Wednesday, 23 April 2014

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts - T is For Tension, Mark Twain, The Tower of London

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts
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suitable for all
The Tower of London not only holds the crown jewels of Great Britain, but also holds a treasure trove of ghosts as well! Mark Twain called his spooky tale simply, A Ghost Story, and I'm discussing tension in today's section on writing. Plus, there's part 20 of The Burning Web, where Tris is finally shown what Margaret has been trying to tell him.



T is for Tension
I've discussed lots of different methods for building tension (and releasing it) in a story, but what exactly do I mean by tension. Well, if we think about the plot of a story like a piece of elastic, if it is just laid out without pulling at it, it's just a fairly boring piece of string. Elastic, and a plot, share a marvellous property, the ability to stretch and relax, in the case of the story, at the will of the writer. That stretch is tension and varying it gives light and shade to any piece of storytelling.

In a ghost story, tension is usually associated with the haunting, or hauntings that are taking place. There may be other subplots that introduce their own tweaks to the level of stretch, but it is usually the ghosts that are the focus. The first question is usual What's happening? which is where a ghost story starts - little strange things occurring that begin to tug at the tension. Japanese horror is brilliant at this - watch Dark Water and you'll see how the young woman with her little girl slowly begins to realise something is not right with her apartment.

The writer's intention should be to build and build the tension until the climax, occasionally maybe letting it slacken off a little ready to build again, but that elastic should be as taut as it can be when you reach the pinnacle of the story. After all, it should be why the story was written in the first place :). At that point, it's really down to the writer - will that elastic snap violently, or sag gratefully into relief? My final word on tension, though, comes as a reader as well as a writer - don't hold that tension too taut for too long, because readers get tired too. 
by Sophie Duncan


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The darkness was swirling again, but there was nothing in it, Tris could feel that this time, so he just lay there, running what he knew to be true over and over in his mind. He hadn't just seen the ghosts, he'd felt them; he recognised the feeling of their arrival in his body, the chill down his spine, and, with the visions, the wall of cold air. Those had been no illusions.

Xander was sound asleep beside him, Tris could hear his steady breathing, and he resented that peace so sure in what was real and what was all his fantasy. Restlessly, Tris sat up. Instantly, that even sound beside him hiccoughed and a hand reached out to his arm. Tris jumped, but settled quickly as Xander mumbled sleepily, "Tris?"

"I'm okay," he immediately reassured, and then lied, "need to take a leak."

He kissed Xander on the forehead and then got out of bed. Picking up his stick and then his phone, he found the torch app and padded towards the door. He could feel eyes on him all the way though, and when he got to the door, he turned.

"Go back to sleep," he cajoled into the darkness, wondering why he was whispering, but doing it anyway.

 He hid the light against his leg and listened. Eventually, Xander huffed and shifted, but Tris thought he'd laid back down properly. He waited a while longer, until he heard his husband's breathing even out, and then he headed down the corridor. He had no idea what he was going to do, all he knew was that he was restless and needed something to do. His laptop was downstairs on the kitchen table and would have enough battery for some surfing, but that would mean finding a phone signal out in the garden somewhere, so he discounted that. Rereading the letters occurred to him as well, but he'd left them back in his backpack in the bedroom and he was not about to disturb Xander again, because that would probably end up in a lecture about getting enough sleep.

He realised he hadn't even paused to put his shoes on when the rough edge of one of the floorboards caught the side of his foot. He winced, drew in a hasty breath and stopped. Maybe it would be better if he went back and prepared himself for the sojourn properly, even if Xander gave him an earful. Tris was just about to turn around and head back when he felt it, that familiar creep of something down his spine. It was only slight this time, something far away, but he knew the feeling as soon as it hit him. Splinter forgotten, Tris swallowed hard and turned off his phone torch.

The upstairs hallway descended into complete darkness and Tris wobbled as that threw out his balance, but, very deliberately, he waited for his equilibrium to return and for his senses to adjust. He blinked into the pitch black and realised it was not all so completely dark. Off to his right, down towards the head of the stairs, the shadows seemed lighter.

Tris shivered. He let the expression of something beyond fear run its course and found himself strengthened by the acknowledgement he gave his feelings. Not ready, but knowing he had to find out what was behind his senses or go mad, he began to make his way towards the stairs. Tris took it slowly, slipping his phone into the pocket of his pyjama pants and reaching for the banister as he reached it. The view outside the window above the stairs was inky black, but there was a faint glow reflecting in the panes from the hallway below. The uncomfortable feeling up his spine was growing and Tris' instinct sensed something familiar. He wasn't sure if it was just a whim, or whether he really felt recognition, but part of him thought the shiver was coming from Margaret.

Carefully, he descended the stairs and, thanks to his encounter what felt like months, not days ago, Tris was walking on egg shells when he turned the corner on the small middle landing. Yet, there was no bleak stare waiting for him this time, only an unnatural light that filled the hallway, allowing him to see all the decor, the ceiling mouldings and even the front door handle, in detail. He blinked, but the view did not adjust, so Tris took another step down. That is when he felt it, the rush of cold air like a physical thing, enveloping him, and he froze.

