"A word after a word after a word is power" - Margaret Atwood


A blog for readers and writers

A blog about the stories we tell each other and how we tell them...

Monday, 19 September 2011

Write the perfect ghost story

It's that time of year again.
Sainsbury's are stocking pumpkins and this morning I was greeted by a bargain scream mask (plus cloak) in a charity shop. It's the season to be scared or - if you're a writer - to frighten the bejayus out of readers.
I love the definitions that Write Club in Atlanta have come up with for writing - they work so well for the kind of stroy telling I have in mind:
The Tenderest Bloodsport
No-Holds-Barred Brain Wrestling.
A Lit-Punch to the back of the skull. 
So, if you want to grapple with a reader, pin them down until they surrender and read every single word, then I suggest you think about the ghost story genre. I wrote about the essential ingredients last winter and you can find it here
One of the points I made then was that horror  is a test of a writer's ability to create atmosphere.
With no props, no scary noises and no control over how the reader will come face to face with the world you've created (on a kindle on a bus trip to the shops when you're already overdrawn, on a beach with sand working its way into bikini bottoms) you only have one shot at  raising the hairs on the back of the neck. 
A tool that is often over looked is a very, very, very simple one. It's to do with varying the length of sentences and the length of words.
Short chapters, short sentences and one syllable words can give the impression of speed in an action novel. (See how the James Patterson team use that device.) But they are also very effective at conveying tension and high emotion.
Take these two (top of the head and unpolished) examples.
She was seriously ill for several months and passed away yesterday evening.
She was ill for a long time. She died last night. She's gone.
I rest my case....

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