In a recent issue of SFX magazine they asked writers and others to reveal some of their creative secrets. Joe Hill, writer of "Heart Shaped Box" and "Horns," was asked the secret of writing a ghost story. His tips:
1. Know the genre. Read 50 of the best ghost stories--he suggests starting with M R James' "A Warning to the Curious."
2. "Build your story around a character who is already haunted...even before he or she meets the ghost. Ghost stories are, inevitably, always about the way the past keeps spilling loose to stain the present." So make your protagonist a troubled soul.
3. Keep in mind you don't need the cliches of a haunted house or graveyard--hauntings take place in the mind.
4. To write a good ghost, keep in mind "ghosts are primal expressions of need. They keep flashing into existence because there's something they want, and they aren't going away until they get it." In that sense, they're not very different from a good living protagonist.
5. A good story is a good story--the same rules apply to ghost stories as to any other genre.
6. "Don't wait too long to start rattling the chains." In other words, hook the reader quickly with a scary event or at least the foreshadowing of one.
(Stuck in your writing? Get my free report, "Seven Things that Stop You From Writing--and How to Overcome Them" --here: http://goo.gl/bWjb.)