Haunted House Tales Don’t Always Take Place in a Haunted House

The Haunted House is one of the oldest spooky story settings in literature.

Scholars have traced this time-honored meme all the way back to the Stone Age and a series of cave paintings depicting four frightened cave teens entering Ye Olde Abandoned Cave and getting attacked by the ghost of Og who really doesn’t want other cave people messing with his cave even though he was stomped to death by a woolly mammoth a couple of years back.

That’s one interpretation, anyway…

As I travel around the country bringing the joys of all things spooky to elementary and middle school students, the discussion of The Haunted House is always one of my favorites. Nine times out of ten, the wisdom I share on the subject blows the kids’ minds (the tenth time I usually get chased by an angry mob to the city limits).

See, when you think of a haunted house story, you tend to think of a story about… a haunted house. The Haunting of Hill House. The Haunting. The Haunted House on a Hill. The Hill House Haunting. Things like that. But I have a few other favorite haunted house stories of which you may not have thought: Jurassic Park. Alien. A Nightmare on Elm Street.


In fact, for my money, Jaws is one of the best Haunted House films ever made. It’s almost the perfect Haunted House film.

“What? But… what are you…? There’s no….!! MY MIND HAS BLOWN!!!”

Relax. Allow me to explain.

The first thing to know about Haunted House stories is that there are RULES. Follow the rules, and everybody’s happy. Deviate from the rules, and the story doesn’t quite work. Simple as that. And the first rule of Haunted House stories is that they need to include a man-eating shark.

Actually, no.

The first rule of Haunted House stories is that they take place in an enclosed location from which there is no escape. The characters are stuck there and have to deal with what is going on. No putting it off until morning, no magical heel-clicking, no climbing out a window and leaving it for the next idiot who stumbles along.

The haunted house in Jaws is the ocean. In Alien it’s the Nostromo. In Jurassic Park it’s the island. Nightmare on Elm Street? Their dreams.

Next, you need something evil in the enclosed location. This can be anything–ghost, monster, dentist, you name it. This may seem obvious, but it’s important enough to stress. Otherwise you get a story of a bunch of people trapped in a room who take out their phones and play Fortnite until they’re rescued. Boring.

The third thing you need for a haunted house story is a collection of flawed characters. It’s no good having just one character, you need a bunch of them. Their flaws may be as simple as she or he lacks self-confidence, or they haven’t yet gotten over the loss of a loved one, but they all have something wrong with them. Maybe they think they’re better than everyone. Maybe they are obsessed with washing their hands. It really doesn’t matter as long as there’s an identifiable flaw.

The reason the flaw is important is because it generally leads to their death as the characters are taken out one by one. In general, anytime a character in a haunted house story finds himself or herself alone, you can be pretty sure they’re about to die. How does this translate to Middle Grade (since we generally don’t turn our Middle Grade books into blood baths)? They are taken out of commision. Knocked unconscious. Trapped in the cupboard. Turned into a newt.

And this happens because of their flaw. The character who lacks self-confidence didn’t think he can make the jump over the yawning chasm after everyone else has jumped across. And because he doesn’t jump, he’s captured by the seven-eyed monstrocity chasing them. And then eaten.

The last rule to remember is that only the innocent (and dogs) survive. Haunted House stories grew out of parents’ need to keep children alive.

“Mom? Can I go play in the abandoned glass, needle, and razer blade factory?”


“Why not?”

“Because I said so.”

“Why not?”

“Because it is dangerous.”

“Why not?”


“Oh. OK.”

By ensuring that only the innocent survive, we are subconsciously teaching our children to be good citizens.

“You should wash your hands, Billy. Remember when SallyJesse didn’t wash her hands in He Vomits On Your Grave? She exploded. You don’t want to explode, do you, Billy? Better wash your hands.”

Yes, spooky stories make for valuable life lessons.

And yes, the dog always survives.

All of these rules aren’t meant to constrict a writer in plotting out a story, rather they are intended to serve as a guide. If you know the rules, you can break them and know exactly what you are doing and everybody is happy. Haunted House stories are some of the most enjoyable spooky stories around. Writing one can be a whole lot of fun.

Just make sure the dog survives.

Happy haunting!



Hello Spooky MG lovers!

Welcome to our new site dedicated to all things spooky in Middle Grade!


I’m so excited to be a part of this! To give a brief history, a few weeks before Halloween, several of us Middle Grade authors of spooky stories decided to get together for a Spooky giveaway. It proved to be very successful, and we had so much fun doing it, that we figured we could keep the show running a little longer, which led to group Skype visits. Well, I’m happy to say that the group continued to click, so we decided to continue with this all year-round!

For me, personally, it’s been such incredible fun to be able to join like-minded people. During our Skype sessions and discussions about this site, we all got to know each other, and discovered that we had so much in common. Also, I’m not going to lie, it’s been great being able to be part of a group without my mom having to write other parents to ask them to include me. But, that’s a different story, entirely.

Throughout the life of this site, we’re going to champion Spooky MG books and discuss why scary books are so good for kids. We’re going to do giveaways, book school and Skype visits, and have fun events for readers to participate in.

