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5 Steps to Writing a Spine-Tingling Story


It's that time of year again. The temperature is getting a little colder, and people are gearing up for Halloween. When people gather on moonlit nights, they love to share tales of ghosts and ghouls. Here are five important tips for writing the perfect ghost story. If you follow these suggestions, you are sure to frighten your friends and loved ones.

Every effective ghost story contains certain elements that will chill the bones of the reader: The story should be based on your worst fears or situations that are scary for the average reader. Pick a frightening setting that will provide the perfect location for your story. Be sure to create well-developed characters, including a protagonist and antagonist. As you plan your story, use the story arc model to create an effective plot. It should be written in a way that allows the reader to use their imagination. The story should build in suspense. It shouldn't reveal too much too quickly. Once you finish, take the time to edit your work. If you follow these steps, you can write a chilling tale that you can be proud of.

1. Brainstorm by pondering your worst fears

Start by thinking of your own fears: situations, animals; anything that makes you feel afraid. You might also think of situations that are fearful for other people. Write down your ideas for future reference. This process will enable you to come up with some truly scary ideas. These ideas can be the basis of your story. If you can express how afraid you feel, chances are your readers will experience it as well:

  • Think back to nightmares that you may have had. Write down the details that made you feel afraid. Be specific so that you can hone in on the elements that made it so scary. For example, if you had a nightmare about snakes, write down what the snakes were, what the circumstances were and what your emotions and feelings were. If you can capture this in a story, it could be very effective.
  • Think of elements in horror movies or books that were really scary to you. Without copying the ideas or plot elements, write down specific things that inspired fear. Try to think of a new and unique way to create a similar effect.
  • Think of specific situations that might make you feel afraid. Write them down and see if you can use them as the basis for your story. If you have a dread fear of tight spaces, you could create a scenario in which your main character has to escape from an enclosed space.
  • Ask your friends and family what their worst fears are. You might also ask them about experiences in their own lives that made them feel afraid. This might inspire the plotline of your story. For example, if a loved one tells you a story about being lost on a hiking trip, this could provide a good plot element to your story.

2. Pick a perfect setting

Based on the brainstorming you did, try to come up with the perfect setting for your tale of horror. The setting of the story is the location or locations in which it takes place. Having a spooky setting such as an old haunted house or a remote wooded area is key to having an effective scary story.

Woods at Night
Photo by JR Korpa on Unsplash
  • Think of a setting that goes along with the fears that you explored during your brainstorming session. If your fear is being lost in the woods, you can begin by writing down what was scary about them. You can use these details later in your story.
  • Write down as many details as possible about your setting. Suppose your setting is an old house in a small town. Before you write your story, try and describe the house in as much detail as possible. Is it an old Victorian house or a farmhouse? Where is the town located, in the mountains or on the coast? If you plan out the details you can really set the stage for a frightening tale.
  • Try to come up with a backstory for your setting. This involves some of the history of the town or the house in which it takes place. If you choose an old haunted house as part of your setting, you would want to write down why people think it's haunted. Does the house have an unpleasant history such as someone being murdered there? Have people seen or heard things in the house before?

3. Create relatable characters

Take great care to create realistic and interesting characters. The readers will want to be able to identify with what the main character is going through and who they are. If there are evil characters, you will want your readers to feel a different set of emotions.

  • Create a main character or protagonist that the readers can identify with. A protagonist is the main character that will experience most of the action. Do a character sketch, writing down as many details about the appearance or personality of the character as you can. You might also want to think about their connection with the setting. Did they rent an old house to get away from something out of their past? Did they move to a small town because of a new job? The more realistic your protagonist is, the more your readers will identify with them.
  • You may also want to create an antagonist. An antagonist is a character that is harmful towards or opposes another character or characters. In a ghost story, the antagonist is often a ghost, vampire, werewolf or some other type of supernatural creature. Just as you did with your protagonist, write down all of the characteristics you want the character to have. Unlike the protagonist, the antagonist will have traits that the reader will likely find unpleasant.
  • Think of secondary characters and their characteristics. The protagonist may have friends and family that help them in their situation. The antagonist may have allies or accomplices that help them to do harm to the protagonist or some other character. Make sure you flesh out the details (appearance and personalities) of these characters as well.

