Do you like ghost stories? I do.
This weekend we watched The Secret of Crickley Hall. The mini-series was based on a book written by James Herbert and was adapted for television by the BBC. If you’re looking for a ghost story with a good storyline, you might enjoy this.
I have a big collection of ghost story DVDs that I dust off at this time of the year. It’s my way of celebrating Halloween now that I’m too old to go trick-or-treating (and have been for some time!)
Other favourites in my collection include:
- The Others
- The Sixth Sense
- The Shining
- An American Haunting
- The Shining
- The Awakening
- The Woman in Black
But, I think my absolute favourite ghost story is The Changeling. This is an old movie, made in the late 70’s I think, starring George C. Scott. I just think it checks all the boxes for a good ghost story.
So What Are the Checkboxes for a Good Ghost Story?
A good ghost story has all or at least most of the following elements:
- There is a good setting.
A creepy old house, an out-of-the-way location, isolation… The Sixth Sense might be an exception to this characteristic of a ghost story, but Crickley Hall, The Others, The Awakening, The Changeling, Insidious, and An American Haunting all check this box. And, the idea of spending a long snowy winter in a hotel in the middle of nowhere cut off from civilization as the family in The Shining did? That’s the stuff goose bumps are made of even before anything scary happens!
- There’s a good back story of some tragic event or unresolved issue.
The story needs to be something interesting and at the same time something we can almost all understand to be a justifiable reason to come back and haunt the living–if, of course, that is an option! Some of these back stories would be good stand-alone stories without the ghost story factor.
- There is an absence of blood and gore.
With the exception, perhaps, of The Shining and maybe The Sixth Sense I could say this of my favourites. A good ghost story relies on the story, not the special effects. We don’t need a “slice and dice” / “slash and dash” bloodfest to be creeped out by these stories.
- The suspense of the story builds slowly.
A creepy location, a bump in the night, a tragic story, very subtle at first, parsed out in bite-sized pieces like a mystery.
- There’s a twist, a gotcha!
I’m not sure that you could say that all of my favourites, or all good ghost stories for that matter, have a twist, but I think the best ones do. The Sixth Sense and The Others are classic examples of this. Readers/viewers love to be outsmarted but the gotcha needs to fit in logically with the storyline to work. The readers/viewers need to be able to review the lead up to that moment and realize that the clues were there all along.
So, if you want to write a good ghost story, be sure to include these factors.
What is your favourite ghost story – book or movie? Let me know in the comments. Maybe I can add it to my collection!
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