Writing ghost stories

I decided to take a break from my usual writing by working on some traditional ghost stories. We English tend to see ghost stories as a particularly English literary tradition. It’s not hard to see why. Ghost stories set in England use local landscapes, buildings, history, customs and folklore. (I assume Italian ghost stories seem particularly Italian for the same reason.)

When I’m working on urban fantasy romance I am very influenced by the North American urban fantasy television shows I watch. Many of those shows draw on European traditions. Grimm in particular had a strong German feel. Lost Girl drew on mythology from Europe and elsewhere.

The influence of North America is so strong, I have to resist the temptation to set my urban fantasy stories in places like Maine and the Pacific Northwest.

When I write ghost stories I’m immediately immersed in my own culture. There’s no temptation to Americanise.

I think ghost stories are very rooted to place. They’re almost a form of nature writing. They tend to be about individuals intensely experiencing their surroundings and human dynamics that existed in the place before.

Every genre has different requirements. In traditional ghost stories the following matter:

  • Psychology of the haunted person
  • A full sense of the environment
  • A sense of mystery and suspense
  • A credible explanation for the haunting (this can be the psychology of the ghost)

In today’s story planning session I thought about the generation of my parents and my grandparents. I thought about stories I’ve heard. I also thought about the interaction between old and new. Such as new office blocks on old sites.

It is interesting to see how different genres demand different approaches from the writer. Yet they all require similar elements such as credibility, mystery, plot structure etc…