Basics of Ghost Stories

The ghost story writer has to attract the reader’s attention straight
away. The way story begins is important and often links with the rest
of the narrative. The opening of a short story must try to engage the
reader quickly. I think all ghost stories should always have a lot of
suspense in it, to create anticipation and excitement. Some symbolic
object/place for example a knife, a key must play a major part in the
narrative. The story should also have lots of detail to get the
feeling as if the reader is there to create different types of
atmospheres, such as horror, terror, and excitement. They should also
have a mysterious end, to make the reader go away thinking about it.

Most people are interested in ghost stories because of the thrill and
horror that is in it. Ghost story’s challenges us to see how much of
the paranormal we can take onboard and because it is a story they can
always back away from it if it gets too unnerving.

I have read “Wish Master”, in which a demon awakes from an ancient pot
that is destroyed in a robbery in a museum. Then the demon goes around
asking people for their wishes and he always does something opposite
to fulfil the wish.

Ghost stories always seem to be set in lonely or isolated places. The
language writers use to describe settings in ghost stories are usually
quite unpredictable because there is a lot of descriptive use of
imagery to paint a specific kind of picture for the reader. Ghost
stories gained prominence in the Victorian period and a lot of classic
stories were written during this period. They were written to
entertain and feed the imagination of the populace who were intrigued
by stories of the supernatural.

Atmosphere is mood the writer is trying to create in a story. It is
important because it builds a good impression on the reader. It is
created through the use of language tools: such as similes, metaphors
and onomatopoeia. The atmosphere of the story is developed right from
the beginning. It largely depends on the writers purpose/intentions.
So you do expect different kind of atmosphere to be created in both of
these stories because in the “The Signalman” Charles Dickens is trying
to scare the reader and in “The Deadfall” Ted Hughes is trying to get
a message across. Atmosphere is important in building tension in the
story, which I believe is vital for a ghost story.

In ‘The Signalman’ by Charles Dickens the narrator meets a lonely
signalman. At first he seems to be scared of him. Then they start to
get along fine, soon the signalman tells him that something is
disturbing him, a spectre. Twice the spectre has appeared and twice
there have been terrible incidents and now the ghost has reappeared
and the signalman does not know what to do. The story ends with the
signalman’s death in a train incident. The signalman’s mysterious
behaviour at the start of the story attracts the narrator and gets the
reader hooked, to know why the signalman is behaving the way he is.
Charles Dickens uses different kind of techniques to build that
atmosphere of fear, excitement, anticipation and horror. Here are some
examples, he uses his opening sentence “Halloa! Below there!” and uses
it plenty of times in the story to keep the reader guessing why this
sentence has so much importance in the play. Dickens uses language
like “Angry Sunset, violent pulsation”, “barbarous, depressing and
forbidding air” examples of personification, Dickens make them seem
like human to create an atmosphere of unease. Dickens also uses
detailed description of the setting such as “On either side, a
dripping-wet wall of jagged stone, excluding all view but a strip of
sky”, to give the reader a feeling as if he is there.

‘The Deadfall’ by Ted Hughes is a very different kind of ghost story
because in this story he is not trying to scare you he is trying to
get a message across, that man and nature have grown apart.

In the story he talks about his past; the strange incidents that
happened including how his mother saw ghosts, he himself tried to wake
the ghost of the ancient Briton, the focus of all these incidents is
to tell the reader that he was easy with the fact of ghost and he has
been brought up in it unlike “The Signalman”. One day he went camping
with his brother and he was called to help by an old woman (the ghost)
to help save a fox. When Ted Hughes recalls past events in his life,
when his mother saw ghosts he also uses lots of detail like how she
felt: “felling dreadfully agitated,” to get the reader engaged with
the plot. It is also different in another way because in The Deadfall
the reader knows what the story will be about in the opening
paragraph, where as in The Signalman reader is slowly carried through
the narrative with the use “direct speech”.

Another difference between “The Deadfall” and “The Signalman” is that
characters in the ‘The Deadfall’ seemed to be comfortable with the
idea of ghosts and were actually quite curious about it (remember
walking of the ancient Briton), where as the narrator in ‘The
Signalman’ thinks there seems to be a logical explanation to it and
the reaction of the signalman man were that he was terrified because
of it and we learn about this through the narrator and the way he
describes the signalman “there was something in the man that daunted
me”, this is because Charles Dickens was trying to create a different
atmosphere in the story. In “The Deadfall” Ted Hughes doesn’t describe
the ghost in a way that Charles Dickens does. He describes them as if
they are not even there. One example of this is when he talks about
how his mother saw ghost of his uncle when she was hovering, telling
us as if they are nothing to be afraid of. Charles dickens opening
try’s to get the reader intense and where as Ted Hughes who try’s to
get the reader more and more interested in the story and the
signalman’s reactions play a major part in this: “It was not to be
denied that this was a remarkable coincidence”. This reaction from the
signalman is trying to say that the accident was a coincidence, making
the reader think that it wasn’t a coincidence and there was indeed a
ghost there trying to aware him of something.