We hope you enjoy, and by all means, we hope you reach out to discuss all things spooky with us! We’d love to hear from you!

Spooky Stories All Year Round

There are many different types of spooky stories. Some feature humor, adventure and straight-up chills, while others explore sensitive topics and tug at readers’ emotions. No  matter what type of story you love, spooky books have a place in the classroom, library and beyond all year round, not just at Halloween. To delve deeper into this topic I spoke to some of today’s foremost authors of middle grade spooky stories.

Jan Eldredge

Why do you write spooky stories?
I guess I write spooky stories for the same reason I love to read them. They allow us an escape to dangerous, exciting worlds, worlds that we get to explore from the comfort of our safe, everyday lives.

Why are spooky stories important all year round?
Spooky stories are chock full of benefits, particularly for young readers! Reading about young protagonists defeating evil can be very empowering for children. Spooky stories can also provide safe ways for kids to explore fear and experience a sense of danger, sort of like trying on a costume to see what it feels like to be someone else for a while. Spooky stories are great reminders that our boring lives aren’t quite so bad after all.

S.A. Larsen

Why do you write spooky stories?
For me, spooky stories are like passageways into the unknown and the misunderstood, mysteries that keep me on the edge of my seat. I’ve always been curious about the great beyond and the aspects of life we can’t see – like what really goes on inside a cemetery when none of the living are watching. Writing spooky tales with otherworldly or ghostly elements gives me the freedom to explore life themes such as the importance of family, self-esteem and confidence, and friendship in new and unexpected ways for young readers.

Why are spooky stories important all year round?
Tales with spooky and eerie elements explore the same important life struggles, hopes, dreams, and challenges that contemporary stories do. They also help kids see that fear is a part of life – fear of change, fear of a new school, fear of taking a test – and helps them see and workout solutions to overcoming fear. These are universal emotions and challenges that can be discussed throughout the year. The possibilities are endless!

Janet Fox

Why do you write spooky stories?
Really, the spooky part of THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE was accidental! My original idea was more mystery/fantasy, but as I wrote the antagonist she became darker and darker and more nuanced for it. And the darkness of the antagonist reflected something in my own mood, something I needed to sort through. But my son said something recently that was inspired in this regard. He said that he loves dark, spooky stories because that one tiny glimmer of hope within the darkness – even if it’s just a candle – can feel like a brilliant light. And I thought, yes. That’s what I like, too. Magnifying the light in the darkness or the happiness within the spookiness. That’s the secret.

Why are spooky stories important all year round?
I would say that’s why spooky stories are always in season – they offer that recognition that hope flickers brilliantly in the dark.

Samantha M. Clark

Why do you write spooky stories?
I get scared easily when I’m reading spooky stories, but I still love them. Spooky stories get my blood pumping, and I need to know if everything’s going to end safely. When it does, it helps me know that when I’m scared in real life, everything can be okay. So when there’s an opportunity to put some spookiness into my own stories, I jump at the chance. Getting scared can be fun, especially when we know we can always close the book if we need a break.

Why are spooky stories important all year round?
Halloween is, of course, when we celebrate spooky stories the most, but reading spooky stories is fun and good for us at any time. They remind us that it’s okay to be scared, and show us that we can be brave just like the characters in the stories. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.'” And with spooky stories, we can build courage and confidence safely while facing our fears within the pages of the books and with the characters as our guides and companions. Spooky stories help us grow, and that’s a good thing every day.

Jonathan Rosen

Why do you write spooky stories?
I’ve always loved spooky stories. Much more so than horror. I like the creepiness factor of the unknown. What’s there lurking in the shadows? The mystery, to me, is much scarier and interesting, than having the monster actually appear on the stage. Why is the ghost there? What’s the story behind it? How was that monster created? I loved these stories as a kid, and always felt fascinated by them. I like to write to my younger self and kids who were like me.

Why are spooky stories important all year round?
There is no bad time to read scary stories. Yeah, they’re much better to read at Halloween time, but the kids who love them, don’t want to be relegated to one season a year for books. Kids like to be scared, to a degree, but then they know they can put the books away. They’re safe again. I also read a long time ago, and it’s true, spooky stories give kids the consequences of not following rules. Your Mogwai will turn to a Gremlin if you don’t follow them. Your vampire neighbor can get in your house, if you don’t follow the rule about not inviting him in. Spooky stories also open the mind to think of different possibilities. I know when I read them, I always went searching for more. More stories about the subject. I wanted to read about haunted places. The times when the ghosts came from. I think reading leads to more reading.

Kim Ventrella

Why do you write spooky stories?
I have always been interested in the intersection of darkness and whimsy. I love the space where macabre tales meet deeply-felt emotions and discoveries. Adding a spooky element allows me to explore difficult real-life topics in a way that I find more palatable and easier to understand.

Why are spooky stories important all year round?
Spooky stories aren’t just about Halloween. They’re about exploring the mysterious all around us, searching for new possibilities, confronting our deepest fears and stepping out into the darkness to find that courage and resilience that resides within us all.