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Scary-good Tips on Writing Haunted House Stories

Haunted House Stories where things go bump in the night in ramshackle abandoned shacks or big fancy suburban homes, strange lights switch on and off, and voices echo in gloomy corridors, have been fascinating readers and authors for years now.

Here on Daily (w)rite, as part of the guest post series, it is my pleasure today to welcome Audrey Chin, a Southeast Asian author whose work explores gender, faith and culture. She’s sensitive to the atmosphere of spaces and believes in the imponderables; love, ghosts and God included.  Her Asian Gothic mystery, The Ash House, came out this  August, and has received a lovely reception. She’s here today to speak about the crafting of a haunted house story. Take it away, Audrey!

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What I learnt about writing a haunted house classic

My latest novel, the Asian Gothic mystery, The Ash House, has hit the charts in Gothic fiction and it’s all thanks to the classics. I read a ton of them while researching my story. This is what I found :

The essence of a spooky house classic

The best haunted house stories don’t just terrify in the moment. Beyond the usual elements of story – characters, settling, plot, conflict and resolution – haunted house classics linger.

Yes, it’s the acronym LINGER that makes haunted house stories shine. 

  • ‘L’ – It’s the LIVING we root for in a haunted house story.

Ensure living characters engage and have skin in the game.  

In The Ash House, the ambitious young maid and lonely heir in the house have love, a fortune, and lives to lose. That’s why we keep turning the pages. We’re invested in their fate. 

  • ‘I’ – The action occurs INSIDE. A haunted house isn’t merely a setting. It’s a character in its own right.

Bring the house alive as Shirley Jackson did in The Haunting of Hill House.

Make walls speak, even when silent. Create openings leading to mystery and corridors channeling enchantments. Configure an architecture that confuses.    

  • ‘N’ – NARRATIVE point of view (POV).

Point of view is the ‘eye’ through which readers experience our story.

Channeling events through single characters is intimate. When readers know only as much as the narrator, their fear feels almost visceral. They become the bewildered lawyer haunted by Sylvia Hill’s Woman in Black.

A third-person omniscient narrative offers a broader perspective. Readers know more than the characters. In William Peter Blatly’s the Exorcist, this POV shows the demon at work all over the world. Evil does not just inhabit a little girl’s body, it is everywhere. How frightening is that? 

To find the best POV, we must become our readers. How would they want to be immersed in the story? 

  • ‘G’ – GHOSTS! Must a haunted house story have ghosts?

Daphne Du Maurier’s classic Rebecca, is a ghost story with no ghost. The first Mrs. De Winter, Rebecca, is dead. Yet, for good or ill, she lives so palpably in the memories of all who encountered her, she even haunts the new wife who’s never met her.

So, yes. Something definitely has to linger. It’s up to us what that is.

  • E’ – It’s the ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM.

Secrets want out. Secrets haunt.

In Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, two sisters are confined to their family property in the aftermath of a family poisoning. The tragedy casts a shadow on all their interactions. Yet the two never speak of it.

Consider the unspoken, the secrets dying to get out from the walls. Consider what happens when they’re let out.

  • ‘R’ – The nearly REAL will stay with readers longer than full-on fantasy.

Make one or two everyday activities and objects central to the story.

In Stephen King’s novel Dolores Clairborne, a rich woman Vera is haunted by dust-bunnies. They prove to be her undoing. Fluffs of dust under the bed have scared me ever since. That’s how powerfully the image ‘lingers’.

Classics featuring haunted houses in a Snapshot

Here’s my summary of the 10 classics that stayed with me, how the six elements feature in them, and what struck me in each. There’s a diversity of settings, characters, ghosts and secrets here. Hopefully, they’ll inspire!

CLICK HERE TO SEE THE HAUNTED HOUSE CHART.

Start with your own haunted house story

  • Go deep. Be personal.

Find the one lingering thing from the psyche.

In the case of my novel The Ash House, it was a family secret – a snippet of conversation between a first wife and a third about removing their rival, an unknown middle wife. Who was she?

  • Do the terrifying thing – start writing.

It’s amazing the depths plumbed once a story unfolds. Our best stories come from the places we fear most.

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What haunted house classics are your favorite? Have you read Asian Gothic fiction? Do you have questions for Audrey? Are you going to pick up the book?

