There’s nothing like a scary ghost story to spice up the long dark nights of a bitter winter evening and since every knows at least one spooky tale, it isn’t too difficult to work these up into an award winning ghost story. Remember though, these tales that are passed around pub bars and family firesides are usually not proper stories, but anecdotal accounts. If you are going to use one of these to base a ghost story contest entry on, you will need to do much more than put into words what your ears have just relayed to you!

Your ghost story will need it if you want to shiver your readers’ timbers! A really good supernatural tale needs plenty of atmosphere and tension. Placing your characters in the dark or an ill lit room will immediately create a feeling of unease. Add unknown noises which may or may not have logical explanations and fear will become almost palpable. A word of warning though! A good writer should have the ability to make any setting creepy so don’t think you need to have your ghostly tale set in a decrepit old house, a church or gothic castle. Set it in a modern high rise flat, the dry goods aisle of the local supermarket, the ladies toilets in the shopping mall or perhaps the postman’s van and you will immediately create an expectation of something out of the ordinary.

Ghost stories need strong plots to drive the chill factor. If you are basing your story on a ghostly anecdote then you all ready have the outline of a plot. For instance, almost everyone knows a variation of the phantom hitch-hiker story. There are many spins on it, but the main thrust concerns a driver on a lonely road, usually late at night when he sees someone at the verge. He offers a lift and drops the person off at a designated spot only to find out later that his passenger died many years earlier.

In itself, this isn’t a proper story for contest purposes, but it could be developed into a good plot. To do this, ask some “what if” type questions. What if the driver was the ghost … what if the hiker had evil intentions … what if the driver had evil intentions for that matter!

Use a mind map to generate ideas. This is a great way of working quickly and brainstorming unique angles. If you don’t know how to do it watch this Mind Mapping video. It's about writing a novel, but you can apply the same principles to short fiction.


Believable but larger than life As with all forms of story telling, it is the characters which will really bring your story to life. Your reader is a voyeur viewing and feeling the action through the safety of fiction. Although they know they are quite secure they should nonetheless, be made to feel the adrenaline producing emotions experienced by your major players.

To pull this off you must create characters with which your reader can identify. He or she must think, I know someone like that, it could be so and so or even me! Let’s go back to our phantom hitch-hiker story and play “what if” again.

What if the driver was a lecherous farmer carting hay one sunny afternoon? What if the hiker was a pretty girl in a provocative skirt? What if the girl played up to his advances luring him to an old mine shaft? What if his body was later found clutching a woman’s skeleton?

No doubt you could add a few more “what ifs” to this, but let’s take a look at these characters.

Give your farmer a rural burr, make him a rather jolly chap in a sleezy, queer sort of way and you will soon have your reader feeling apprehensive as to where things are leading. The girl could appear to be a giggly air head, oblivious to any danger she may be in, but nothing is as it seems!!!

Many of the classic writers wrote superb ghost stories M.R. James, Edgar Allan Poe, Kipling, Dickens and Conan Doyle are just a few of the great authors that have come up with chilling tales of the supernatural. If you are serious about wanting to write a really creepy ghost story then put aside a couple of weeks for some chilling reading!

You never know, you may find a spectral hand reaching out from the other side, guiding your writing!

Finally, if you intend writing a ghost story for a contest then you should read as many winning entries as possible. Our annual Christmas Chillers ghost story contest is now open for entries and always posts the previous winners online.


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