Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Ghost Story

Since a couple people asked what the new novel's about, here's how I think of it. It's a ghost story. It's also a dysfunctional family story. What I'm trying to work in are these ideas, that I got as I thought about how and why a ghost might haunt someone:

-- It doesn't make much sense to me that someone who lived hundreds of years ago and has no connection to me would want to hurt, help, or communicate with me. Why? What would we even have in common? What would be the connection or reason? Just because my house is built where his was, or where his body is buried? Seems kind of petty, to bother me over something as trivial as physical proximity.

-- And speaking of physical, how would this spirit/ghost thing even communicate or affect me? I liked the scenes in Ghost (the movie) where the ghost had to really concentrate, just to move small objects. That makes more sense than a ghost flinging stuff all over. But it makes even more sense that a spirit would have almost no ability to affect the physical realm.

-- So what do these ghost entities do exactly? From all the haunted houses I've been to over the years, it seems like they go through the motions of their daily lives - a butler endlessly setting and clearing the table, a bride in her wedding dress before a mirror, a child in a swing. I can see this as poignant and maybe a good image of damnation, but it sure makes the dead look as though they're retarded, like they can't think of anything else to do (cf. zombies). If I'm to have a ghost character, I'd like him to do a bit more than that.

-- So I think you'd probably be haunted by dead family members - much like we are all "haunted" by our troubling or happy memories of loved ones who've died, and much like John Edwards' preys on people's desire for this on his TV show (which I think is a complete and total scam). And this is exactly the basis of ancestor veneration in China and traditional African religions.

-- And how exactly would you communicate? I really don't think the dead could talk in real words, as in sound waves moving through air (see above on the impossibility of them moving physical matter). And I don't think they'll have telepathy, exactly, since I don't think they'd get extra powers when they die. If anything, they are weaker when they're dead. And what would you talk about, exactly, unless it's all just some hazy, cosmic therapy session - which seems pretty silly, and how much more chance of success would it have than a regular therapy session, if the dead are still prone to all those needs and drives and feelings?

-- So I have a dead dude haunting his family, but it would seem I'd have to be careful what exactly he does to them. It seems a bit sinister and gross if he's actively trying to hurt them (unless I make him a really bad man, which wasn't what I had in mind), but what would he do to them? Or even, what would they do to him, in so far as they believed this was going on? Even if they wanted to put him at rest, how? Especially if they're unable to communicate directly (as above).

So that's what I'm working on. I was helped by some comments early on by some people I asked. I had thought to focus on the dead guy and his son, since that's the family dynamic I'm most familiar with, and since those are the two people in the story closest to each other. But someone pointed out that often in ghost stories, it's the kids who have some special intuition about the spirit world, and I do think that works in better. And I was very glad at how attached I was instantly to the two child characters, once I created them. (Though I apologize - I have once again created the strong, no nonsense, caretaker, girl character, and the weak, dreamy, bookish boy character. I can't help myself.) And further, as I think through more of the dynamics, it makes sense that the dead guy's "issues" are not the only problems, but that the other adults have their own issues that are causing some of the psychic and spiritual pain in the family. So that will be a bigger part than I originally planned.


Blogger Virtual Stranger said...

Just curious if you've seen Ghost Town, the film by writer-director David Koepp. It had a really interesting take on why and how ghosts were bound to the material world.

3:20 PM  
Blogger KPaffenroth said...

I have not. I'll try to look into it. Thanks

3:22 PM  

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