Following the Living: Telling Ghost Stories
We find ghost stories familiar because they have the touchstones of every type of literature. We as writers and readers are looking over characters’ shoulders as they carry on their lives. We watch from above or we enter their minds and read their thoughts. We watch the action through their eyes as we passively possess their bodies. We are the ghosts looking down on the pages from outside their world trying to get into it.
The ghosts in a ghost story are representatives of our position from within the pages. Sometimes they reach in deeper and influence the action. Even when they are invisible and we are watching the unexplained events with the living human characters, we get the sense of being watched and influence from outside the world of the story. When they become something that can be seen or spoken to, it is as if both sides of the world of the story have been allowed to interact in a way other literature does not get to do.
These interactions have meaning for us. The past informs all our choices either with pride or regret or any of a thousand other emotions. We make leaps of faith or we fail to do so out of fear. We stand by our principles or we fold up in the moment of testing. Those experiences though dead and gone in the past haunt us. They fill us with fear when the same pattern of conditions rise again for another test or another leap. Even when we went through it all before and survived, we are afraid of those ghosts when they appear in our lives again.
The things we know about our family and friends both good and bad linger with us even once they are out of our lives. The things we suspect or wonder about them do too. Their hidden motivations translated into actions played a part in shaping our lives and setting our paths. We might only begin to put the pieces together later during the haunting of memory to see a fuller picture of the light and darkness behind the people who were once in our lives and may still have a cold, ghostly hand on our souls in the present. No one haunts us as deeply as those that were supposed to love us whether they succeeded at it or not.
Armand Rosamilia and I wrote a ghost story together called The Enemy Held Near. It explored a spiritual manifestation of this family haunting in the lives of a troubled family and a strained marriage. We were attempting to tell what would be considered a traditional ghost story and haunted house story set in the modern South. We wanted it to be innately tied to the struggle of the characters experiencing the haunting. We ended up creating a story that included the hauntings of addictions, past mistakes, fear of failing as a parent, family prejudices that go back generations, and the way we hurt the very people we would have once died to protect. Because in the end we are all flawed and we are all haunted.
If we could see all of the picture of the generations that came before us, the darkness might be too much for us. The weight of that might be crushing to our spirits. Our heroes would be further fallen than they are now and our monsters would become uglier in the most unexpected ways. We would be tormented by seeing our own failings reflected back at us from the villains in our ancestry. We might be robbed of any hope of changing our course, if we really saw how many tried and failed in the line before us. Death and silence can be a gift when the farthest generations back step off the stage and leave the scene allowing us our brief time with the script to make our best attempt at a worthy performance.
This is the real horror to be found in a ghost story. Those actors dismissed from the stage step back on. The hidden darkness is revealed as the shadows take on the characteristics of life. That baggage from the past is laid at the feet of the living. The weight of the motivations of those that were supposed to love us come to bear once more in a manner that is much more threatening than mere memory or unsettled fear. It all comes back in a haunting.
Our ghosts in The Enemy Held Near are a manifestation of past mistakes. They reveal how regret and loss would fester if they were allowed to continue on after the release of death. The novel explores how the inability to let go can become destructive in life and after death if ghosts are in the picture. Sometimes the living and the dead are called on to make sacrifices and will suffer from a lack of forgiveness.
If you are looking for a great ghost story, there are a lot to choose from. We think you’ll enjoy The Enemy Held Near for the characters and for the haunting. Consider haunting our story and characters for a while.