writing inspiration process setting

Writing "Ghost Ship"

By James Van Pelt
Oct 21, 2020 · 222 words · 1 minute

Photo by Elena Theodoridou via Unsplash.

From the author: A quick peek into the thinking that went into writing "Ghost Ship."


Creative writing teachers, like myself, talk about elements in fiction separately.  The list of elements looks like this (additions, subtractions and rewordings abound).

  • Character
  • Dialogue
  • Setting
  • Description
  • Narration
  • Exposition
  • Scenes
  • Inciting moment
  • Rising action
  • Climax
  • Denouement
  • Conflict
  • Theme

Any of them can be the place where a story starts in a writer's mind. For me, a fair number start with a setting. That's another list, a private one, of settings that I find attractive and I want to write stories in:

  • Lighthouse
  • School
  • Elevator
  • Lakehouse
  • Library
  • etc.

"Ghost Ship" started with an old three-masted schooner, a pirate's ship. You can already see the fascination with such a setting, can't you? It's such a sensory-rich place: the movement of the deck, the creaking of sails, the clatter of equipment, the salt air and seaweed smells, and slap of waves against the hull. How could you not want to be there?

The rest of the decisions flowed from the place. What kind of ship is it? (a ghostly galleon, I decided). Who is the story about? (someone who doesn't belong on the ship was my thought). And the story built from there.

People ask writers constantly, "Where do you get your ideas?" My answer is almost always unsatisfying: "From the smallest things." For "Ghost Ship," it began with a place.


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James Van Pelt

An interviewer asked the author if he wanted to be the next Stephen King: he said, "No, I want to be the first James Van Pelt."