(I’ve read The Ash House and highly recommend it! Pick it up if you like horror stories that go beyond scary tropes. )


Do you enjoy flash fiction ?My own debut literary crime novel,”You Beneath Your Skin,” published by the fab team at Simon and Schuster IN is optioned to be a TV series by Endemol Shine.

It is available in India here.

Worldwide, here.

Reviews are appreciated–please get in touch if you’d like a review copy.

If you’re on Amazon, I’d appreciate it if you gave my Amazon author profile a Follow, here.

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Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her forthcoming literary crime thriller, The Blue Bar is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency, and will be published by Thomas & Mercer on January 1, 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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22 Comments

  • Christy B says:

    The LINGER acronym seems like a great recipe for writing a spooky tale! Great guest post 👻🎃

  • Jemima Pett says:

    That’s a really useful mnemonic. It even got creepier as it went on!

    • Audrey Chin says:

      Hi Jemima
      Thanks for connecting. Happy it gave you the creeps. Why not try the 10 classics and see how much creepier those are.

  • DutchIl says:

    Thank you for sharing!!… I do not write ghost stories but as far as haunted houses, the first to come to mind is “The Fall of The House of Usher”.. of course, my favorite to read at Halloween is not about a haunted house, “The Hound of The Baskervilles”… with open mind, I will definitely check out The Ash House… 🙂

    Until we meet again..
    May love and laughter light your days,
    and warm your heart and home.
    May good and faithful friends be yours,
    wherever you may roam.
    May peace and plenty bless your world
    with joy that long endures.
    May all life’s passing seasons
    bring the best to you and yours!
    (Irish Saying)

  • In the case of my novel The Ash House, it was a family secret – a snippet of conversation between a first wife and a third about removing their rival, an unknown middle wife. Who was she? Wow women are not to be messed around with.

    • Audrey Chin says:

      HI Stephen.
      Yes, these old-time women didn’t have much except the domestic space. They did have to go at it nail and claw to keep what they had.
      Don’t know if its a good thing they’re all dead now. Might still be lingering in a corner of the attic somewhere.
      All best
      A

  • mitchteemley says:

    I’ve never written a scary story per se, but am intrigued at the idea. This whets my interest even more!

    • Audrey Chin says:

      Hello Mitchell. Thanks for connecting. Why not start this weekend? Here’s a writing prompt – What’s your least favourite spot in a house? why?

  • cleemckenzie says:

    Nothing better than a good haunted house story! Great post today with lots of good tips. Thanks.

  • rxena77 says:

    The haunted French Quarter mansion in my novel … No, I will not hawk my own wares here.:-) That mansion is all too real and the horrific murders have never been solved. I had fun “solving” them. And, yes, your characters have to be such that root for them to make it … but it is fun to throw in a character who survives when the reader very much wishes the survival did not happen! Great pointers.

    • Audrey Chin says:

      HI rxena,
      I love the French Quarter. Can you private message me with the title?
      Thanks for the tip about leaving one of the ‘meanies’ surviving. That’s a great way to move on to a sequel!
      Cheers
      Audrey

  • JT Twissel says:

    I’m a huge fan of Rebecca and I think the ghost is actually in the minds of the characters. I agree, a haunted house is a character in itself.

    • Audrey Chin says:

      HI JT
      Rebecca is really one of those that linger. I love the opening lines – Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. Now that’s a place with a character!
      Thanks for checking in and hope the tips help with your writing.

  • What a wonderful acronym. Thank you both.
    Another big yes for the setting being an often underused character.

    • Audrey Chin says:

      Hi Elephant’s Child
      Thanks for visiting.
      Do you write about elephants in the rooms with character?
      If so, hope the tips are helpful.
      Cheers
      Audrey

  • In the best haunted house stories, the house is indeed a character!

  • Yikes! No wonder I am afraid of haunted stories! Love the idea that a haunted house is a character, not a setting. And, I was surprised to hear the best of this genre are stories that linger with the reader, not just during the reading. Yikes again!

    • Audrey Chin says:

      Hi Jacqui

      Thanks for connecting.
      Lots of other non-genre stories linger too.
      I just read Emily Itami’s Faultines and that has been with me the last few days.
      And of course, Damyanti’s You Beneath Your Skin is unforgettable, even though it’s not really a haunted house story.

      What non-scary stories can’t you forget?

      Audrey

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