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2021: Celebrating The Writers' Greenhouse
10 YEAR anniversary!

Friday, 10 July 2020

Weekly writing prompt: Ghost story

Ghost story

In the run-up to the online Summer of Writing workshops in August, I'm posting a writing prompt each weekend - plenty of different stuff for you to play around with as a chance to experiment, get your pen moving, and have fun! Each of the prompts loosely connects with a weekend pair of the Summer of Writing workshops, and I'll explain the connection at the end of the post each time. I find it's often more useful to play with prompts first, then think about their purpose afterwards, as we're more open and uninhibited that way. (That said, if you need to understand the point of something to enjoy it, feel free to scroll down and read that first!)

This week's prompt is A GHOST STORY. There's one caveat, though: a distinctly unghostly setting. Think of somewhere you absolutely don't associate with ghosts and ghost stories – somewhere crowded or busy or in the middle of the day. (We might be avoiding crowds now, but think back or ahead to them being a normal, even joyous thing.) Rush hour on the tube. A busy shopping centre. A crowded pub garden on a sunny summer bank holiday. Whatever place you pick, start there, start by describing it, and let the ghost emerge as you write...

A tip: usual story-structure advice is not to start with description. That's story-structure advice, though, not story-writing advice. For the actual writing, description's often an easy place to start, to get your pen moving. Later, you can shuffle it round to start with action. (Or decide you're going to break the rule and make it work!) And once you're done, what about editing your writing down to a piece of flash fiction? That's maximum 1000 words, but you can set much smaller maximums: 500 words, 300, 50...

And finally, your Fact for the Week on the word "ghost". It used to be spelt "gost", like its pronunciation and how any reasonable person would spell it. When the first English books were being typeset, they used Flemish typesetters, who put an "h" after every "g" that started a word, ghost, ghirl, gho, etc etc, because that's how Flemish works. Of course the first book was the Bible, which included "the Holy Ghost", and if that's how the Bible spelt it, well, it had to be right! So that's why we have a pointless / ghostly H in the middle of GHOST. You're welcome.

This is the third of the 5 weekly writing prompts running up to this year's online Summer of Writing workshops. This prompt links with the pair of workshops on place: Place is Story (Saturday 15 August) and Purposeful Description (Sunday 16 August). In any genre, the setting should shape the events, create the mood, weave into the action – and that sense of place is an essential part of what makes a story memorable. Place is essential to memory. (You can read more about that here.) Ghost stories highlight that especially strongly, because the place is integral (it's where the ghost is tied to) and the mood it creates sets the whole flavour of the story. That makes it excellent practice for developing your sense of place! And why did I tell you to pick somewhere unghostly? To let you explore your sense of place, not reach for the usual tropes of graveyards / ruins / abandoned buildings / etc: to find your own unexpected sense of the uncanny.

You can see all the previous prompts here and there's also a new prompt each week, so you can subscribe to the blog here:

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You can also follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram to get reminders. The full list of Summer of Writing workshops is...
  • 1. Creative Ground (Saturday 1 August): exploring the different kinds of thinking we need for creativity, process versus product driven approaches, and increasing our reservoirs of inspiration
  • 2. Creative Play (Sunday 2 August): experimenting with taking creative leaps, opening up to fresh ideas, and risk-free thinking
  • 3. Creating Voice (Saturday 8 August): creating or developing characters through exploring their voice
  • 4. Dialogue on the Page (Sunday 9 August): practical aspects of writing dialogue: its purpose in the story; common errors; attributing speech; and the descriptions and actions that go around it.
  • 5. Place is Story (Saturday 15 August): using rich locations to develop and create plot events
  • 6. Purposeful description (Sunday 16 August): writing description that serves strong narrative purposes and exploring techniques for strengthening your descriptive writing
  • 7. Shifting between Scenes (Saturday 22 August): how to keep the reader oriented about who characters are, what happened last, moving in time and place, and dealing with flashbacks elegantly
  • 8. Deft exposition (Sunday 23 August): a range of ways to weave explanation into a story and how to deal with "heavy-duty" exposition for more complex info
  • 9. Exploring Styles (Saturday 29 August): exploring a wide range of styles and the features of each, and experimenting with writing in different styles
  • 10. Polishing your Style (Sunday 30 August): using original imagery, selecting telling details, improving word choice, spotting clich├ęs, and pruning unnecessary words
Read more details about the Summer of Writing workshops and book your places here. NB: Workshops are limited to 16 places and fill up quickly, so do book in advance if you can.

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