By Chris Habash
BOO. Did I scare you? If not, that’s good. Because that one scare did not really have any heart or background to support the psychological fright that I intended to elicit. Everyone knows that a good scary story has to have a ghost or some demonic or frightening creature, like a vampire, wolf, or dragon. The key to writing a successful ghost story however, of course revolved around a “ghost” aspect, but it’s very important how to use that ghost to your advantage (and the reader’s disadvantage). Perhaps the age-old tactic in writing a ghost story is the creepy setting. Ever wonder why they always occur in an ancient or abandoned place like a mansion, hotel, or a graveyard? There is a very important reason and it involves the aspect of the history of the setting. Staying in an ancient hotel is creepy and scary, because of the history of the place. Was there a murder here? Did someone jump off the roof? Mysterious history provides the reader an excellent aspect of the “unknown” because whatever happened years ago could manifest itself in the modern time.
This brings me to my next point, which is the uncanny. Now, you usually hear someone say “there is an uncanny resemblance between them two.” Uncanny is a term that dates back to Freud. Perhaps the simplest definition is that the uncanny elicits an emotional response that stems from something that was once known and familiar, but is now not.
The German words heimlich and unheimlich are very important. What’s weird is that heimlich has two definitions, one that it has to do with something homely, domestic, and familiar and the same word also has another definition – something concealed, private, or secret. Given this conundrum, you can only guess what unheimlich means. According to Schelling, “Unheimlich is the name for everything that ought to have remained secret and hidden but has come to light.”
A good ghost story always has an uncanny aspect, heimlich or unheimlich, you pick. This connects back to the hidden history that has now come back to light and it is frightening because I guess it really should have just stayed hidden in the past.
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