But first…. Ready for fright season? Get your copy of “Ghostly Cries From Dixie,” TODAY! Kindle and paperback editions available. Click here! Pleasant dreams.
Checking my stats this evening, I noticed someone had found my site by using the search term, “how to write a ghost story.” How to write a ghost story? I’m flattered, indeed, but I’ve yet to offer any insight into writing about things that go bump in the night. Until now.
What is a ghost story? A story involving a character(s) of a ghostly, paranormal nature? A story about a ghost that swipes cookies from the kitchen, wakes you up, and sucks all the energy from your body while regurgitating said cookies? Could a ghost story be a journalistic approach to solving, or trying to explain, a haunting? I suppose it could be any of the above, but I deal only with the latter, the journalistic approach. Neither a believer nor a skeptic, my unbiased approach to a haunting entails digging up lots of information (records), analyzing the information to separate fact from hocus-pocus, and presenting my findings–anything factual or noteworthy–to my readers.
Assuming I’ve completed a five-day trip to a haunted location 1000 miles away, and analyzed my findings, the example below is how I write the story. The example is NOT a perfect (edited) story. It flowed from the top of my head to my fingers, and then to my keyboard, as I thought it up. The example is based on a historic hurricane, but I know neither the date nor the particulars–I only know it happened at one of my favorite places. I borrowed the example’s main character from my book, Ghostly Cries From Dixie, changing her name from Marie LaVeau to Madame Treme’. Without further ado, here’s how I write a ghost story.
The Intro sometimes includes a ghostly hint before transitioning into the main story. By “story,” I mean the story of a real-life tragedy that caused the haunting. Here is an intro with a hint:
For years, people have heard the thunder of Voodoo drums and seen scantily-dressed characters dancing along the shore of Lake Pontchartrain. The eerie thumps and fervent apparitions fade into the early morning fog when approached, leaving witnesses terrified and searching for answers.
Other times, the intro goes straight into the story (no intro):
For over fifty years, Madame Treme’ led exotic Voodoo rituals involving animal sacrifices, drunken orgies, live boas along the shores of Lake Pontchartrain. These rituals would begin around 10 o’clock at night and last until daybreak.
The Tragedy (the reason for a haunting)
Ok, let’s assume we’ve done the intro and a three-page story, thus far. Now it’s time to seal the story with a tragedy:
Just before daybreak on a sweltry October morning, Madame Treme’ and her followers experienced what they thought were the gods. Thunder boomed and roared, the howling wind picked up, and lightning crackled in the usually dark sky. Weather warning systems didn’t exist in 1835; people were left to fend for themselves when they saw bad weather approaching. At night, there was no way to tell how bad an approaching front would be, until it was too late. The Voodoo ritual grew more intense as sheets of rain swept the now whitecapping lake and trees buckled. Within five minutes, a powerful hurricane changed the face of Lake Pontchartrain forever and buried Madame Treme’ and her followers in the lake’s murky depths.
The Transition (get your spook on)
Tragedy accomplished. Boo hoo. Now, let’s transition to the paranormal and create a ghost story:
Long lost, but not forgotten, Madame Treme’ was the most notorious Voodoo queen in Louisiana history. Men loved her, women coveted her, and the organized clergy cursed her. She weilded sceptre over those who followed her, sacrificing to the Loa, manipulating the human psyche, and destroying those who dared to cross her. And now, almost 180 years later, Madame Treme’ still wields her sceptre, more forcefully than ever, from her watery grave!
The Evidence (why we think there’s a ghost)
Paranormal transition accomplished. Now that we’ve got our spook on, we need to provide evidence to back our claim.
Anglers frequently report seeing an older Creole woman wandering the shores of Lake Pontchartrain at daybreak. When spoken to, she smiles and quickly turns in the opposite direction, then disappears. In 1998, two college students who had camped in the woods near the lake reported hearing Voodoo drums and seeing people dressed in Voodoo attire late one night. The figures danced near the shore and wailed repeatedly. The drum’s beat grew softer over the course of five minutes, and the mysterious revelers faded into the fog.
That’s not much evidence. For a real story in a book, you will need to interview more people. Make sure to get their names and make them sign releases, too. Now we need to present possible theories:
Some say the anglers and campers were smoking crack, and they hallucinated. A local scientist says the mysterous dancing figures, which are hard to discern at night, represent concentrations of methane gas, and that the drumbeats are the rumbling of nearby towboat engines. However, most people in the hamlet of Port Manchac feel the eerie sounds and apparitions are none other than Madame Treme’ and her followers, trapped in the worst hurricane on record, and trying to complete their rituals.
Despite many oft-conflicting theories and generalizations, one thing is certain. Something is wrong, very wrong, on the shore of Lake Ponchartrain. Is it evil? Is it religious? Will it hurt you? Your children? Should you dare to find out for yourself, make sure to carry a cross and watch our back.
And finally, if you’d like to see detailed examples–REAL ghost stories–you can snag a copy of Ghostly Cries From Dixie at Amazon for only $2.99 (Winter Special).