5 Elements of a Good Ghost Story

5 Elements of a Good Ghost Story by Shelley Sturgeon offers five things to include when writing a ghost story if you want to keep your readers awake at night!

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:

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:

  1. 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!
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!

Photo courtesy of hyena reality | Freedigitalphotos.net

20 Tips for Dealing with Procrastination and Distractions

20 Tips for Dealing with Procrastination and Distractions by Shelley Sturgeon offers tips for writers to avoid or overcome procrastination and distractions.

I was sitting here at my desk yesterday afternoon with the intention of cranking out a half dozen or so blog posts. There’s been absolutely no reason why I couldn’t do this in theory. My family was otherwise occupied so I had the house to myself (if you don’t count the four legged menagerie!) and there was nothing else burning a hole in my social calendar or to-do list.

But, instead, I shopped, did some DIY, ate lunch, surfed, checked email, called my sister, checked email again and then called my husband. I think you get the picture. NONE of that was priority so why did I do it? I have no idea.

Have you ever noticed how we tend to avoid things that we’re not quite sure how to tackle, things that overwhelm us because we don’t feel confident or comfortable doing them or we don’t know where to start? We tell ourselves that we’re just psyching ourselves up for the task, and sometimes I even tell myself that I work better when I’m pressured to meet a deadline, almost as if I’m intentionally building that pressure so I will work better, but the only problem with that is that when it comes to writing, I set my own deadlines, and well, I also tend to “adjust” said deadlines when it suits me. Do you ever do that?

So, to get the juices flowing, I started writing about how to manage the writer’s worse enemies: procrastination and distractions.

Tips for Dealing with Procrastination and Distractions

  1. Instead of thinking of a project or task as a whole, try itemizing the steps involved and concentrate on one step at a time. So, instead of writing about “25 Ways to Describe a Character” aim to write about one way, and then another and another and so on.
  2. You can try establishing deadlines. It might work for you, but personally I usually struggle with self-imposed deadlines. I do, however, find that it helps to know someone is waiting for something. If I had a beta reader drumming his or her fingers on a desktop waiting for my next installment I’d meet my deadline.
  3. Attach time for your writing to another task that you will never forget to do. For example, I could add writing to pouring my first cup of coffee each day and change my routine so that I always go to my computer and start writing when I’m drinking my coffee. That’s how I remember to water my hanging baskets of flowers in the summer. While my Keurig machine is brewing my cup of coffee, I fill the pail with water and carry it out to the front porch to water the plants.
  4. Aim for results not perfection. I think too often we forget that we can tweak things later but it’s more important to get a first draft down.
  5. Ever hear the quote by William W. Purkey “You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching, Love like you’ll never be hurt, Sing like there’s nobody listening, And live like it’s heaven on earth.” Well, I’d suggest we add “Write like you’re a bestselling author” to the list. Our inhibitions – fear of success, fear of failure, fear of what our mother might say! – can often hold us back from our writing.
  6. I read an article once a long time ago that suggested writing the climax of your book first when you are excited about the project and energized. Then, the article went on to explain, you could go back and write everything up to the climax. Your writing would be more focused, in theory. The same could be said for a blog post. Write your tips or main points, then complete it with your intro and conclusion.
  7. Maybe you really do need a change of pace to inspire and rejuvenate you? This is a dangerous one because we often deceive ourselves into thinking this way, but if you’re working hard, maybe you do need some time off. All work and no play, etc.? Live in the moment. Give yourself a break and enjoy the moment then really and truly get on with your writing.
  8. If you’re experiencing a brain spasm about a project, consider talking to a friend or colleague to get their feedback. Sometimes a fresh perspective or a show of enthusiasm from someone else can make all the difference and get you really excited about following through on something.
  9. Set a timer. Ever visited the Flylady site? This site is all about helping people organize their time so they can clean and organize their homes. It’s a great site full of helpful tips. Yes, I know that doesn’t have a lot to do with writing blog posts (stay on topic Shelley!) but they’re keen about setting timers to chip away at tasks so instead of setting timers and alerting a search party to rescue you in 20 minutes if you don’t emerge from your son’s bedroom, why not set a timer and start chipping away at the next chapter in your book? You may not finish it in 20 minutes, but it is a step in the right direction.
  10. Figure out what time of the day suits you best for writing. I know for me, when it comes to exercising, if I’m going to consistently do it, I need to do it first thing in the morning before I talk myself out of it or end up spread too thinly during my day to find the time to do it. Maybe writing at night before bed when the house is quiet works better for you?
  11. Try practising free writing. The more you write, the easier it gets and the less likely we are to procrastinate!
  12. Continue reading “20 Tips for Dealing with Procrastination and Distractions”

Flex your muscles: Write a journal

Singers do it.

