Common horror themes may involve serial killers, a zombie apocalypse, or a mad scientist. However, classic scary story idea often involve ghosts.
Do you want to write a great ghost story? Eager to give your readers a goosebumps when reading your book? We’ve got you covered. Below, we’ve included over 50 scary story ideas and ghost story writing prompts to spark your spook and give your readers an unforgettable fright.
50+ Ghost story writing prompts
Use the ideas below to inspire you in writing your own terrifying tales that can make your reader’s hair stand on end.
- A young woman loses her husband in an accident. Overwhelmed with grief, she seeks any way possible to communicate with him. She visits a medium who agrees to help her contact him. Together they make contact, but the spirit they get is not really her husband. It’s an evil spirit looking for a new host.
- A teenage girl wakes up at 3 am every morning, disturbed by the strange things that start happening at about this time. She senses something moving in her room. Every night, she gets out of bed to turn on the lights and investigate. Nothing. One night, she turns on the lights and, again, nobody is there. This time, as soon as she turns off the light, bright red eyes appear.
- Parents hear their child talking in the playroom. When they ask her who she is talking to, she explains that she is chatting with her friend. Soon, the child’s imaginary friend becomes a regular topic of conversation. Parents ask about the friend, and the child updates them. One day, the parents hear the child crying. ‘My friend hit me!’ she cries. The child has a bruise on her face.
- Residents of a small town protest against a corporation’s plans to build a mall in a beautiful wooded area. Unable to fight the corporation, building plans go ahead. Construction disturbs the spirits that reside in the woods, who wake up to wreak havoc and those who dare disturb them. The spirits usually leave the townspeople alone but now use them as hosts to carry out their vengeful plans.
- A young woman and her lover are forbidden from being together. Her father wants her to marry a rich man from a neighboring town. He arranges the wedding, but she runs away with her lover on their wedding day. Years later, the rebellious couple returns to the woman’s home to apologize and seek forgiveness. When they reach the door, her father looks shocked. He explains that his daughter took her own life on the wedding day, ten years earlier.
- A soldier returns from war with PTSD. He’s distraught with visions of the children in the school he was ordered to bomb. He seeks treatment, but it doesn’t work. The children are not just visions.
- A family dog begins to bark aggressively at night. The father of the family wakes up each night to the dog’s barks and investigates but notices nothing strange. One night, after an hour of incessant barking, the dog stops. The father goes to investigate but does not return to bed.
- A young couple moves into a new house to begin a perfect life for their family. Happy with the low cost for such a grandiose home, they’re finally ready to have a child. On the night of the child’s birth, strange creatures, faceless beings, approach the house from the dark forest outside.
- A single mother’s mental health is deteriorating. Compounded by stress, she begins to hallucinate. One night after putting her child to bed, she stares at herself in the mirror. Her focus fades as she stares, and from the corner of her eye, she sees her child standing, bloody, crying, in the reflection. She turns around to see an empty hallway.
- You pull into a gas station at 3 am—coffee and snacks to help you drive the next three hours home. The man at the counter takes your money and tells you to go slow. He gives you a strange look, then nods your departure. As you drive away, you check the rearview and see an abandoned gas station.
- On Halloween night, static on the tv screen tells a child to lock all the doors in the house. Locked, the lights flicker. Nobody can speak or scream.
- A man dreams of an old woman every night. One night, he wakes up to her lying beside him.
- A ghost embodies the figure of a drowning man to lure lifeguards out to sea.
- A man kidnaps a young girl. Days later, a body is found in the woods. The body is that of the man.
- A man’s best friend dies by suicide. Months later, his friend visits him in dreams. In one dream, the dead friend grabs the man’s arm. He wakes up with a bruise in the same spot.
- A student becomes fascinated with pictures of strange creatures in an old library book.
- When parents lose their only child to a terminal illness, they visit a therapist to help them deal with grief. One is reluctant to visit a therapist because they’re not ready to accept the situation. Instead, they bring home a doll and treat it as their child.
Funny ghost story prompts
Ghost stories can also be funny. Here are some prompts to tickle your funny bone:
- A woman discovers she no longer loves her husband. She doesn’t even like him anymore but feels trapped. Desperate to achieve peace, she decides to murder her husband, finally having the house to herself. Her husband returns as a ghost to haunt her.
