Narrative Techniques Used in Ghost Story Genre: Cases of Alice Marshall and Adam Wingard Works

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Compare the ways in which author Kate Alice Marshall (Rules For Vanishing) and director Adam Wingard (The Blair Witch) employ a wide variety of techniques to explore the genre of horror/thriller and the sense of mystery within their texts.

Ghost stories have long been a part of every culture, in every corner of the globe; usually adopted to educate and generate fear, keeping people in line, morally aware, and away from danger, for centuries. However, it can be argued that ghost stories are just that – stories. Kate Alice Marshall, author of paranormal fiction novel, Rules For Vanishing uses fractured plot, non-linear narrative, accumulative snippets of detail and an unreliable narrator to drive the mysterious plot of her text. Contrastingly, Adam Wingard, director of the horror/thriller film, The Blair Witch relies on clever camera work, color and sound to draw the reader deeply into his story. Both authors use techniques such as found footage and different points of view to generate a spooky mood and a sense of horror. These techniques really bring the mystery of their own ghost stories to life.

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Marshall’s Rules For Vanishing utilizes a fractured plot and non-linear narrative to explore and make sense of the world in which the text is set, whereas Wingard’s The Blair Witch, re-visits selective footage whilst also retaining a strong, linear narrative. In addition, both texts make use of found footage as the driving force of the story. Marshall’s uses of a fractured plot, a broken and split story line, along with a non-linear narrative, helps unravel a complex tale. This means that the text moves between both the present and past, adopting the forms of recorded interview transcripts and written testimonials by the protagonist, Sara, respectively. When this happens in the present, Dr. Ashford prompts Sara to write more of her testimony offering us more of the story. This gives the reader an insight into the future of the story without concrete evidence. A great example of this is during an interview between Dr. Ashford and Sara she believes that it is “[her] fault” and that her friends “wouldn’t have been there if it wasn’t for [her]” yet she remains from saying what happened to her friends, making the reader have to speculate about what happened. On the other hand, Wingard takes advantage of a strong linear narrative for his story, even though he does revisit the same footage with a different level of context and the story line uses the manipulation of time to its advantage.

By implementing a linear narrative, the audience is completely unaware of what the future holds. This also gives us a sense that we are experience the same thing that James and his friends are experiencing. The story revisits the same piece of footage as it is used as a found footage at the beginning of the film and then again as the experience of Lisa. By doing this it confuses the audience, making them have to think about whether James and his friends are experiencing what Heather did or if they somehow found their own footage. The manipulation of time also has a profound effect on the mood of the film as the irregularity of the day/night cycle drives the characters to a state of discomposure especially when they wake up at 9 o’clock in the morning when the sun rises at 6. Both authors use their form of narrative structure to their advantage. In Marshall’s text, the reader becomes unsure of what to expect about the future. Meanwhile, Wingard attempts to make his audience experience something completely unrealistic while trying to convey an unsolvable mystery, both influencing the viewers response while they engage with their texts. Interestingly, both authors use found “old” footage to help drive their plot and highlight action and elicit reactions. In Rules For Vanishing, the found footage comes in the form of text messages, video and audio recordings from not only by past travelers but also from Sara and her friends, this would then allow Marshall to inform the audience about the friendships of the characters and the horrors associated with the road. Wingard, on the other hand uses found footage in two ways; the first is the motivation and the driving force for the story, as this footage leads to his search for his missing sister. The other way in which Wingard uses old footage is evident in the style of the text, as it is filmed as a faux documentary with a lot of the film being shaky as a handheld camera technique is employed. In other parts, the film is in shallow focus, giving the impression that it is aged, ominous and mysterious. It also suggests that the audience may be watching the “found” footage, drawing them into the story of the text.

Rules for Vanishing by Marshall uses many different forms of text to accumulate snippets of information to convey the feeling of the characters, whereas Wingard in The Blair Witch uses but one method of to draw out suspense in the text. Added to this the creation of unreliability of narration is a common technique adopted by the authors to add suspense to their texts. The narration in Rules for Vanishing differs from other pieces of text as it doesn’t have one sole form of narration and the story is presented to the readers through different pieces of text, such as written testimonials, recorded interviews, text messages, emails and so forth. Majority of the text, the plot, was written as testimonials by protagonist Sara as she was recounting what happened as part of an investigation, there are a few other characters that become narrators such as Dr. Ashford and Abbigail during private discussions. Having multiple inputs for information from different sources it allows the audience to see the story from a different point of view or through a different lens. These snippets of information allowed other texts and pieces of information to present itself to the reader that is not accessible to all of the characters. Wingard did not use multiple forms of text to convey his story and elicit his response, instead he wished to use a number of more personal points of view from each of the characters to express his story. Instead, Wingard wanted the film to be filmed in a pseudo-documentary style. This was achieved by each of the characters having cameras with them at all time being either handheld, an earpiece camera to give a point of view shot or other cameras set up by the characters themselves. This form of filming style is used to further immerse the audience into the piece of text this is expressed well in the scene when James is taught by Lisa on how to use the cameras. Having a part in the story means that we feel as though we are the characters and the readers experience what the characters do. Yet at the same time by having handheld cameras the view is shaky meaning we can’t always see clearly or everything they do as we don’t have the same level of peripheral vision.

Marshall played the story well and to add suspense to the story she decided to erase and alter parts of Sara memories, this allowed for Sara to become a test subject and an unreliable narrator. The creation of Sara as an unreliable narrator works well in the sense that something seems off about her before we realize that memories are wrong and missing, having this feeling of distrust and uncertainty grows as we learn more about the characters and plot. This aspect of the text creates a lack of trust between the reader and Sara, feeling as though the reader does not trust her, they will look for other characters and people to believe before anything she writes. By having Sara as the main protagonist means that to hear any of the story, we have to listen to her, raising more suspicion and suspense. Wingard has done something similar to Marshall and effectively tires to make the viewer feel untrustworthy and unsafe, this is done as creatures are seen in the corner of the screen, we start to question reality and because of the immersion of the filming technique we no longer trust ourselves. Marshall’s use of informational snippets and creation of an unreliable narrator draws upon the pent-up suspense drawing forth the feelings of uncertainty of the reader, while Wingard elicits suspense through fear and feelings of disbelief of reality.

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Narrative Techniques Used in Ghost Story Genre: Cases of Alice Marshall and Adam Wingard Works. (2023, January 31). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 24, 2024, from
“Narrative Techniques Used in Ghost Story Genre: Cases of Alice Marshall and Adam Wingard Works.” Edubirdie, 31 Jan. 2023,
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