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Once safely past the harvest season, winter begins, bringing with it a storytelling season that begins in November and runs through the end of the year. The Victorians especially delighted in the tradition of telling spooky tales during the darkest nights of the year, a custom that reaches back hundreds of years. After all, Shakespeare reminds us, “A sad tale’s best for winter” (The Winter’s Tale).
However, before you sit down to write your own ghost story, take some time to become acquainted with the stories of Christmas past. You’ll soon notice that a convivial atmosphere is common, the warmth and camaraderie a sharp contrast to the cold isolation waiting outside. There are often groups of characters playing games and telling stories. But when the ghosts enter the scene, no fire is bright enough to keep them at bay.
After all, what better emissaries are there when it comes to bearing haunted tidings that those who are already dead?
Christmas Ghost Stories
If a Christmas ghost story isn’t your cup of tea, don’t despair. Dark delights can also be found in seasonal folk tales about everything from Christmas cats to cannibalistic witches.
Another step in this direction brings added inspiration found in wintery fairy tales such as Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Little Match Girl” (1845) and the Grimm Brothers’ “The Elves and the Shoemaker” (1857). These tales and others like them provide core material that can be reshaped and recycled to meet any number of narrative needs.
Select Figures from Folklore
Tips to Create a Terrifying Tale
Once you’ve selected a story seed to work with, sit down and brainstorm connections. What elements do you want to keep, and which ones do you want to replace? For instance, what would happen if Blackwood’s Kit-Bag ended up in an attic waiting for someone new and impressionable to discover it?
Another option is to mash-up pieces of two different stories. What would happen if the Yule Cat and the household helpers from “The Elves and the Shoemaker” engaged in a battle of wits on Christmas Eve? Start writing and find out!
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