- An introvert serial killer struggles when his victims return as ghosts and won’t leave him alone.
- A child’s imaginary friend gets her in trouble for breaking things around the house.
- A man murders his nagging mother, only for her to haunt and continue to nag him.
- A man is surprised to find his shed empty. Just hours earlier, it was occupied by one of his victims.
- A medium uses her connection to the beyond to predict lottery numbers. When she finally wins the lottery, the ghosts want their fair share. They don’t want money but for the medium to finish their unfinished business on earth.
Ghost story dialogue prompts
- A little boy asks his father ‘who is the man in the hood behind you?‘ There’s nobody there.
- ‘Why do you keep moving my things?’
- A: Why were you standing outside my house last night?
B: I wasn’t there…
- A: A friend of yours stopped by earlier? I think he said his name was Kevin.
B: Kevin? Blond hair? Glasses?
B: Kevin was the friend whose funeral I attended last week.
- Young girl: Mommy, can I have orange juice?
Distracted mother: Sure, honey.
Girl: Can my friend have one too?
Distracted mother: Uh-huh, sure, honey.
[Second orange juice carton bursts]
- ‘Hi, I’m looking for Jason?’
‘Hi Jason, this is Mort, the sexton from St. Theresa’s Graveyard. We’ve been having problems with your father’s grave.’
‘It looks like somebody keeps messing with it. It’s always overturned and messy when we see it in the morning.’
‘Thanks, Mort, I’ll head out in the early hours to see who’s doing it.’
‘No problem Jason, good luck.’
‘You look like you’ve seen a ghost!’
Ghost story setting ideas
The setting of a spooky story has a huge impact on the overall experience of the reader. For ghost stories, here are some ideas:
- A creaky mansion
- A psychiatric ward
- The battlefield
- A house in the woods
- A car
- An airplane
- A theater
- A film set
- A lake
- A desert
- A school
- A warehouse
- A beach
- A road at night
- A carnival
- A circus
- A theme park
- An office at night
- A forest
- A therapist’s office
What makes a great horror story?
- Shattering illusions of safety – no place is safe
- Suspense – build-up
- Frightened child within – reader’s experience
Innocent settings such as a classroom or a playground become shocking and disturbing when we read about dark, supernatural, or unsettling events that happen in them.
Old buildings and decrepit locations suggest that life has long since abandoned a place, yet it’s not empty.
The most frightening tales play on the reader’s existing fears. Clowns, playgrounds, and parents have strong links to childhood, so twisted tales around such topics immerse the readers in childhood fears.
Suspense is key to the horror genre. Jump too quickly to the climax, and you don’t give the audience enough time to feel the tension.
Suspense evokes anxiety and an impending sense of doom. It serves to inform the reader that something terrible is going to happen.
The important part is that it hasn’t happened just yet, feeding the fear of uncertainty and filling the reader’s mind with possibilities.
Good authors are playfully skillful with their use of suspense.
Moments rise but fall before the climax to offer the reader a false and brief sense of security. One realizes all too soon that the fall in tension only means it will creep back in later and elsewhere.
We wonder, perhaps our protagonists may escape the mansion, the curse may lift, and the children may at least survive, but we can’t really predict any possibility.
Unlike in visual media, authors can’t use camera angles or sound design to add suspense to the reader’s experience. So, how do you build tension with words on a page?
One narrative means by which to create suspense is to place characters in a dangerous situation but keep them unaware of the danger. Slowly let the reader in on the danger present, but drip feed the degree of danger to your characters.
Consider a typical young girl’s bedroom.
We, the reader, learn that when she leaves for school, the doll, at the foot of her bed, raises its head. Our next scene is in the bedroom when the girl returns from school, and the doll is exactly where she left it, lifeless.
Now, we, the readers, know the doll is alive, but the girl has no idea. Later, she may notice the doll is not where she left it.
Use the ghost writing prompts above to craft your own scary story.
Remember that when writing ghost stories that suspense is key and that a scary story play on very real and present fears.
Feel free to save this list of horror story ideas for later if you need some fresh inspiration, or share it with a friend or the guy standing behind you!