departure from routine, these teams had five days off, which could have a detrimental effect.
The argument holds water. A team successfully churning along all season in a rhythm suddenly changes its schedule. Such a variable could hurt a well-oiled group.
For a team accustomed to playing each day, five days off is a long time. “I don’t think it helps,” Hyde said. “Let’s put it that way.”
But the bye still provides an advantage as those top teams skip the wild-card round. Sure, only three of eight teams (38%) that received byes over the past two years have reached the championship series, but a lower percentage of wild-card teams (5 of 16, or 31%) have done the same, since they must win twice as many series.
Plus, just because the bye-receiving teams fell short this season doesn’t mean they will in future. It’s only been two years, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred told reporters Thursday in Philadelphia.
“That is absolutely too small a sample to draw any inferences,” David Berri, a sports and economics professor at Southern Utah University, wrote in an email to The Baltimore Sun.
Braves starting pitcher Spencer Strider reacts after giving up a home run to the Phillies' Nick Castellanos during the fourth inning of Game 4 of the NLDS. (Chris Szagola/AP)
Before the season ended, many saw the break as a bonus. Orioles outfielder Aaron Hicks noted one big advantage: A team can restart its rotation while other teams might enter a division series with tired arms.
Baltimore Orioles Insider
Elias said Thursday he had monitored how other top seeds were faring but shied against using the bye “as an excuse.”
“I do not believe that was the difference between us winning or getting swept in the ALDS the way we did,” he said. “I don’t have a big opinion about it.”
Perhaps the intermission threw the Orioles off a bit. But it was their starting pitchers — players accustomed to several days off between outings — who turned in the poorest performances. Twice, an Orioles starter did not complete the second inning.
Before ALDS Game 2, outfielder Anthony Santander said he didn’t think the playoff format had caused the Orioles problems. Backup catcher James McCann pointed to the Tampa Bay Rays, who held the second-best AL record but were eliminated from the postseason before the divisional round, as evidence of a potential flaw in the system. But he didn’t cite the five-day layoff as an issue while speaking to reporters before Game 3.
“As far as, is there a reason we’re down 0-2? Is it because we had the days off? I don’t think so,” he said. “We easily could have had guys banged up and that [could have given] us time for them to get healthy. I think that’s just a way to change the narrative and that’s not what we’re going to do.”
It’s easy to point to a pattern and blame a new system. But it’s not yet apparent that the format is at fault.
Perhaps next year, the Orioles will win fewer regular-season games but advance farther in the playoffs. That’s baseball.
- > October