Humorous Ghost Stories

“He met with a severe fall” from Wallace Goldsmith’s illustrations to Oscar Wilde’s “The Canterville Ghost.”

Ever wonder how to write a funny ghost story? Larry Hodges shares tips for writers and some of his favorite funny ghosts. His hilarious short story, “The Haunts of Albert Einstein” can be found in the anthology Specter Spectacular: 13 Ghostly Tales.

When I was asked a few years ago if I could write a ghost story for a late-night ghost reading at the World Fantasy Convention, my first thought was, “Huh?” Ghosts are scary things, though I’m not sure why. Vampires, werewolves, and zombies can bite, but don’t a ghost’s teeth and mouth go right through you?

Then I realized I had it all wrong. What could be easier than a funny ghost story? They say the secret to humor is to surprise, so what happens if you put together some surprising ghosts, and see what happens? So I put Albert Einstein and a bunch of bickering physicists into the afterlife, threw in some paparazzi and Neanderthal ghosts, and sat back and the story practically wrote itself: “The Haunts of Albert Einstein,” one of the stories in Specter Spectacular: 13 Ghostly Tales. (I’ve since written a story featuring an autistic killer whale ghost, now making the rounds.)

So how do you come up with a humorous ghost story from scratch? Just think outside the box and come up with something surprising. In the “The Canterville Ghost” by Oscar Wilde, instead of a scary ghost, we get a cowardly one who fails in spectacular fashion in his attempts to scare away the humans, who instead scare him. A number of movies have been based on this story, the best of which is probably the 1944 version starring Charles Laughton, which really emphasizes the cowardly aspect.

In the 1966 film The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, starring Don Knotts, we get an aspiring reporter who spends the night at a supposedly haunted house, and of course the surprise is that instead of a courageous investigative reporter we get a coward, brilliantly played by Knotts.

In the 1984 film Ghostbusters, starring, well, everybody (Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Rick Moranis, and Sigourney Weaver, and a cameo by Larry King), we take ghosts seriously as a real phenomenon, and take it to its logical but surprising conclusion — where there’s a demand someone will start a business to fulfill that demand — and so we get the Ghostbusters, who rush to haunted places with sirens running and lugging their proton packs as they take on various ghosts while occasionally getting slimed.

But 1988 brought us the two greatest humorous ghost films ever. First came Beetlejuice, starring Michael Keaton (who one year later would play Batman in a role so different from this one that I couldn’t help but laugh the first time he showed up — and that was one of the “good” Batman movies), Alec Baldwin (before he gained weight), Jeffrey Jones (also before he gained weight), Geena Davis (the future “president” and archery star), and Winona Ryder (who may have picked up her future criminal proclivities from Beetlejuice?). In this movie we have an entire afterlife universe, which is full of surprises. Then we have our recently deceased ghosts trying to scare away the irritating people who have moved into their house, and failing spectacularly in their amateurish attempts. (Has ghosts-trying-to-scare-people-away-and-failing-in-spectacular-fashion become a humorous ghost cliché?) But the biggest surprise is how over-the-top things get once Keaton is set loose (“It’s Showtime!”) as the title character, Beetlejuice. You don’t want to miss that.

But my favorite humorous ghost story, just beating out Beetlejuice, is the other 1988 film Scrooged, starring Bill Murray of Ghostbusters fame. This is a takeoff on A Christmas Carol, with the surprise that we get Murray as a completely sarcastic Scrooge. (This was before Murray playing sarcastic characters became a cliché, forcing him try out new roles — successfully.) The surprises keep coming as they turn the story upside down, with the three ghosts that haunt Scrooge completely outside the box. Especially funny are the Ghost of Christmas Past (a cigar-chomping New York cab driver) and the Ghost of Christmas Present (a woman who likes to hit poor Scrooge, i.e. a ghost whose fist doesn’t go right through you).

There are many more, from the 1941 Abbott and Costello film Hold That Ghost to 1995′s Casper. Even Harry Potter has funny ghosts (hello John Cleese/Nearly Headless Nick, who can’t get into the Headless Hunt because he’s not quite headless and so can’t play head polo), and 1990′s Ghost had its comedic aspects. What are your favorites, and why?

But first, you say you want to write a humorous ghost story? Let’s do it, right now. Imagine a really scary ghost. Now think of a completely different ghost. Now think of a human protagonist who’s a worthy foe to the discarded scary ghost. Now think of a completely different protagonist. Now imagine a haunted house. Now think of a completely different setting. In all three cases, look for something that will surprise us. Now throw your ghost and protagonist into your setting, and see what happens. If they flop about like fish out of water, you’ve got a story.

Specter Spectacular from World Weaver PressLarry Hodgesof Germantown, MD, is an active member of SFWA with over 60 short story sales, over 40 since 2008. His story was the unanimous grand prize winner at the 2010 GSHW Story Competition. He’s a 2006 Odyssey Writing Workshop graduate, a full-time writer with six books and over 1300 published articles in over 130 different publications, and a member of the USA Table Tennis Hall of Fame. Visit him at www.larryhodges.org.

This article is part of the Haunted October blog tour featuring Specter Spectacular and The Haunted Housewives of Allister, Alabama. Hosted by World Weaver Press.

About World Weaver Press Guest Blogger

World Weaver Press invites many guest bloggers to join us in our discussion of fantasy and science fiction. Opinions expressed by guest bloggers are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of World Weaver Press, its staff, or authors.

Posted on October 7, 2012, in from the authors of WWP, ghosts, guest blogger, World Weaver Press and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Ah, 80s movies — love it.

    Like this

  2. Larry Hodges shared his favorite funny ghosts, now what’s your favorite funny ghost story?

    Like this

  3. The person who asked me if I could write the story was Jeanne Cavelos, the director of the Odyssey Writing Workshop that I attended in 2006. (She’s also a writer, scientist, professor, and former senior editor at Bantam Doubleday Dell.) She was in charge of putting together a late-night ghost story reading at the World Fantasy Convention, and wanted something “different,” i.e. funny instead of just scary, and asked if I could put one together. This was the result. I’ve read this story a number of times at readings at SF conventions – always wearing my Einstein-sticking-out-his-tongue shirt!

    Like this

  4. Hurrah, that’s what I was seeking for, what a data!
    existing here at this webpage, thanks admin of this website.

    Like this

  1. Pingback: Haunted Writing Prompts « World Weaver Press

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