Writing ghost stories

I decided to take a break from my usual writing by working on some traditional ghost stories. We English tend to see ghost stories as a particularly English literary tradition. It’s not hard to see why. Ghost stories set in England use local landscapes, buildings, history, customs and folklore. (I assume Italian ghost stories seem particularly Italian for the same reason.)

When I’m working on urban fantasy romance I am very influenced by the North American urban fantasy television shows I watch. Many of those shows draw on European traditions. Grimm in particular had a strong German feel. Lost Girl drew on mythology from Europe and elsewhere.

The influence of North America is so strong, I have to resist the temptation to set my urban fantasy stories in places like Maine and the Pacific Northwest.

When I write ghost stories I’m immediately immersed in my own culture. There’s no temptation to Americanise.

I think ghost stories are very rooted to place. They’re almost a form of nature writing. They tend to be about individuals intensely experiencing their surroundings and human dynamics that existed in the place before.

Every genre has different requirements. In traditional ghost stories the following matter:

  • Psychology of the haunted person
  • A full sense of the environment
  • A sense of mystery and suspense
  • A credible explanation for the haunting (this can be the psychology of the ghost)

In today’s story planning session I thought about the generation of my parents and my grandparents. I thought about stories I’ve heard. I also thought about the interaction between old and new. Such as new office blocks on old sites.

It is interesting to see how different genres demand different approaches from the writer. Yet they all require similar elements such as credibility, mystery, plot structure etc…

How a workshop helped me

Recently I took part in a writing workshop outside my genre. At the time the experience wasn’t enjoyable. It was my first time receiving heavy criticism from a group of strangers.

As with many learning experiences it took time for the gains to percolate through. In my writing session today I thought about what my readers would say about my piece.

What I’ve learnt is to imply less and explain more. It’s a good idea to satisfy the reader’s curiosity.

For example, my story begins after the death of a grandmother. Even though she’s not a living character in this story I’m going to have to explain quite a bit about her, including the cause of death.

Cause of death has nothing to do with the story but missing it out will bug some readers.

Why I prefer 3rd person narrative

I didn’t want to write fiction today as writing fiction feels like so much hard work. But I knew that even a short session would make a difference, so I sat down and did 45 minutes.

I’ve returned to writing in third person past tense narrative after a period of writing in first person present.

It is much much easier to write the traditional way even if it doesn’t score as many fancy pants literary points.

The problem with first person present narration is that the narrative becomes part of the story. What the protagonist chooses to describe reflects what matters to them. So, for example, if the protagonist has 100% lack of interest in her appearance it’s quite difficult to get her to mention what she looks like. You end up having to invent a scene or a conversation just to manoeuvre a description into the story.

In a third person narrative it’s far easier to drop in hints. The protagonist can be seen picking leaves out of her “curly red hair” after being caught in a storm. In first person the protagonist would presumably be too busy talking about the storm to mention her hair colour.

I’m writing in third person but attached to one character’s point of view. So I share her thoughts and feelings only. For other characters we only see their behaviours from the outside, just as my protagonist sees them.

Later I will introduce her love interest and will write some chapters from his point of view in the third person. It will be interesting for me to view the protagonist without riding along in her head.

Planning the first chapters

I’ve been planning out my first chapter and the two beyond that. As my genre is mystery romance the first chapters need to do several things.

  • Introduce the lovers to the reader
  • Give each lover a sympathetic back story and a want/problem
  • Introduce a mystery
  • Introduce the first external conflict
  • Avoid cliche and ensure that characters’ decision making is believable rather than convenient

One thing I’m wondering about is that I have a character in the first chapter who serves a purpose but may not be seen again. For some reason I feel that she will need to reappear later if only not to look like a cheap plot device. So I’ll have to find a role for her in a later chapter.

Starting again (again)

We’re already into the fifth month of the year and I’m no nearer completing my manuscript. What have I done so far in 2019?

  • Chose my genre
  • Read in my genre
  • Took a writing course outside my genre, which gave me great tips for successful first chapters
  • Fell down a social media hole for over a month, then decided to worry about social media once I have a book to sell
  • Did quite a lot of writing but not as much as I would like
  • Did some other life stuff

Last night and this morning I planned out a new story. It’s a romance with fairies.

I have an overall plot arc and have planned the first three chapters in more detail. I started writing the first scene than ran out of steam.

I’ve decided not to bother with social media but I do find keeping a writing journal to be useful. So I’ll do that for now.