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Write Scary Short Stories by Studying a Master of the Gothic Genre -- Poe

written by: Kellie Hayden • edited by: Trent Lorcher • updated: 9/11/2012

Teach students to write scary short stories for language arts class by reading classic Poe short stories. Students will read and then emulate his style and use of Gothic elements to create their own stories.

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    Study Poe to Write Scary Stories

    When teaching writing, one strategy is to have students model their work after a master of the genre. For the scary story, Edgar Allan Poe is a well known American author. As a matter of fact, his work is now in the public domain. That means people can copy his work from sites such Project Gutenberg for free.

    Read Poe's Work

    For middle school students, two great stories to read in class are Tell Tell Heart and The Fall of the House of Usher. He, of course, has many more short stories from which to choose, but these are great for the middle school or even high school classroom. The strangeness of the tales coupled with the gothic devices that Poe uses will give students ideas for their own stories.

    Tell-Tale Heart

    The "Tell-Tale Heart" is written from the point of view of the murderer. The reader does not know his or her name and is abruptly drawn into the strange story. It is not full of gory details, as in many of today's scary stories, but relies on the narrator's madness and the "eye" of the murder victim. Madness is a theme in both of these stories. The narrator does end up killing the old man after many attempts and stuffing him under the floor, but the details of the bloody deed are not the focus of the story. It is the narrator's fixation with the eye and then the beating heart.

    Fall of the House of Usher

    In "The Fall of the House of Usher," madness is a theme too. The narrator is asked to come to his ailing boyhood friend's home. Poe uses the typical Gothic genre devices--gloom, decrepit home, dark pond, tombs, etc. His friend has a twin sister who appears like a ghost at one point, is buried alive and then falls dead on her brother when she breaks free from the tomb. The house then literally falls apart.

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    Students Write Own Short Stories

    Students will discuss the two short stories. Then, they will plan critical literary elements of their short stories before they write them: setting, main character. point of view, climax and resolution. Make sure to discuss that students should focus on the Gothic elements and not the gore in their short stories.

    Discuss Poe's Use of Gothic Elements

    Step1: Make a list of Gothic elements in the two stories. A good list of Gothic elements is on the Elements of Gothic Novels website.

    Step 2: Discuss his use of suspense and his choice of characters to narrate the story. Suspense is when the reader wants to know what will happen next and when the author creates a feeling of apprehension from uncertainty in the plot.

    Choose Setting, Narrator, Climax, & Resolution

    Step 3: Ask students to choose a setting for the story. The setting is where and when the story takes place. It should be gloomy, dark, or creepy.

    Step 4: Direct students to create a narrator for the story. This character can be a transparent one, as in "Fall of the House of Usher" or mysterious, as in "Tell-Tale Heart."

    Step 5: Have students write down a climax, which is the turning point of the story. The events should come to a "head" and take the story in a different direction.

    Step 6: Ask students to write down the resolution or ending to the story. Students will many times ramble on in a story for pages because they don't know how to end the story.

    Write Draft of Scary Short Story

    Step 7: After students have a list of all of these critical literary elements, have them write their first draft of their short story. They can, of course, change the elements if they choose. However, the literary elements can be a "road map" for their story so that it doesn't turn into a rambling novel.

    Step 8: Students should share drafts with peers. Then, write a final copy

    The students will spend much less time staring at a blank sheet of paper and put pencil to paper when they begin writing their short stories. Hopefully, they will be inspired by Poe to write intriguing stories.

Creative Writing Lessons for Scary Poems and Short Stories

These lessons will help students to write short stories and poems that focus on Gothic elements. These can be used for a unit around Halloween.
  1. Write Scary Short Stories by Studying a Master of the Gothic Genre -- Poe
  2. Use Digital Photos of Scary Things to Inspire Poetry Writing