Ghost Stories and How to Write Them
Synopsis: This book is for both writers and readers of ghost stories. Kathleen McGurl has sold dozens of short stories to women’s magazines, and a high proportion of them were ghostly tales. This book contains twelve of her stories, most of which were previously published in women’s magazines. Each one is used to spark off discussion topics which will help you think about what makes a successful ghost story for this market.
Kathleen McGurl lives in Bournemouth with her husband and teenage sons. She always wanted to write, and for many years was waiting until she had the time. Eventually she came to the bitter realisation that no one would pay her for a year off work to write a book, so she sat down and started to write one anyway. Since then she has sold dozens of short stories to women’s magazines. These days she is concentrating on longer fiction, and is currently completing her second full-length novel. She works full time in the IT industry and when she’s not writing, she’s often out running, slowly. Kath’s website is http://kathleenmcgurl.com.
I reviewed this eBook while in Chelmsford library so had no distractions other than fellow library users. This is the second ‘how to’ book I’ve read of Kath’s so I was sure I’d be in for a treat. Kath is the creator of the popular http://womagwriter.blogspot.co.uk blog so if you have an interest in writing for women’s magazines, do take a look… after you’ve read this review.
After an introduction on what makes a short story, including maths charts showing the difference between tragedy and comedy – which reminded me of my favourite movie, Stranger than Fiction – Kath talks about ghost stories for women’s magazines, and that they’re gentle, not scary. Kath explains that there are three main types of ghost story plots: 1. The ghost is the main character and solves a problem before they can rest; 2. The ghost isn’t the main character (MC) but helps the MC come to terms with a loss; 3. Stories that appear spooky but have a rational explanation. This in itself was really useful. I write very few ghost stories but I love ‘dark’ so this book might well encourage me to do so, especially as Kath’s sold most of the ghost stories she’s submitted.
The guide then starts its first story along the format of type 1 above followed by questions and answers, analysing the components of the story. A short section on ‘settings’ reiterates how important locations are in magazine stories, and that they can become characters in themselves. This section then leads on to a story where the setting is key, followed by another analysis.
There follows a story and analysis for type 2 and then the intriguing section entitled ‘Ghost stories with no ghost’ before another type 2 piece. After an example of a type 3, Kath advises us never to throw anything away. I agree. My clichéd heart sinks when I hear of writers who have deleted pieces of work (or entire novels) because they probably think it was worse than it was. Nothing is unusable as Kath shows us from her examples of earlier versions. Time and practice can work wonders and in Kath’s case, they made the difference between a sale and putting the story back in a file to gather dust (no reflection on Kath’s housekeeping skills!).
I’m not a fan of sci-fi (sorry any sci-fi fans reading this!) and Kath says the magazines don’t generally by the genre but they do print time travel stories and she then gave us an example of one of hers.
Going back to tutorial mode, Kath provides us with ‘rules’ for writing ghost stories which I bookmarked as they were very comprehensive.
I mentioned earlier that Kath sold ‘most’ of the ghost stories she’s submitted and, as she admits, she bravely included three of her stories which didn’t make the cut. I’ve not submitted many stories to women’s magazines (or anywhere else, to be fair!) and found it really useful that Kath analysed why she thought the stories were rejected… maybe she’ll change them and resubmit.
Kath ends the book with some writing prompts and encouragement to write our own short stories. I may well do just that for Story a Day May this month (the prompts for which I’m posting on the blog each day).
I often say to my students that a mixture of dialogue and description is important, and Kath’s stories are a reminder of this. By their nature, they are mixtures of short and longer sentences, and are therefore a ‘quick read’, definitely quality over quantity. The main element though is that they reflect everyday life. Perhaps not everyone will encounter ghosts in their lifetime but we will all have a sense of the ‘out of the ordinary’ or extraordinary, and probably why this type of story is so popular.
Rating: 5:5. Invaluable for anyone wanting to write ghost stories.
Based in Northamptonshire, England, 40-something Morgen Bailey (“Morgen with an E”) is a prolific blogger, podcaster, editor, Chair of NWG (which runs the annual H.E. Bates Short Story Competition), Head Judge for the NLG Flash Fiction Competition and creative writing tutor for her local county council. She is also a freelance author of numerous ‘dark and light’ short stories, novels, articles, and very occasional dabbler of poetry. Like her, her blog, https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com, is consumed by all things literary. She is also active on Twitter, Facebook along with many others (listed on her blog’s Contact page). She also recently created five online writing groups and an interview-only blog.
Her debut novel is the chick lit eBook The Serial Dater’s Shopping List ($0.99 / £0.77) and she has six others (mostly crime) in the works. She also has eight collections of short stories available (also $0.99 / £0.77 each) – detailed on https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/books-mine/short-stories.
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