The Haunting of Hill House: How To Write A Convincing Ghost Story

Wednesday 31 October 2018

If you haven't heard of Netflix's latest hit show The Haunting of Hill House, then you must have been hiding under a rock! 

This show without a doubt is more than deserving of it's reputation - it's easily one of the best shows I've ever come across. It's emotional, great character development AND some genuinely creepy moments more used to being seen in a Blumhouse horror film than a Netflix TV series. 

So, today we're going to dive into WHAT this show does SO well and HOW you can recreate these techniques within your own story. But BEWARE - SPOILERS!

Writing Tip #1


THOHH wastes no time in establishing the tone and pace of this unusual ghost story.   We are introduced to the family members through ACTION. It's the middle of the night and we hear  screaming - the youngest of the Crain siblings - Nell, who immediately confirms she has seen the bent neck lady.

  • The audience's attention has been captured. We know that whoever this bent neck lady is - she's somebody or something to be feared. 
  • Remember action doesn't have to be BIG to make an impact - the first sign that something ghostly lurks in the twins bedroom is after their father settles Nell. The door he had just closed to their room is then seen opened. 
  • Introducing your characters THROUGH the action means no time is wasted through unnecessary dialogue or backstory. They are instantly recognisable by their reactions or actions to what is happening around them, it hooks the audience into the story! 

 Writing Tip #2 


By allowing the audience to relax, lulled into a false sense of security in between the scares - this only helps to amp up their anxiety and fear of the next inevitable ghost sighting.

What THOHH does so well is utilise these moments to establish the main characters - the Crain siblings. 

Each are dealing with their own 'ghosts' - literally and mentally - from growing up at Hill House, which has manifested between them into a dysfunctional family dynamic. 

  • This makes for very interesting relationships between the characters, which is WHY the audience must be EMOTIONALLY invested. 
  • Not every character has to be likeable to establish this - but we need to know, or at least be hinted at - as to why these characters see the world, or function the way they do. 
  • The series trusts the audience to make informed guesses as to the who? what? where? We often see scenes that at times don't tell the FULL story until later on in the season. TRUST your audience, don't give ALL the information from the get go. Raise the stakes!

Writing Tip #3 


Much like the film The Woman In Black, THOHH is inundated with in your face, hidden scares which keeps the audience attentive to see what might happen next.
  • There is always something lurking, which further enforces the idea that the Crain family are under constant watch whether they're in Hill house or not. 
  • There are many creative ways the series has intertwined these scares into the narrative - use this to inspire you when writing some of your own!
  • What also adds to the tension is that often the characters don't actually notice the entity or unknown presence hidden within the scenes - which only adds to the dread the audience feels when watching it play out on screen.

Writing Tip #4 


Use the environment your characters are in. 

HOW can it serve the story? 

WHY does the story take place here and not elsewhere? 

Really think about how your setting can add to the narrative. Hill House proves to be not just the setting for this ghost story to play out, but almost a living, breathing entity that is equally responsible for the tragic misfortunes of the Crain family as much as the ghosts that reside there. 

Remember when Nell is called home? The porch lights ominously blink twice to call her home, much like her mother used to when she was a child. 

Subtle, but clever. And seriously creepy!  And don't get me started on the statues - took me a few watches to realise they moved too. 

But you get my point - USE the environment/setting to add to what your showing the audience. 

Writing Tips #5


Director Mike Flannaghan confirmed on Twitter that the Crain siblings each represent various stages of grief:

Steve - DENIAL

Shirley - ANGER




Through these emotional threads all relating back to the same theme - GRIEF- the audience are given reasons to connect with and relate to these characters. 

Think of your own story - is there a common theme that connects the characters, and can you explore this further to represent each character as a strand from this common theme? 

Doc Martin Screenwriter Julian Unthank also uses this method as a way to make sure the character arcs are always serving the story. 

Remember, a great ghost story isn't just about the scares - we need to care about the characters whom these ghosts are haunting. 

1 comment

  1. Excellent article and sharing of the how to with 5 tips.