Settings are important in ghost stories as they often tie into the
themes helping to establish the atmosphere, mood, tension and also
suspense in the story.

The Signalman has a dark, typical ghost story setting. It is a very
unpleasant place to be in. Dickens uses powerful description of the
setting which appeals to the senses. Such as: “Gloomier entrance to a
black tunnel. Barbarous, depressing, and forbidding air”. These
quotes really appeal to the senses because they contain metaphors,
similes and onomatopoeia. The image that is painted through these
descriptions is that it is a very unpleasant place to be in.

The setting of the deadfall seems more realistic this is different
from The Signalman. It is not a typical ghost story setting or
unpleasant in any way. In fact it is described to be really beautiful
and calm. Ted Hughes however on the other hand also uses really
powerful description of the setting just like Charles Dickens. “And in
the very bottom of the valley, the dark, deep cleft, thick with beech,
oak, sycamore, plunging to an invisible stream,” this also appealing
to the senses, although it is creating a different mood and

Characterization is the way in which characters are developed in a
story. Characters may be developed in various ways depending on how
important they are to the story.

The Signalman it is a typical ghost story with scary features. On the
contrast, in The Deadfall the ghosts are not frightening. In The
Signalman when the Signalman gets haunted he starts to get irritated
making him passionate. We know that he is passionate because he is

“That what troubles me so dreadfully is the question: What does the
spectre mean?”

This quote from the signalman tells us how frustrated he is becoming
because of this ghost and these are the kind of things that get the
reader interested in the story. In The Signalman we are offered
different kinds of explanations of the hauntings. These are that there
was indeed a ghost that was trying to aware him of his own death, this
tells us about the time it was written in because in Victorian times
people believed in these things and most of them thought there is no
logical explanation to it. Where as if this was a case in today’s
world most people would believe there is a logical explanation for
this, a thing of your mind perhaps.

In The Deadfall the main character is haunted by the ghost. He is
curious about the ghost and makes up suggestions of what the ghost
was. Although he believes in ghosts he doesn’t declare the old lady
one. He doesn’t even know that it is a ghost, it is only later that he
realises that he him self did in fact see a ghost. Ted Hughes doesn’t
try to describe the ghost in the way a typical ghost story would and
that is the key for what makes his story work. He describes the old
lady as being lonely and caring. “She was probably some eccentric old
lady who never slept and spent the night roaming the hillsides”.

The Signalman is a conventional ghost story, in which the description
of the haunting adds to the tension + atmosphere and often plays on
the reader’s fear of the unknown and supernatural beliefs. It is often
the cause of fear and tension and suspense, which helps to move the
plot along.

Stories are told in different ways; writers may use the 1st or 3rd
person narrative style. The use of the pronouns “I”, “we” implies a 1st
person narrative. This simply means that the story is told from the
perspective of one character. This style can be very effective in
creating vivid pictures and sensations for the reader as they are
carefully guided through the plot almost as though they were part of
the story as it unfolds. In 1st person narratives, the narrator may
also be one of the main characters. The Signalman and The Deadfall are
both written in 1st person. The effect of this to the reader is that
he or she fells as if they are they character in the story. “The
cutting was extremely steep”. The reader immediately fells as if
he/she must be careful.

I believe that the most important focus in The Signalman is the
strange behaviour of the signalman at the beginning, which really
hooks the reader into the story and makes him want to read more. In
The Deadfall I think the most important point was the fact that Ted
Hughes in the beginning tells the reader what the story is going to be
about. “It came to me in one of the strangest incidents of my life”.
This sentence gets the reader really anxious to find out what was that
strange incident and how did it happen.

My personal opinion would be that The Signalman was better than The
Deadfall because there were more horror elements in The Signalman than
in The Deadfall.

Ted Hughes “The Deadfall” fulfils the reader’s expectations of the
genre by getting a message across that man and nature have grown apart
and that we should also preserve the wild environment and not try to
destroy it.

Charles Dickens “The Signalman” fulfils the reader’s expectations of
the genre by doing an excellent job of scaring the reader and building
up the anticipation and making the reader more and more anxious about
the story.


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