Ghostly folklore, legends, and family stories are fertile soil for growing fiction of spirits, specters, the dead and undead. An example of this is my short story Bells.
Step one, start with what you’re familiar with by recalling and jotting down memories. For me, I remember seeing (for a split second) my great-great-grandmother beside me in the wavy mirror of my great-aunt’s home.
Great Aunt Georgie lived in a small town in western New York state known for its lake-effect snows. But it wasn’t the winter I recalled. For the first 20 years of my life, my family and I spent the Fourth of July in Phelps, NY at a family reunion with dozens of assorted cousins. And I remembered the leather strap of bells attached to the front door handle that clanged every time the door was opened or closed.
Step two, look at family memorabilia and photo albums. I leafed through an old album and spotted a sepia-toned picture of my Great Aunt June and Great Uncle Clifford. Then, I returned to step one and wrote down down a sleigh ride story Uncle Clifford had told me.
Step three, add some facts to root your fiction in reality. Mentioning actual locations, traditions, regional or national events, or historical figures all work well. Aunt Georgie’s house was located on the corner of Park Street and another road, and Oaks Corners wasn’t too far away. My father-in-law did indeed drill holes in his family’s Christmas tree’s trunk and filled-in the bare spots with whatever greenery was handy to create a fuller tree. And train gardens (HO, N Gauge, and American Flyer) are a part of my family’s traditions.
Step four, mix it up! Use your imagination to scramble facts and make-believe. In truth, Aunt June out-lived my great uncle by 15 years.
Step five, identify your theme and use your writing skills to gently shape the story. Re-order, tweak, polish, trim, expand – whatever is needed in the writing to make the tale flow smoothly from beginning to end.
So writers, use these steps to compose a ghostly story. Readers, try to figure out where the truth exists in some of your favorite ghost tales.
As for me, I followed these same steps when creating my zombie love story: The Return of Gunnar Kettilson due to appear shortly in Cemetery Moon magazine. But I’ll leave you guessing as to which parts are memory, which are folklore, which are fact, and which are make-believe.