SparkNotes Blog

Scary Stories to Get the Bats in Your Freaky Brain Attic Flapping For the HALLOWEEN FICTION CONTEST

By now, if you’re not already aware, SparkLife is running one of our famous short story contests. And if you’re 13-18 years old, we want to read your stuff. Specifically, we’re all about Haunted House stories! There are more scary details, but for now, here are some stories and books to check out not such as guides for your own stories, but instead, for horrific inspiration.

If you’re looking to get an absolutely thorough understanding of not only the history of ghost stories, but also a variety of different kinds of authors, you can’t go wrong with The Big Book of Ghost Stories edited by Otto Penzler. You could have probably guessed that Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain have awesome ghost stories, but have you ever read a séance story by Joyce Carol Oates? Though we love geeky and spooky things here, the idea of ghosts has serious literary roots. After all, ghosts have been and always will be the original time travelers. Reading a giant tome like The Big Book of Ghost Stories is a serious undertaking, but like the stories you’ll be working on, many of these are super-short.

Now, when it comes to creaking hallways and perhaps what you might think of the classic Victorian/Edwardian ghosts, the brilliant Edith Wharton’s ghost stories cannot be missed. Sure, maybe you’ve been assigned some Edith Wharton in school and you’re mad about it, but for real, trust us. If you didn’t love The Age of Innocence, you will definitely like The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton. An old writing buddy of mine—Anne Ray—once likened her experience of reading these stories to being freaked out by retro episodes of Doctor Who. Do you really need more?

Now, no list of scary story recommendations would really worth its salt without at least mentioning H.P. Lovecraft. If you’ve never read any of this dude’s work, we guess you should start with “The Call of Cthulhu” which is conveniently located in a book called The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. However, some of the other weird stories are actually a little more helpful for the kind of haunted house stuff you ought to be working on. Further, if you want awesome and interesting facts about these various stories, you have to check out The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft which was edited by Sherlock Holmes impresario Leslie Klinger!

All in all, other than the spooks and ghouls on the pages of these stories, what you should be looking at is the specific words being used to make you feel those feelings of dread. Sometimes prose can be a blunt instrument to get your point across, but with scary stuff, the little details matter. See how Wharton describes emotions. Think about why Lovecraft frightens us. It’s not just the ides, but the specific words, too.

And as for the contest itself, the submission period starts at 8 am EST on Monday, September 28th, 2015. Remember… 1000 words or less! There will be a link to the contest page in a post we’ll put up Monday morning. You’ll have until 11:59 pm on Monday, October 19th, 2015 to enter. Winners will be notified that Friday, the 23rd and will be published on October 30th.

So get reading! (And writing!) We’ll check in with you soon with even more recommendations for scary stories. UP NEXT: Neil Gaiman! Kelly Link! Ellen Kushner! And…Stephen King!