4. Plan your story

Now you have a setting and you have created your characters. It's time to work on the plot by creating an outline. Once you have created your outline, you will be ready to begin writing your story. The outline will serve as a blueprint for the experiences your characters will go through. Many writers use the story arc model to plan their stories. There are different versions of the story arc model, but most of them include eight main parts:

  1. Stasis: This is the beginning of the story, which features the normal or the everyday lives of the main characters. This part of the story gives the reader a picture of the character's lives before the action begins.
  2. Trigger: During this part of the story, the protagonist experiences something out of the ordinary that begins the action in the story. It is often an event that the main character has no control over.
  3. The Quest: The trigger is often an unpleasant event. This event inspires the protagonist to go on an adventure to find a solution to the problem presented to them or to return to a state of normalcy.
  4. Surprise: Once the protagonist embarks on their quest, they will experience many surprises. These surprises represent problems or unexpected obstacles the characters face. These events should take the reader by surprise, but they should be believable and realistic.
  5. Critical Choice: The protagonist should face a critical decision at some point in the plot. This is where they make a choice about a course of action. During this part of the story, you should show how the protagonist deals with difficult decisions. In a horror story, if the protagonist makes a good decision it may save their lives or other characters' lives. If they make the wrong decision, it could end in tragedy.
  6. Climax: Once your protagonist makes their critical choice, they will face the most difficult moment in the story. This is the point where the tension is at its highest. It is often a battle between the protagonist and antagonist.
  7. Reversal: This part of the story is the result of the choice the protagonist made. It is the outcome of the event that happens during the climax and the decision the main character made. The protagonist should undergo some change after the climax.
  8. Resolution: At the end of the story, the characters should return to a state of normalcy. However, the protagonist should be changed in some way as a result of their experiences. Often, the main character is stronger or wiser.

For more information on the eight part story arc model, refer to DailyWritingTips.com.

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

5. Write and edit your first draft

Once you have completed your outline, you are ready to begin writing your first draft. As you write, use the events in your outline to keep you on track. Slowly build the tension and fear that your characters face. Write in the active voice, leaving the reader to use their imagination. Finally, read your first draft and make any corrections or change any inconsistencies in the story.

  • As you write each scene, try to let the tension and fear slowly build. The early scenes in the story should only hint at the action to come. For example, you might write a story about a house that's haunted. At first, the protagonist may hear voices or see things move on their own. As the story progresses, they may actually see a ghost or come into contact with it.
  • When you write your scenes, try to allow the reader to use their imagination. In other words, don't reveal all the details. For example, when describing a ghost that the protagonist sees, don't give too much detail. Example: "A shadow began to grow in height, moving slowly towards Karen. Its features slowly began to come into focus, revealing a scowling face and glowing eyes." This description allows the reader to fill in some of the details, hinting at the general description of the ghost.
  • As you write your sentences use the active voice rather than the passive voice. The active voice is a more direct way of writing that shows a subject performing a direct action such as: "Mary lit the candle to see what shape was beside her in the dark." The passive voice shows the subject being acted on by the verb or action such as: "The candle was lit by Mary so that she could see what shape was beside her in the dark."
  • Once you are done writing your first draft, you should read each sentence. Check to make sure that there aren't any grammatical or spelling errors. Also, check to make sure that there are no inconsistencies. For example, if an event happens at a specific time in your story, make sure that you don't use a different time when you refer to it in another place. Allow friends and family members to read your story. Fresh eyes might spot mistakes that you didn't notice.
  • Re-write your story as needed. You should correct grammatical/spelling errors. Also, correct any inconsistencies. Now you are ready to show people your final draft.

Writing ghost stories is frightful fun if you follow a few guidelines. Try to base your story on your own fears or someone else's. Pick a setting that is creepy and central to the action that will take place. Create well-developed characters that the reader can relate to. Use the eight-point story arc model to create an outline. Write your rough draft using the active voice, building the fear and suspense slowly. Re-read your story and correct any errors or inconsistencies. Write your final draft once you have made your corrections. Soon you will have your friends and family shaking in their shoes over your scary Halloween story.

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