Wednesday, May 13, 2009

My take on the Ghost story


Lately I seem to have written my fair share of ghost stories. They aren't always meant to be scary. I don't think they need to be. Most of the ghosts in Dicken's A Christmas Carol weren't scary (with the possible exception of the ghost of Christmas future) and I think we could look to our Hollywood brethren and say quite a few of the specters on film are quite gentle (Can we look to Bruce Willis's portrayal in The Sixth Sense?)

That being said, I think that ghosts can be looked at in two ways, memories and ideas.

The ghost of memory is the one that we see most often, it is the spirit of grandpa Gino who throws the dinner plates across the room when the pasta isn't cooked properly. Most of Algeron Blackwood's stories are based on the ghost of memory.

The ghost of idea is a much harder one to nail down. It may have no reason to be there. It may have a fleeting association. It may only appear in the dream, locked away in our subconscious waiting for us to banish it and hoping it never does. This is the ghost that I would like to write about someday. The one that is much more psychological than metaphysical. I would like to think that The Shining is a good example of this story. We don't know the backstory, it just is, and it catches us at our most vulnerable.

What do you think? Are there other types of ghost stories that I don't know about?

16 comments:

Aaron Polson said...

I haven't explored ghost stories enough. I love 'em, that's for sure, but I can't put them in neat enough boxes. I definately don't think the ghosts have to be "scary". I have a wonderful book (slightly mis-titled), 100 Ghastly Ghost Stories. Most of them aren't all that ghastly.

Natalie L. Sin said...

I don't know much about groups of ghosts. All I know is that Ju-On (The Grudge) scares the crap out of me. And "The Entity" disturbed me deeply.

Jamie Eyberg said...

I think I have read that one as well. There are more ghost stories out there than time in my life so I haven't been able to read them all but I think the non-scary ones actually outnumber the scary ones.

Catherine J Gardner said...

I think ghosts can be sad, poignant creatures.

Barry Napier said...

I LOVE me a good ghost story. I shall perhaps send one your way to check out.

Jamie Eyberg said...

Nat- It is just the way my mind works, trying to put things into their proper pigeon hole.

Cate- I can't agree more. Perhaps the most understood creature of the unknown.

Barry- you know me. . .

Jeremy D Brooks said...

I dig ghost stories and tried writing one, but--even though I know it really hasn't--I just keep thinking that it's all been written. Kinda like zombies. I'm just not trying hard enough, I think...

Jamie Eyberg said...

Jeremy- the beauty of the ghost story is that there are no set rules for the ghost. They can really be anything and take any form. Zombies on the other hand (unless you take the humorous approach that has trended lately), you can only run away from them in so many ways.

BT said...

Having just spent a week struggling with this topic, trying to find something to inspire me enough to write a ghost story, I've come to the conclusion, ghosts are a simple trope just like the other staples of horror, but finding a setting where they deliver the biggest impact is something else again.

Ju-On, and most Asian ghost stories are so much better than the Hollywood versions, but Jamie is right in being able to categorise them - although I think The Shining could be a memory ghost story as well - the possession of the caretaker however, that is psychological horror at another level.

To be honest, I'm struggling to think of a ghost story that isn't tied into something that happened in the past.

Got anymore examples for me, Jamie?

Jamie Eyberg said...

BT- I believe the ghosts that Dicken's presented in A Christmas Carol are good examples of this. They were soothsayers and had little to tie them to the past. Other than Marley of course. Christmas Future is the best example. Christmas present (I love the pun there, sorry tangent) is another example, simply showing Scrooge the way it is. It is in the past that we again see the memory being used.

Not all ghosts are tied to memory is what I was trying to say I guess. While arguably most are (as I write this I have three anthologies of ghost stories laid out in front of me) There are those that just tend to 'be' although they are harder to find than the ones that are haunting a house or come from the Indian graveyard than not.

K.C. Shaw said...

I've been obsessed with watching Ghost Hunters for the last week, and I think it's mostly because I like the maybe-maybe-not quality implied by all those vague sounds and shadows they pick up on their instruments. If a ghost popped up and said, "Hi, I'm a ghost and this is my story," I wouldn't really care if it was actually real, I'd be disappointed. It's all about capturing the fleeting sense of another realm or an urgent purpose forever unfinished.

Sorry about the purply prose there. I'll blame it on lack of sleep. :)

Carrie Harris said...

I agree that there are far more non-scary ghost stories out there than there are scary ones. And you've got all those different rules to play with too: can they leave their place of death; can they interact with the living; do they have a way out or are they doomed for all eternity, etc. The thought of trying to categorize something with so much variance makes my brain want to leak out my ears. :)

Jamie Eyberg said...

K.C.- I have only watched a little bit of that show. I would like to think that they are real myself. It would open a whole new realm of writing to explore, the true what-if.

Carrie- It is all the tangents that make it such a cool (kewl) subject in itself. :)

Danielle Ferries said...

I absolutely love ghost stories but I've never had an idea for one myself. I do tend to always think of them in the past though.

And Ju-On scares the bejesus out of me. It's one of the best.

BT said...

The ghost of Xmas future works for me.

I guess the thought of a ghost is usually as a memory made corporeal in some fashion and therefore lends itself to being tied to the past somehow.

But a ghost brought into existence through impulse or inspiration is an intriguing one - and probably extremely difficult to write.

As for scary ghosts - not really, although original Asian flicks tend to get it right, but those that have a sense of creepiness and disquiet, they are cool and unfortunately few and far between.

Jamie Eyberg said...

I've really got to start watching horror movies. I don't tend to watch a lot of movies to begin with and horror has never been a movie genre I usually care for. I know, odd for a guy who writes within the genre.

I think maybe the ones that I saw earlier in my life were not quite up to par with my expectations. The Grudge sounds interesting. I might have to watch it and see if it can change my mind.