From my experience of reading The Vanishing by Wendy Webb, I’ve devised this handy list of How Not To Write A Gothic Ghost Story, though it could easily also be known as How Not To Write Any Story.
First, begin with a promising premise: Julia’s life is turned upside down after her husband’s suicide and societal uproar against him conning thousands of people out of their life savings. Alone and estranged from society, Julia hides in her own home when a man shows up on her door step, presenting a solution to her situation. She is whisked away to start a new life out of the public’s eye, working as a companion to a cooky, elderly horror novelist in a haunted mansion – but strange things start happening, and Julia questions why she was really brought to the house. Once you have that, proceed to ruin it by following these crucial steps (WARNING: minor spoilers):
- Make it as meandering and drawn out as possible so that a whole lot of nothing happens and it’s way longer than it needs to be.
- Make the protagonist always just on the cusp of finding out what’s going on but then constantly being told “We’ll finish this conversation later” and mindlessly agreeing to it, so that #1 is even more prominent.
- Rush the oh-so-convenient underwhelming ending in just a few chapters to confirm to the reader they’ve indeed wasted their time.
- Have the main cast of characters be as cliched and character-less as possible with no redeeming qualities.
- Have the protagonist be extremely passive, making no decisive, pro-active decisions and blindly stumbling into ‘plot points,’ if you can even call them that.
- Have a decent setting and description of a creepy house and woods so there’s at least that for the reader to hang on to.
- Insta-love between two characters after only a few interactions, of course.
- Have a gimmicky epilogue that makes the reader roll their eyes and question even more why they ever read the book.
- Fill the prose with mind-numbing, boring, meandering thoughts and questions from the first person narrator, so that it’s really, really easy for the reader to skim almost all of it and still not miss anything.
- Make the ‘big’ finale scene as rushed and as boring and unbelievable as possible. This can be effectively accomplished by having the protagonist – who up until this point has shown no special skills with ghosts, demons, or psychic abilities what so ever – miraculously banish a killer ghost by simply raising her voice and spewing some ‘be gone’ bullshit in about a page and a half.
And there you have it. You really can’t go wrong with this list if you’re looking to write a badly executed story. I warn you though, it may not be well received.