What Makes a Compelling, Believable Ghost?
Ghosts have always fascinated me. My first encounter with a ghost in a romance was Lynn Kurland’s Stardust of Yesterday. I admit I was pulled in partly by the cover, as the actor from Highlander was the cover model. Yes, those alluring covers do draw us in, don’t they! In this story, the hero was a ghost and the heroine was still alive. Talk about instant conflict. That first paranormal romance sparked my interest to the genre and led me happily down the path to the dark side.
As an author, creating ghosts is much harder than reading about them. When writing Dark Hero, a paranormal romance, I had think long and hard about how and why the ghosts would appear in the story in the first place, as well to try to create that chill factor we love in ghost stories. No, I didn’t go into haunted houses. I love to be scared by reading ghost stories and watching scary movies (not alone!) but facing a real ghost in a haunted house--no, not if I can help it.
I asked myself this, why stick around in a place for centuries when you could be off enjoying the after-life? I’d go to Paris, to the Louvre. I’d be off in a heartbeat if I was a ghost and able to travel anywhere I wanted to go with no physical boundaries. And yet, the main element of ghost stories is the ghost being tied to the person or to a specific place.
Ah, now I had a clue. I can’t just throw random ghosts into a story to jack up the creepy factor and scintillate readers; we need to have reason for the haunting that fits into the plot of the book.
So, I came up with a list of elements to help me construct a compelling, believable ghost:
1). Ghosts have feelings, and feelings compel us to act, rationally or irrationally.
I love the Supernatural TV Series. As Dean and Sam hunt ghosts, there are often some pretty angry haunters to contend with. An example is the female ghost in the show’s pilot who kept appearing to men along the deserted road. The men she appeared to were unfaithful to their mates, so after they picked her up she would kill them. She did this because she had been betrayed by her husband and being in an angry, irrational state, she killed herself. Thus, she became fixated on killing other men in the area near her home who are adulterers. Her feelings of pain and betrayal at death forced her to seek revenge--now that’s an emotionally driven ghost.
2). Ghosts want to contact the living. That is the bread and butter of the Ghost genre. If they’re off doing their own thing, like going to Paris to haunt the Louvre (my choice) then where’s the story? What’s the point? It might be at the Louvre . . . but again, why would I be there instead of at home trying to contact my children and grandchildren?
3). Ghosts have to be motivated toward a goal. There has to be a reason why they are stuck where they are. That’s why they are so angry, sad or psychotic. They have intense feelings which cause them to act and they are motivated to complete a goal so they can find peace.
To illustrate this, consider two of the ghosts in the Harry Potter movies. I love the headless ghost who keeps floating around Hogwartz cheerfully chatting with everyone, but it seems he serves no real purpose in the movie other than background flavoring. Moaning Mertle on the other hand, (the girl who haunts the bathroom) has intense feelings and a purpose to be in the story. She has knowledge that ultimately helps Harry and the gang. Once they talk to Mertle, she helps them solve their problem by giving clues that lead to the next step in their quest.
I have several ghosts in Dark Hero. Some are strangers to the heroine and others are family members. Regardless of their relationship to Elizabeth O’Flaherty, they all have a reason to be stuck with a haunting gig and a reason to want to contact to her. Elizabeth is a seer and is able to see and speak with the dead. Examining why the ghosts should be present in first place helped me to write a compelling ghost story and avoid using ghosts as wallpaper merely to spice up the story.
After sharing what I think makes a credible ghost, let’s open this up for discussion. Feel free to share your comments about what makes a worthy haunting in a story and what you like (or don’t like) in ghostly characters.
Leave a comment and you’ll be entered into a drawing to win a print copy of Dark Hero; A Gothic Romance. Remember to leave an email address so I can contact the winner. So, it’s your turn--share a favorite ghostly character, what appealed to you or what didn’t?
Guard Your Dreams . . . Lest They Emerge from the Mists to Embrace You . . .
After her mother is murdered, Elizabeth’s Irish grandmother casts a spell summoning a Dark Hero from the Gothic Romances Elizabeth devours. When a beguiling Irishman appears at their cottage one magic summer eve, he seems to be everything Elizabeth longs for in a hero.
