Starting a Ghost Story
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Starting a Ghost Story

    See also: Short Story Openings

    The Setting (Where? When?)

    Which of these settings is most effective? Why?

    A Craven Hall was a crumbling, red-brick building set in a valley between steep, limestone hills. The window panes had all been broken. An overgrown rose bush by the front door had toppled over and now blocked the entrance. Peering into the gloomy interior, Debbie could see a long dining table covered with the melted remains of over a hundred candles.

    B It was an old house. It was very spooky. It gave me a kind of weird feeling.

    C No. 23 Kathmandu Road was a colonial bungalow. Until the 1950s some well-off English family had lived there. Now the roof tiles were mossy and the white walls were flaking. Rotting bamboo blinds screened the verandas and shuttered windows creaked in the breeze. At dusk, bats streamed out from under the eaves and disappeared into the mango trees.

    D The castle was really big. It looked weird. There was thunder and lightning.

    E The castle stood on a cliff overlooking a fast moving stream. Sharp turrets rose out of the mist and each flash of lightning revealed the gruesome gargoyles that crouched under the eaves.

    Now you try!


    The Characters

    Which of the following character descriptions is most effective? Why?

    A Kartina was a short girl. She was normal. She liked netball. Her favourite kind of music was pop music. She lived in Jakarta.

    B Kazuo Imoto walked with a limp caused by a car accident during his childhood in Kyoto. He wore small round spectacles but frequently removed these and waved them around as he spoke. His hair had started to recede and his high forehead seemed to glow slightly.

    C Emma Carter made friends easily. Her gentle smile and relaxed manner encouraged people to trust her. She had fair hair, usually tied back with a simple ribbon, and preferred jeans to skirts. Her nose was her strongest feature, quite long but still attractive. She resembled a bird of prey, Nana thought.

    D The ghost was horrible. It looked like white light. It had fangs. There was blood on the fangs. It was scary.

    E The man stroked his dark moustache and grinned. I noticed a gold tooth. "How do you do?" he asked, offering a gloved hand. Driving gloves? Or was he feeling cold? I extended my own hand and was startled to find that I was grasping nothing but air.

    Now you try!


    Opening a Story

    Stories can begin in various ways. Which of the following openings are effective? Why?

    A "Letís get the hell out of here now! Run! Run!"

    B Archie yelled, pushing past me and out into the dark garden. I stumbled after him, crashing like a blind elephant through the sunflowers.

    C One day when I was living in Japan, I visited a mountain with my family. We climbed for about one hour until we reached an old Buddhist temple. The temple was surrounded by tall fir trees. My father told me that the temple was haunted.

    D The shape slithered closer. Dark, slimy, blood-red. I smelled a stench like rotting meat. My mouth went dry. I tried to scream but only a choking sound came out.

    E The abandoned boarding house stood among tall rain trees, its walls choked by weeds and grass. Dead cockroaches littered the empty drawers and cobwebs threaded the stale air. Lockers lay on bedroom floors like fallen soldiers on a battleground. Students were forbidden to go there, of course, but Yusry Adam was curious and the challenge excited him. So now his footsteps echoed in the long corridor as he followed the pale light of his torch.

    Now try out possible openings for your own story.

    Frankie Meehan