Glossary Home Genre

Ghost Story

A ghost story is any story that involves a supernatural, ghost element. It is a subgenera of fantasy and mystery.

A ghost story may also be a story that takes place under the premise that ghosts may or do exist. For example, investigators who do not believe in ghosts spend a short story investigating a supposedly haunted house. 

In most traditional ghost stories, a ghost does appear at some point. They can take different forms, from an aggrieved spouse to a young child, executed criminal, and more. 

ghost story


Ghost Story Definition

Ghost stories are pieces of literature that are written with the intention of drawing the reader in and then scaring them.

People read these stories for the express purpose of being scared or disturbed by what they encounter. Throughout time, ghost stories have taken the form of novels, plays, short stories, and even long poems. These have been passed down in both written and oral forms. 

Ghost stories may also involve haunted places and objects. For example, a possessed doll or mirror. Haunted houses are classic examples. There may be more than one ghost, haunted object, or possessed person in a haunted house. 

While most ghost stories involve a scary ghost, one that means harm to the main characters (or initially seems to mean harm), other stories involve ghosts as messengers or symbols. For example, ghosts can appear as prophets of things to come or even stop something terrible from happening. 

Examples of Ghost Stories 

“Mostellaria” by Plautus 

This is the earliest example of literature to feature a haunted house. It was written as a comedy, sometime between 254 – 184 BC, and takes place in the city of Athens. The plot is concerned with a young man, Philolaches, who is having a party with his friends when his slave, Tranio, interrupts to announce his father has returned. Tranio greets Philolaches’ father and pretends that he can’t enter the home because it’s haunted. 

Here is a quote from  Act I, Scene 2 of the play. The following lines are spoken by Philolaches: 

I’ve often thought and long reflected on it, and in my breast have held many a debate, and in my heart (if any heart I have) have revolved this matter, and long discussed it, to what thing I’m to consider man as like, and what form he has when he is born? I’ve now discovered this likeness. I think a man is like unto a new house when he is born. I’ll give my proofs of this fact.


“The Signal Man” by Charles Dickens 

“The Signal Man” is a horror ghost story written by Charles Dickens. It was first published in 1866 in Mugby Junction. The story features a railway signalman who has been repeatedly haunted by a specter. Every time the ghost appears, something terrible happens on the railway where the man is working. The first is a collision between two trains, the second is the mysterious death of a young woman on a passing train and then the third, which is against signaled by another appearance of the specter, is the signalman’s own death. Here is a quote from the story: 

‘This,’ he said, again laying his hand upon my arm, and glancing over his shoulder with hollow eyes, ‘was just a year ago. Six or seven months passed, and I had recovered from the surprise and shock, when one morning, as the day was breaking, I, standing at that door, looked towards the red light, and saw the specter again.’ He stopped, with a fixed look at me.

Explore Charles Dickens’ poetry and Dickens’ best books.

“The Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allan Poe

A deeply interesting short story that was first published in 1842. In this piece, Poe depicts Prince Prospero as he tries to hide from the Red Death. He ends up at a masquerade ball along with other nobles. A masked figure disguised as the Red Death arrives at the party way through the festivities. Prospero dies after confronting this figure, as do all the other guests. Here is a quote from the story: 

The “Red Death” had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar and its seal—the redness and the horror of blood. There were sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution. 

Read Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry

FAQs 

Why are ghost stories important? 

Ghost stories are important as they often present deeper-set fears in an easy-to-digest manner. These stories may seem like pure entertainment. But, more often than not, there is a moral to be discovered. 

How do you write a ghost story?

Writers can include a ghost in any situation. They could be terrifying, comedic, or thoughtful approaches to its depiction. Exploring themes like the afterlife and fear is often a good place to start.

What does a ghost story need?

A ghost story usually needs a few aspects. They include fear, someone who doesn’t believe, a scary setting, a back story, and a reason for the ghost to be present. 

What happens in a ghost story?

Usually, the plot of a ghost story revolves around people trying to figure out what’s wrong in a particular situation, accepting that it’s something supernatural, and trying to defeat it and save their own lives. 


Related Literary Terms 

  • Fantasy: a literary genre that includes talking animals, magic, and other worlds. It includes plots that couldn’t take place in the real world.
  • Horror: a genre of fiction that plays with human fear, feelings of terror, dread, and repulsion to entertain the audience
  • Gothic: that which deals with themes of death, the supernatural, sorrow, fear, loss, and more.
  • Short Story: a piece of writing with a narrative that’s shorter than a novel. These stories usually only take one sitting to read.
  • Novella:  a prose, fiction work that’s shorter than a novel and longer than a short story. 
  • Moral: the meaning or message conveyed through a story.


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