I think the real genius of Hill House is the way Jackson seems to have such a clear idea what’s going on–and, frankly, I don’t think it matters if Jackson thinks she’s writing a real ghost story or a psychological horror or what–the thing is that she’s got a narrative. She knows what gets us from point a to point b to point c.
And then she sticks us in the narrative car (so to speak) with someone who doesn’t at all know why or how we’re going from a to be to c.
I feel like, every once in a while, you get a glimpse of the scaffolding–we hear Theo tease Luke about having her stocking early on; later, when Eleanor so desperately wants to overhear them talking about her, she seems unable to understand that she’s not on their minds at all; the Doctor has a clear idea what things will mean someone has to leave the house; etc.
It all suggests Jackson has this rather thick narrative thread laid out in her head in a way that satisfies her and then she adeptly decides what all to leave out to give us the strand we’re following.
I think this is going to be the hardest part of me in the haunted house story–being willing to keep back in order to build tension. But also to let the action drive the plot. I tend to let my characters get into messes of their own design and then flounder along getting out of them. But I don’t think you can have a floundering haunted house story. Things have to be getting progressively worse or else why worry about the house at all?
A house where something knocks late at night on the bathroom door is just a house with a knock. If it doesn’t lead to anything, if things don’t get progressively worse, then it’s not scary.
You can acclimate to anything, if it goes on long enough. So, the horror has to grow.