Writing a ghost story has turned out to be harder than I’d thought. When I was told I’d need to have a tale prepared for the next group gaming session (dice, pens, paper, all that good nerd stuff), my first thought was that a tale to chill the listener would be just the thing to suit our players and the tone of the game so far.
What I didn’t expect was how difficult penning this thing was actually going to be. I’ve been working to try my hand at writing stories of different genres, lengths, and styles this year but the ghost story still eludes me. Is it because I don’t believe in the supernatural? I’m a realist. An atheist. A pessimist. Call it what you will, but without measurable, repeatable data I don’t believe that it’s there.
Enough about my grumpy self – back to ghost stories! Whatever it is that we do or don’t believe in as readers or writers, there is still something undeniably spine-tingling about being haunted by what we cannot explain. And while many of the monsters, themes, and recurring story arcs find their way into our popular culture, the age of the ghost story is undeniably long past. When you can just turn on the lights to check for spectres at any hour of the day, a lot of the terror starts to ebb.
Ghost stories, as do most stories not written in the past 200 or so years, began as an oral tradition. Imagine the Victorian era – creaky floorboards, oddly behaved house staff members, flickering gas lamps, squeaking doors – riddled with fuel for the most haunting yarns. Nights would be passed by both the servants and the residents of any decent home telling tales of the uncanny and, with so many ambient sights and sounds, how could they do anything but believe these tales to be true?
Long, dark winter nights that begin early in the evenings are the perfect time for stories of the eerie and and inexplicable. Reliable electric lighting, easy access to various media sources, and a healthy dose of skepticism have brought these stories to the very edge of society to the point of easy derision. Honestly, that’s where I’d prefer they stay. Except when I need a bit of a boost writing about a cursed sword. Ah well! Back to the spooky drawing board!