Musicians do it.

Athletes do it, too.

So, what exactly is “it?”

I’m talking about warm ups, flexing muscles and practicing to help them get up to speed before their respective concerts, races and games.

Why shouldn’t writers do it?

And, how should writers warm up?

Write a journal.

Notable authors known to have kept journals include:

  • Anne Morrow Lindbergh
  • Beatrix Potter
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • George Bernard Shaw
  • Lewis Carroll
  • Louisa May Alcott
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson

I wonder, did they keep journals because they liked to write books, or did they write books because they kept journals? Did keeping a journal warm up their writing “muscles” and help make them successful?

I remember a million years ago in high school, at the beginning of every English class, we had to write in our journals for 10 minutes, and when I think back I now realize that that was when I found creative writing the easiest of any other time in my life so far.

There are various types of journals that you can keep, but from a writer’s perspective I think a free form journal where anything and everything can go as the inspiration takes you, is probably the best. Fill your journal with whatever is on your mind at the time. Write stories in it, or on days where your brain is in a spasm and you can’t think of anything else to contribute to your journal, just write about the weather or what you had for breakfast so that you don’t get out of the habit of writing in your journal every day.

There are mental health benefits to journaling as well.  Writing a journal daily can:

  •  Help you clarify your thoughts and focus on your priorities
  • Get a clearer understanding of yourself
  • Put things in a better perspective and reduce stresses and frustrations

So, how to keep a journal is the next obvious question:

  • Decide whether to write in a book or on your computer. I prefer to write my thoughts on good old fashioned paper for this. For me, it just seems easier to put thoughts to paper quite literally.
  • Find a place free of distractions. If you’re writing on a computer, unless it’s a laptop, your options here might be limited.
  • Find a time when you can have a few minutes without interruptions. My best times are first thing in the morning before I have to start into my work and routine, or last thing at night after all the critters around here are fed and the television is off and I’m just about to crawl into bed.

At first it might seem strange to write your random thoughts down, but with practice, after you’ve warmed up those writing muscles, you’ll find that it gets easier and easier, and I’m willing to bet that the rest of your writing gets easier, too.

Do you journal? If so, tell me more in the comments. I’d like to know about your experiences.


Photo credit: Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Don’t sink your ship! Check your facts

Earlier this year, you would have had to be hiding under a rock to miss the daily news stories that were reminding us that the Titanic sunk 100 years ago. Mention the Lusitania or the Empress of Ireland and people may scratch their heads, but EVERYONE has heard of the Titanic!

As part of a school project when I was about 10, I had to interview grandparents and create a family tree. At that time, little was really known about my mother’s side of the family – a long story maybe fit for another day, but I sat in awe at my paternal grandfather’s knee as he recounted how his mother, Agnes MacPherson, was supposed to be on board the Titanic when she immigrated to Canada.

Even then, as a young child, I’d heard of the tragedy of the Titanic and the mere thought that my great grandmother had very nearly gone down with it was horrifying! But, once I got over the horror aspect of the story, I was delighted to write up this fascinating fact of family history and add it to my project knowing that not many of my peers could have such juicy content to share about their families!

So, fast forward about 12 years. By this time, my grandfather had passed on, but my interest in genealogy remained and I started gathering facts from archives and record offices. Little was still known about my mother’s side of the family, but my father’s side of the family, particularly his father’s side, had been United Empire Loyalists and had been given land grants for property in Prince Edward County, Ontario, not far from Kingston, at the end of the American Revolution. There was a virtual cornucopia of documents available for that branch of my family to be discovered, recorded and analysed.

And then, as if an iceberg had ripped my childhood genealogy project wide open, after all those years, I figured it out. The facts just didn’t add up. Sweet Agnes MacPherson, an orphan from a home in Scotland, could not possibly have just “missed” the Titanic as my grandfather had told me because Agnes MacPherson was already here, living in Ontario, married with children and probably tucked safely into her own bed on that April night in 1912 when the Titanic sunk on the cold and calm Atlantic. You see, my grandfather had been born in 1910 and he had an older sister who’d been born a few months after her parents married in 1908. Continue reading “Don’t sink your ship! Check your facts”