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Story Skeleton: Watcher in the Woods

Genre: Horror/Haunted Mansion Ghost Story

Premise: A girl arrives at a creepy mansion and is dragged into solving the mystery of its ghost.

A Watcher in the Woods was a movie produced by Disney in 1980. In its day, it might have been considered creepy. Viewed from a modern perspective, the acting is wooden, dialogue is clunky with lots of shouting to convey tension, and not much depth or character insight. There were a few “gotcha” moments and attempts to provide an atmospheric setting. Stripped of the details, you are left with the following story skeleton.

Scene 1: (External conflict) Introduce protagonist arriving at creepy mansion secluded in creepy woods complete with mysterious caretaker. Theme stated: What good old mansion doesn’t have a ghost?

Scene 2: (Antagonist conflict) First paranormal event. Conversation with caretaker.

Scene 3: (Interpersonal conflict) Something awful happened. Warning given: leave.

Scene 4: (Interpersonal conflict) Discussion of backstory of ghost.

Scene 5: (Interpersonal conflict) Creepy caretaker talks to the ghost.

Scene 6: (Antagonist conflict) Second paranormal encounter with the ghost.

Scene 7: (External conflict) Hint that danger is ahead.

Scene 8: (External conflict) Fourth paranormal event.

Scene 9: (External conflict) Fifth paranormal event. Introduce creepy man.

Scene 10: (Antagonist conflict) Mortal threat 1. Looks like caretaker is trying to harm but is trying to help.

Scene 11: (Interpersonal conflict) Backstory of the missing girl. Something is out there.

Scene 12: (Interpersonal conflict) Thematic discussion, there is no ghost.

Scene 13: (Antagonist conflict) Mortal threat 2. Saved by the antagonist.

Scene 14: (Interpersonal conflict) Discussion of backstory. Warning repeated.

Scene 15: (Interpersonal conflict) Discussion of backstory. What really happened? Clue revealed.

Scene 16: (Antagonist conflict) Mortal threat 3. Leads to scene of disappearance. Sees ghost. Sees creepy man. Paranormal activity heats up. Leads to another clue.

Scene 17: (Interpersonal conflict) Secondary characters have a discussion. Creepy man warned to stop talking. 

Scene 18: (Antagonist conflict) Sees ghost. Protagonist commits to solving mystery of ghost.

Scene 19: (Interpersonal conflict) Discussion with secondary character. Leave it alone.

Scene 20: (External conflict) False threat by creepy man in the woods. He offers alternative theory and fills in backstory.

Scene 21: (Interpersonal conflict) Protagonist presents alternative theory to the caretaker. Visited by the ghost. Twist: ghost is not who they think it is.

Scene 22: (Antagonist conflict) Protagonist is prevented from fleeing mansion/danger. Mortal threat 4.

Scene 23: (Interpersonal conflict) Protagonist must solve mystery to return to safety.

Scene 24: (Antagonist conflict) Ghost offers hint.

Scene 25: (External conflict) She finds the key to solving the mystery. She must recreate the events of the day. The setting reflects the day of the original disappearance.

Scene 26: (Interpersonal conflict) Caretaker warns her to not do it.

Scene 27: (Interpersonal conflict) Must have cooperation of secondary characters. Meets resistance.

Scene 28: (External conflict) Climax is set up. Everyone is assembled.

Scene 29: (External conflict) Climax. Truth is revealed.

Scene 30: (External conflict) Missing girl returns. Closure is gained.

The End.

There was no internal conflict, personal dilemma, or character change explored in the story. The protagonist stumbled upon the story problem by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. She was forced by the antagonist to solve the backstory mystery. The stakes were personal safety from implied harm from the antagonist. The antagonist turned out to be benevolent rather than malevolent. The mystery had a twist in that there was no actual ghost and the missing girl had been transported to another dimension instead of dying.

If you borrow this story skeleton, you could improve it by adding internal conflict scenes and stronger stakes for solving the overall story problem. There could be a personal connection to the backstory or some action by the character that brought the danger near. Interpersonal conflict could be intensified.

If you have an idea but feel stuck, find a story that is similar to the one you want to tell. Tear it down into scenes and analyze the plot progression. Then use the magic of your imagination to dress up the skeleton.

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