But Donovan Beaumont is much more than she bargained for when she said ‘I do’.
Once they arrive on his isolated estate, Elizabeth fears her new husband is courting madness. She struggles with his dark moods, his disguises and their growing estrangement.
Elizabeth has the gift of the seer and is able to speak with the dead. Tormented by guilt, by dark memories of her mother’s murder and stalked by a malevolent ghost cursed by her ancestor, Elizabeth is forced to embrace her Druid heritage and confront the disturbing secrets hidden in her soul.
The price of honesty may be too steep; if Donovan learns her horrifying secrets, Elizabeth may lose his love forever.
A low, feral growling startled Donovan from his inebriated doze.
He opened his eyes and his heart stopped. The hair on the back of his neck rose.
Puck [the kitten] was still on his shoulder, crouched and growling at the dark haired woman he’d seen in his dream. She was bending over Elizabeth, whispering some insistent message in her ear.
The woman wasn’t alive. Donovan knew it instinctively, just like the cat.
As he watched, the mysterious woman drew back the covers and slipped pale arms beneath his sleeping wife. Elizabeth was lifted above the bed and then hurled across the room as if she were naught but a feather pillow.
The bone crunching thud of Lizzie’s body hitting the floor was enough to stir him out of his stunned lethargy. He stood and grabbed the only weapon at his disposal, the empty bottle of scotch. “Get away from my wife.” He warned, tossing the bottle at the pale woman in white.
The bottle went through the woman’s body and shattered the dressing mirror across the room. The sound of tinkling glass gave solid evidence that he was not dreaming.
The pale woman grimaced at him. Her face became ugly and skeletal. She gave him a look of pure malice before disappearing into thin air, just as she had earlier when he awakened from a startled doze to find her hovering near him.
Donovan rushed to Elizabeth’s side.
“Donovan . . .” She murmured, hugging him in recognition through her drug induced daze. He carried her to the bed and settled the covers about her. He stood looking down at her as she returned to a serene slumber. He ran a hand through his loose hair, and turned toward the doorway, desperately searching for tangible proof that he was not losing his mind.
“Poor child.” The soft cooing came from behind him. He twisted on his heels and nearly shrieked his horror. His dead grandmother was hovering over Elizabeth, stroking her hair with a transparent hand. “I’ve tried to protect her. The woman is too powerful.”
This was why people shouldn’t drink, he thought with revived conviction. Donovan tried to swallow. His throat was bone dry. He didn’t seem to have a drop of spit left in him.
Lily Silver lives in Northeastern Wisconsin, on the shores of Green Bay. She lives in a lovely old Victorian house with her husband, their German Shepherd and three charming cats. She has two children and an adorable grandson who inherited Lily’s red hair. There don’t seem to be any ghosts in their charming old Victorian home, but those cats seem to have developed a very heavy step on the stairs of late. Her favorite TV shows are Supernatural, Ghost Whisperer and Bones.
Lily has degrees in both History and in Humanistic Studies with an emphasis in Ancient and Medieval Research. She enjoys writing historical romances but likes to add a paranormal twist. In Dark Hero, the heroine is a descendent of Druids and can walk the veil between the worlds and speak with the dead. In Some Enchanted Waltz, a little fairy mischief has brought the heroine back to the hero’s time, and the heroine has some latent magical abilities. In her current work, Bright Scoundrel, [a release late of October 2012; sequel to Dark Hero] the hero is an accomplished sorcerer returning to Ireland to reclaim his family’s castle and will deal with some rather persistent ghosts.
facebook: Lily Silver, Author
Links for Books on Amazon.com
Dark Hero: http://www.amazon.com/Gothic-Romance-Reluctant-Heroes-ebook/dp/B007RIVFW0/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1343754794&sr=1-1&keywords=dark+hero
Some Enchanted Waltz:
-- Lynda Again,
Wow, great excerpt! Don't forget to follow the instructions so you can enter Lily's drawing for a chance to win the book!
Good Luck and Have a Blessed Day!