You don’t have to be a writer to know the feeling of walking into a building – whether it is a home, a hospital, a school or a church – and get a strange feeling of discomfort and fear. When you get that feeling that all is not right within a certain place, it can be a horrific experience that stays with you for the rest of your life. It is an experience that writers have been capturing for centuries, and when done well, it can be truly terrifying. There may be 6 ways writing affects society, yet ghost writing – literally – affects one’s self.
Ghost stories and horror stories are usually the most popular kinds of stories that use this device, but this isn’t to say that writing from a bad place has to be rooted in the supernatural. Sometimes the scariest places are those that are most familiar to us. Walking into a childhood home that holds bad memories for the first time in years could be just as disturbing an experience as walking into a supposedly haunted house in the middle of the night.
Haunted Houses and Their Wide-Reaching Influence
The haunted house has been a staple of the writing world for centuries, and has a far reaching influence that carries over years, genres and even art forms. For example, many film critics consider Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi horror Alien to be a haunted house film. All the mechanisms of the classic haunted house film are there: A small band of people are being terrorized by a force that they don’t understand, and are being picked off one by one and turned against each other in the process. The alien is kept off-screen for large amount of the film, and isn’t fear of the unknown and what we can’t see is what makes haunted house stories so terrifying?
Unlike business writing success which requires sleight of hand, haunted house stories work so well because they take away the safety net of the home. When you are home you feel safe, and there is nothing worse than feeling like your home is no longer safe, and that is has been violated by something that you don’t understand.
I can remember being a child and standing at the bottom of the stairs at my house. I would stare up at the landing, which was darker than where I was standing, the stairs becoming darker and darker the further up the stairs I got. I would imagine all kinds of horrific things happening, and I know that many writers have had similar experiences. So many haunted house stories have children as integral characters. The trouble usually begins with the pets, then the children, before the real terror begins.
The Overlook Hotel and Other Stephen King Locations
The Shining has the distinguished honor of being both an extremely popular book and one of the scariest films of all time. The reason for this is that both the author Stephen King and the director Stanley Kubrick completely understood that it was the location of the story – The Overlook Hotel – that holds the key to the story being terrifying. Huge, isolated and silent, and with a horrific past, the hotel is terrifying even before Danny Torrence starts to experience his visions, and way before his father starts to be driven insane by its spirits. Both the film and the novel establish mood and atmosphere in the bad place first, and it works wonders on the audience. Keep this in mind, yet fully understand the essay writing career path of ghostwriters isn’t ever the same.
Stephen King wrote about ‘bad places’ in his 1981 book ‘Danse Macabre’:
“The list [of bad places] is endless, and probably all of it goes back to the caveman who had to move out of his hole in the rock because he heard what sounded like voices back there in the shadows. Whether they were actual voices or the voices of the wind is a question we still ask ourselves on dark nights.”
M. R. James and the Victorian Ghost Story
The supernatural short story exploded in the Victorian age, and M.R James was one of the most successful writers of the period. His short stories are almost all born out of a bad place, and are usually the result of a visitor searching for an item in a place and taking it away with them, before being terrorized by a malevolent spirit. Read Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad and A Warning to the Curious for two of the greatest examples of his work, although there are many more that are equally as brilliant. The BBC turned these two stories (and others) into fantastic TV adaptations in the sixties and seventies, and they have stood the test of time. There are, of course, 10 tips for creative writers which could also accompany this information, too.
More recently, The Woman in Black by Susan Hill has become a very popular ghost story, and it is set in the Victorian era and follows a very similar path as an M. R James classic, or others from the Victorian age. Let us not forget that one of the most famous stories of all time, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, is a Victorian ghost story, and many of his works have a supernatural element to them. The picture of Scrooge being visited in his bed by spirits is one of the terrifying images ever committed to the page, even if film adaptations starring the Muppets have slightly eroded its impact. But imagine being read that tale in your bed as a child in the years following its release. Oh, the terror!
How to Write from a Bad Place
When you write a ghost story, you are looking to create a feeling of strangeness, and uncovering of the unfamiliar in the familiar. It is creating this mood and atmosphere that will set the scene perfectly and unsettle the reader, leaving them vulnerable to what you throw at them next.
There are a number of plot structures that the author Noel Carroll set out in his book The Philosophy of Horror or Paradoxes of the Heart. They are:
Onset – Scenes and sequences involving manifestations of the unnatural being
Discovery – An individual or group learns of the existence of the unnatural being
Confirmation – Discoverers, or believers, convince others of the unnatural being’s presence
Confrontation – The unnatural being is approached – and dispatched?
Carroll also suggests that there are 14 possible combinations of these plot elements, so you don’t have to use all of them. Why not pick out a couple and form a ghost story of your own, based on a bad place that you have experienced in your lifetime? Just make sure you can sleep afterwards.
Daley is a writer and filmmaker who wants to help his fellow writers to get out there fully confident and armed with a great novel. He can be found struggling with his own career at www.daleyjfrancis.com