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Ghost in the Machine...I Mean, Novel!

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As some of you may already be aware, I am a fan of the paranormal. I am an avid ghost hunter and paranormal researcher. I collect haunted objects (yes, I willingly bring haunted things into my home) and the three-book series that I have been crafting for the past two years, is based on the paranormal. I am a voracious reader of ghost tales, and I have just recently researched Native American belief systems and their link to the paranormal which greatly helped me to establish my beliefs on spirits.


In my last post, I gave four tips on how to write about paranormal experiences. What I would like to do in this piece is talk about the function of a ghost or entity in your writing. I like to break down ghosts/entities into four different categories: 


1. The Plain Old Run of the Mill Ghost.

This is the spirit of a person who has passed away but was unable to move on to the next life. It does not break its bonds with the physical world.


2. A Haunting Apparition

This is a physical representation of the protagonist's disturbed psyche, and it torments them in the following ways:


a.Dreams that keep coming back.

b.The recollection of prior humiliation and traumatic experiences brought on by a current event.

c. daydreams

d. hallucinations, either auditory or visual in nature

e.When viewed from the outside, the protagonist appears to have paranoid thoughts; yet, the protagonist believes that their encounter with the haunting is all too genuine.


This is by far, my favorite spirit to work with when I write. It lends itself to many subplots and can be a gateway for genre overlap. For example, thriller or crime novel can easily be transformed into a paranormal tale by a tormented soul. Take for example, Odd Thomas. An unassuming fry cook can save hundreds of people because of his paranormal experiences. 


3. A Haunting Run of the Mill Ghost

This spirit is a combination of the Haunting Apparition and the Plain Old Ghost. It's possible that the protagonist is being followed by a true ghost, but it's also possible that the "ghost" they see is only a representation of their guilt and terror brought on by a break from reality.


You are probably saying, “Fantastic, Cara! Now, how do we use them as tools in our writing?”


I am so glad you asked. 


Ghosts and the paranormal is a fantastic way to reveal our own biases and shames, as well as the anxieties that are prevalent in our society at the time of the writing. This is something that is sometimes done on purpose as a socio-cultural metaphor however, the author must take great care not to malign any one person or group as being monstrous, transgressive, and/or frightening. Yet ghosts and that paranormal can be, when done correctly effective representations of the past returning to haunt us. They can be the perfect symbolic exploration of what it is like to confront and triumph over adversity. They can be the manifestation of:


  1. lingering and hidden embarrassments

  2. The consequences of our actions

  3. Our own trauma


Therefore, the more you are able to incorporate one or more of those themes into your narrative (either through the past of the protagonist, the ghost, or both), the more emotionally and psychologically resonant it will be with the reader.


In short, ghosts and the paranormal have a strange position in our thoughts; despite the fact that they are terrifying. They convey an underlying sense of optimism because they imply that there is life after death, that there is still a chance for justice to be done, and that we will one day be able to find rest and tranquility in the hereafter. Writing about the paranormal brings a unique emotional value that is both reassuring and terrifying. I find the paranormal endlessly intriguing and the possibilities for storytelling are unlimited.



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