Literary Nirvana or Night in Hell… Any one up for a Ghost Story Party?

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With the events of LitQuake behind us and the writing conference season coming to a close, the lit party seems to be over… But wait!  We can still bring our stories screaming into the holiday season with a Halloween Ghost Story Party.

You may have heard of the Victorian era craze for séances or the evening ghost story parties of   Lord Byron and Mary Shelley which inspired Frankenstein.  What about holding your own? It can be kid friendly or not…  It can be very scary, playful, Steam Punk themed, or any long, dark path you’re willing to take your guests down.

ImageAs a writer with writer friends, I want to give all of us a chance to create in a genre that we may not be working in, as well as an audience to try it out on.  I also want an excuse to hang-out with my favorite people in costume, install purple light bulbs around the house, and just have a party where dust and cobwebs are appropriate accessories. Besides, your pets can participate – just say that FiFi is in drag. Who knows, she might be!

What do you need to hold a Ghost Story Party? Friends willing to tell their favorite scary story, a link to Martha Stewart’s DIY Halloween, dry ice for the punch bowl, and a stellar story or two… You could even provide a coffin of costumes for those who think they’re going to get-away without dressing-up.  It doesn’t take much to make a costume, funny glasses or a wig will do.  Capes will take you down Little Red Riding Hood’s path all the way to Dracula’s closet of evening attire. Goodwill, Salvation Army and your local thrift and Dollar stores are perfect for cheap accessories. And inexpensive bags of “Spider Webs” may be the only décor/costume you need. You can even set out a Dickensonian spread worthy of Miss Havisham’s wedding feast just by using fake cobwebs as table cloths.

Most important, how will you write and deliver your scary story? What are the story elements necessary to bring your guests to the edge of their seats until you land the final line that will make them jump? As this is an oral tradition, pacing is key to leading your audience to a surprising ending. My favorite link for ghost story telling advice is from NPR’s Glynn Washington on Buzz Feed. He also encourages telling real stories – we all have one… That blurred encounter in a hallway, the rush of cold at the top of the steps, that dream where Aunt Lilly points to the place where the murder weapon was found…  Let your friends know who you are behind the mask!

If you love this idea but don’t have time to pen a frightening story, go to the expert: Edgar Allan Poe. Some of his short stories may be accessed at Poe Stories and are best read aloud with as many people in the room as possible. Of course, Halloween is not Halloween without a selection from Stephen King. Then there’s Washington Irving, “First American Man of Letters,” for that American Gothic effect.  Better yet! Do a spoof of his Headless Horseman or Rip Van Winkle.

However you choose to fill All Hallows Eve, make your stories memorable…

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