M. R. Jame's Rules for an effective ghost story
Post the second...
British ghost story writer M. R. James was one of the authors singled out for mention in Lovecraft's essay 'Supernatural Horror in Literature' as being one of the modern masters of horror literature. James's own opinion of Lovecraft's writing may be found in his essay 'Ghost's Treat Them Gently!', where he refers to the type of fiction published in Weird Tales (and republished in England as the 'Not at Night' series of anthologies.) as being "...shameless in their attempts. They are unbelievably crude and sudden, and they wallow in corruption. And if there is a theme that ought to be kept out of the ghost story, it is that of the charnel house. That and sex...".
But also in that essay James lays out his guidelines for what he considers a successful ghost story, which I have summarized below, for Keepers and scenario writers alike:
1. Setting is all important, but care must be used not to over do it. The best settings seem almost ordinary.
2. The ghost should be roughly contemporaneous with the seer (This can be disregarded with monsters...)
3. Level headed persons are needed as witnesses.
4. The horror should be introduced slowly creating an uneasy atmosphere and build to a climax.
The full essay can be read below: