Creative Writing – a possible process

A lot of people look at creative writing and freak out. They see a blank page in front of them that needs filled, and a lot of times, especially when it’s folio work, they focus on the quantity (word count!) rather than the quality of their writing. When the SQA or your teacher looks at your work they are looking to see that you can create all the things you analyse in the texts studied in class – plot, atmosphere, character development, setting.

The first thing you need to do if you’re not good at creative writing is decide on a genre and a plot. For this post, we’re going to think about ghost stories. There are some typical things we find in a ghost story – firstly, a ghost, a creepy atmosphere is established and a sinister setting is usually needed. I started out with a rough plan for a ghost story in my head. I know that I want the story to involve a graveyard and that the story will take place at night when everywhere is secluded. I’m not sure about my ghost but I know that my human character will be a girl who is late getting home and decides on a short cut home.

The night air is thick with the darkness of seething clouds. They spill across the sky in squalling waves pushed on by a howling wind. This is the depth of winter and all sensible living things have tucked themselves away till dawn, away from the cruel beasties and monsters that are left to stalk the inky black.

By using the weather I’ve managed to create a spooky atmosphere straight away. You can easily picture a moody night sky closing in on people. If your struggling, try and focus on describing something and think of film scenes for inspiration.

The girl that walked along the pavement seemed well aware of this as she moved from spot of man-made light to man-made light. Her jacket collar was drawn close around her jaw, her tense hands ploughed tight into her pockets and her eyes flashed around at every jumping shadow and flicker of fluorescent glow. She kept a fair distance from the pavement edge, in case something should creep out from its solid depth without her noticing. The girl was late home from her friend’s. She should have left an hour ago, before the light began to fade and the gloom seeped across the sky. She shook her head, annoyed at herself.

Here I’ve introduced the main character. We get a sense that she isn’t too happy about being outside. And she is faced with a problem that she must overcome.

She would have to cut across the graveyard. There was no other way to make it back to her dorm in time before the doors were completely locked. She could feel its looming presence to her left, a coldness seemed to permeate from it, seeping through her skin and entering the very marrow of her bones where it instilled a sharp chill. It was an old cemetery, one that hadn’t seen any new residents for centuries, one with a crumbling church in the middle whilst the graves emanated out from it, like runic spirals.

And there’s the spooky setting! Ooh, isn’t it creepy, with all those crumbling tombstones and the old church that nobody visits anymore. But why is it there? What has caused it to fall into disrepair? I hear you cry.

They said that once the church had been busy, the thriving heart of the community. They said that despite this, a pox came and slaughtered most of the cattle and wiped out half the population. They said that no reason or explanation could be found until a traveling witch hunter turned up. They said that he uncovered a witch – young, beautiful, talented – hidden amongst them who was found guilty of assaulting her town. They said that the enchantress had stood no trial before being sentenced to her death. They said that her murder was a slow and torturous affair, a hanging with weeping entrails and a roasting pyre. They said that her vengeful spirit still prowled the hallowed ground.

They say it’s just a silly ghost story made to frighten kids on Halloween. Now stop flinching at shadows and get yourself home, girl. She looked up for the first time since leaving her friend’s warm apartment and straightened her back out. She thrust her chin out into the cutting night air and turned through the rusted iron gates and onto the flattened grass that served as the cemetery path.

Only a very keen watcher could note that just as she passed below the gate there was the slightest hunch of her shoulders and slackening of her spine.

As she walked across the dark she could feel the ground beneath her faltering away. She was going to have to concentrate hard on staying upright. She couldn’t see thing. She tripped on a shattered headstone. Her bag sprawling out before her, contents spilling out and her hair flying. Her shin was in agony, and she could already feel the purple smudges of a bruise forming on her delicate skin. She let out a whimper.

Somewhere in the darkness, someone whimpered back…

She stopped breathing. Sitting bolt upright, she spun around looking left and right. She couldn’t see anything; only the strange humps and bumps of cracked grave markers and the contorted branches of trees and bushes.

It’s just a fox… or badger. It’s nothing to be afraid of, she tried to convince herself. But her hands were shaking as she re-packed her bag, and slowly, without realising she had begun to cry. She began to move back across the path, trying to keep her head up and focus on a single point in the distance. Her feet still felt unsteady, but she knew she had to push on.

And there it was again, a second whimper.

She moved quicker, this time. If I don’t look, it can’t be real, and it can’t get me. She was thinking silly thoughts now. She was starting to really believe that there was something there. And then it was.

She couldn’t be sure she had definitely seen it. But she was convinced that for the briefest of moments there had been a face peering at her from the church window. Pale and thin and with dark circles for eyes.

Move, move, move, move. She said the mantra to herself now. It was a tattoo that matched her footprints across the grass. Still unsteady although more determined now. And then she stopped.

She couldn’t move. She wanted to yet some greater force had pinned her to that precise spot. Some other entity forced her head around till she was facing the space before the church. Out of all that darkness appeared grotesque silhouettes.

She could see a cruel scaffold take form with a table of tools next to it and the outline of a pyre. And amongst it all she could see a wavering apparition. What should have been a young woman stood not ten feet away from her.

Her immobilised body screamed with pain. She could sense it. All of it. The smell of urine and faeces that coated her form, the throbbing in her skull and hands from thumbscrews and scold’s bridles. The infected pinpricks from the witchfinder’s probing. She could feel the biting of the bonds that held her to the post, the tight hemp wrapped close around her neck, the slow cut of a knife across her abdomen, the slicing and tearing apart of her guts, the lack of oxygen as she fought to breath and break free, her lungs heaving, the explosions of light as consciousness started to fade. The roar of a crowd and the sounds of a fire being started, the crackle as flames began to take hold and eagerly leap about. And then the smell of burning, human flesh, sulphurous and dirty. Acrid. It hit her nostrils and she tried to gag. Acid burned through what was left of her being.

The girl was still in front of her. At least, what had been left of her. Her form was now twisted and contorted. The back hunched and shrivelled up on itself, the hands and feet clawed, and the knees and elbows drawn in to almost a foetal position. The blackened scalp was all that was left there. Her dress hung off her in smouldering tatters and some of it had fused fibres with the skin.

It was impossible to describe the skin.

The shape stayed there for a heartbeat or two, then simply disappeared.

The images were burned into her mind forever. She had witnessed a memory, an outline, an imprint from the past. And she knew then that the malignant spirit or the ghost or the girl or whatever she was didn’t want anything bad. She just wanted out, to stop reliving the same nightmare of pain over and over again.

The girl slowly, dazedly, pulled herself together. she breathed a deep sigh, in and out. Then carefully made her way back home.

taken from

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