What makes a good ghost story?

The other night I watched one of my favorite movies of all time. It was the 1940’s black and white classic, “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir”. I love that old stuff. Dark, shadowy and creepy. The old adage applies, they just don’t make them like that any more.

Not only is the movie a ghost story, it is also a romance. The tale of a widow who is trying to escape from under the thumb of her former in-laws by moving herself, young daughter and maid to the sea.

There she falls in love with “Gull Cottage” a home overlooking the ocean that is for sale on the cheap. When she discovers the house is haunted by the cantankerous but dashing Capt. Daniel Greg, she moves in anyway, much to the dismay of the apparition.

Over the years, a love story builds between the unlikely two, but underneath the story is a hint of suspense. Mrs. Lucy Muir never knows where Capt. Greg will appear or even if he will appear. Can he see her undressing for bed? Does her daughter see him too?

After awhile, we come to accept him as part of her everyday life even though his life has ebbed away like the waves upon the shore. We also fall in love with this seafaring rogue and can fully understand her love for him.

So, what makes for a good ghost story? I am not talking about a horror story with vampires and ghouls, I mean a real, honest to goodness ghost story.

I like to watch a movie that I can get totally lost in and I don’t want to see comic relief in a spooky movie which will completely turn me off. I heard rave reviews for “Insidious” but found the two buffoons playing the ghostbusters to almost be an insult to scary movies. Their presence created a break in the tension that personally, I did not need or want.

I also want a story that I can believe in, like it could possibly happen in real life. I want to be scared when I open the basement door or answer the phone late at night. I want to know that something or someone may be hiding under my bed.

I tend to write about things that scare me personally; mental illness and people coming back from the dead. There, I said it, now you know what scares me.

But when I write about such things, I have control over them and if they get out of hand and get too scary, I can just erase them if I feel like it. But most often then not, I let them live.

One of my favorite ghost stories is “The Others” which scared the heck out of me! The setting was dark and creepy and there were subtle signs that something was amiss with the housekeeping staff but we really never know until the end. One of the best compliments I can give a story is to say that I wish I had written it. Well, I wish I had written The Others.

If you like a good ghost story, check out my book “BENEATH THE BATTLEFIELD” which is a Civil War ghost story about a young soldier writing to his mother back home. I live near Antietam Battlefield in Maryland and find comfort in the solitude that resides there. Such hallowed ground, quiet hills and historic memories makes it one of my favorite places to visit. 

So, what makes a good ghost story for you?


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