The nights are drawing in, and as I was writing this, Storm Ophelia had turned the sky a peculiar shade of yellow. We’re approaching All Hallow’s Eve, the ancient Feast of Samhain, when the veil between worlds is stretched to its thinnest. Not surprising, then, that our writerly musings turn to thoughts of ghost stories and all things spooky!
In my last post I suggested ways of finding inspiration for your central character, but what do you do with that character once you’ve pinned them down? The temptation is to hand them a mystery, an enemy, a weapon perhaps, but the real terror lies in your character’s reaction to the circumstances they face. What is a ghost, a demon or a villain without someone to interact with? This may seem obvious, but the drama comes from within the protagonist…a gut-trembling emotional response that resonates with the reader. Only by identifying with the protagonist can the reader experience fear, and feel for themselves the darkness, the tension, the danger.
This is perfectly played out in Susan Hill’s acclaimed ghost story The Woman in Black. Arthur Kipps, a junior solicitor, is called upon to attend to the affairs of the deceased owner of the decidedly creepy Eel Marsh House. Wreathed in mist and mystery, the house and its eerie setting play a big part in ramping up the tension, but it is Kipps’ sheer mounting terror when he realises he is not alone that sends shivers down the spine.
Arthur finds himself in Eel Marsh House at night (with a broken torch, of course!) and believes he hears the anguished cry of a child trapped in the marsh. He finds himself paralysed with fear. The haunting cry of the ghost child is almost peripheral to the character’s mounting terror, and the reader becomes totally invested in his fear. A lasting image is of Arthur, vulnerable and close to tears, cuddling his dog for comfort. We’re immediately returned to the seat of our childhood fears; dark nights and monsters under the bed. We can’t help but relive our own fear.
So- keep it simple, keep it emotional, and let the reader do the work!
Chasing Timer Sandra x