A key advantage which can be exploited by a ghost story author is that the reader is aware and therefore awaiting the arrival of a spiritual element. As a result, the author may have opportunity to offer further detail when describing the initial setting than would be tolerated in an action based adventure. This can allow for development of an overall sense of foreboding, gloom or tension within the tale right from the outset.
Modern ghost stories evolved from Gothic fiction and careful description of the setting represents a crucial component for both. Offering detail of the scenery can offer threat, intrigue, and even deception, all of which help to build tension into the tale. Selection of an atmospheric yet typically familiar setting can help to ensure the reader can envision the scenery as described. Castles, churches and secluded country properties all offer ample opportunity for terror due to the spacious isolation offered. Inclusion of macabre elements can help to build tension due to the potential threat which they may pose. Inclusion of a torture chamber within a castle implies spiritual disquiet; a cemetery presents potential legions of spirits while isolation in stories never bodes well!
Composing an eerie tale requires careful manipulation of the story to ensure maximum impact, which is perhaps best demonstrated by the mastery of M. R. James and his Jamesian style. This style includes selection of a protagonist that enables the reader to realistically imagine themselves in the heart of the story; detailed description of scenery; protracted story progression to build tension; and, of course, a malignant spirit.
Another key advantage of writing ghost stories is that a crucial character exists 'off-stage' allowing for deliberate inconsistencies within the narrative. Perhaps a character closes a window to exclude a draft only to have it open in a later scene thereby allowing a stray cat, or perhaps a witch's familiar, to enter the room. As the reader is aware of the potential for supernatural elements within the tale perhaps these inconsistencies reflect a ghostly presence, an unreliability of the narrator, or merely a compositional blooper. Further reading is required!
Manipulation of point of view can allow for scope in setting the scene and offer potential for an unreliable narrator. Selection of first person point of view can make for a claustrophobic atmosphere. Alternatively selection of second person point of view could prove to make the story highly personal and intense, albeit also requiring a greater suspension of disbelief. Combining a descriptive Gothic setting and macabre elements with a restrictive point of view could achieve a high level of tension all before the supernatural elements manifest. All that remains is to select your favourite phantom and insert at your leisure!
This blog post was written in the spirit of the April 2014 A-Z Challenge whereby a post is written every day during the month of April (with the exception of Sunday). The theme of each post is meant to correspond with a letter of the alphabet in sequential order. Wednesday's post will be on T. For details and to visit the A-Z Challenge website, click here.