Great ghost stories base their power to immobilize and terrorize their audience on both a build up of highly intensive suggestion and on suspense. You may imagine that a complete gore fest, with blood and guts, would terrify you in a ghost story. But in actual fact it would be unlikely to do so had much work not gone on beforehand to grip your imagination and to get your adrenalin flowing.
As with all stories the authors ability to tap in to their readers feelings is paramount in hooking them into the storyline. When it comes to ghost stories the story needs to not just tap into feelings, such as primitive fear, but to intensify them.
There are certain universally recognized elements which already delve into a readers unconscious fear triggers. These elements, such as darkness, being alone, unexplained creaks and bumps in the night and so on, can be found in many ghost stories.
The job of these elements is to lay the ground for the build up of fear induced adrenalin which the stories are to provoke. Once the scare factor has been introduced into the storyline then it can be added to.
Each reader, on top of universally fearful elements, will have their own personal fear triggers which the author may not necessarily bring purposefully into the story. But if the author is clever then they may leave space for the imagination of the reader to add in their fear triggers.
If, for example, the author lingers on a universal fear producing element, such as a young girl walking alone through a graveyard in the night, then the readers imagination may start to try to anticipate the next part of the story, and to make suggestions which rise from their subconscious fears.
In this way the reader becomes almost complicit in their own experience of the ghostly tale. This is why one ghost story may terrify one individual and not another. If the reader is not both hooked into the story and using their own imagination then the story will have less effect and so be less...