"No!" the shriek, a woman's cry cut through his hearing and Tris dug his nails into the banister.

He rocked onto his heels as the power of it knotted his gut, but all he could do was wait. Part of him knew this was in the past, gone, and he was unable to do anything but watch, but the rest of Tris, the man who had desperately wanted to be a police officer, to help others, wanted to move, to do something. Yet, something else was at work, the new part of him that the aneurysm had awakened was in control and so he became a witness.

The sound of rustling silk followed the silent echo of the scream, but it was no simple walk this time. Tris knew what he would see before Margaret dashed out of the front room where he had last seen her. She gasped and looked back. At first Tris thought it was from exertion, since her pale cheeks were flushed and her eyes wide, but then she gasped again, a more strangled sound, and she put her hand to her throat. She backed away from the door to which she had turned, gagging and coughing, fear very clear on her face. The reason appeared in the doorway: Kenneth loomed large, towering over Margaret's failing form. Yet, he was leaning heavily on the door frame, and he drew in a slow, but restricted breath.

Tris hated Kenneth then, a stifler, a controller, whose look of triumph made him feel sick.

"We shall die together, My Love," Kenneth told his wife, emphasising the last two words like he was calling a dog.

He then threw a glass past her and she screamed, then choked, ducking away from what looked like wine that came flying out of it. Margaret fell, gasping a sob. She was unable to get up and Kenneth did not try to go after her, he just watched with satisfaction as she began to crawl away.

"You cannot run," he wheezed, beginning to fail himself, sliding down the door frame. "You have l-," his final word was broken by a sudden and violent coughing fit, for which he could not find any air, and Kenneth's eyes rolled in his head.

Margaret was crying desperately, a horrible, broken sound as she too struggled for air. Unlike her husband, she did not give in to whatever awful fate Kenneth had planned for them, she fought and she crawled towards Tris on the stair. Tris shuddered in horror, wanting to go to her, but he could not move as the vision forced him to remain outside of it. Each breath, each scratch at the floor was torture for Tris to watch and it was sheer terror for the poor woman experiencing it. Margaret was dying and he could not help. Eventually, though, her strength ran out, and, throwing her head back on her outstretched arm, Margaret lay still, panting in painful whispers, her eyes round with fear.

Tris' gut wrenched as the lonely woman's breathing slowed. One gasp, then another and then a hollow sound from the back of her throat. Her mouth opened and closed, but no air passed again and, finally, that terrified gaze lifted a little, offering Tris the horrible truth. Tris' knees gave out and he sat down hard, but he did not care, because he was transfixed as, for a second time in his life, he watched the light go out of an innocent pair of eyes.

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Author Info: Mark Twain
Author of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain is an American icon around the world. He has even appeared in Star Trek! He was famous in his own life time and had the dubious honour of proclaiming that 'the report of my death was an exaggeration' when a newspapers reported him dead, or at least gravely ill. Although he does not appear to be an often seen ghost himself, Mark Twain did write a spooky tale, which he called simply, A Ghost Story. It has a really great opening:
I took a large room, far up Broadway, in a huge old building whose upper stories had been wholly unoccupied for years until I came. The place had long been given up to dust and cobwebs, to solitude and silence. I seemed groping among the tombs and invading the privacy of the dead, that first night I climbed up to my quarters.
How's that for setting a scene? :)

The story then follows our affable young fellow as he settles in and then, very quickly, finds his nights disturbed. The ghost pulls his bed clothes and wanders around the rest of the building, muttering, screaming, slamming doors and otherwise terrifying our narrator. Twain has his own twist on the tale though, so I shall not say what happens. It's a quick read :)


British Hauntings: The Tower of London
Since the place was responsible for the executions of traitors and nobles who bothered their monarchs for hundreds of years, it is not surprising that the Tower of London has many, many tales of ghosts.

A ghost monk haunts the entrance know as Traitor's Gate, the water way by which prisoners were brought to the tower. Near here, also, is the spectre of a man in uniform from WWII, thought to be one of the traitors who faced a firing squad here.

The tower has its fair share of nobles as well. A grisly story is told of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, who was condemned by Henry VIII, who was actually after her son. She was over 70 when she was condemned to be beheaded, and she refused to bend to the block, so the execution chased her round the execution stage, swinging at her with the axe until she fell, mortally wounded. Her ghost is said to be seen on Tower Green. A ghost who joins her is that of Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII, also executed here. She walked with her head held in her hands and is said to have scared more than one sentry!

A more unusual ghost, though, is that of a large, angry bear. A sentry, while guarding the jewel room one night, was attacked by the creature, which he tried to fight off before he collapsed in a faint. He is said to have told what he saw in the morning, but died soon afterwards.

There are many more ghosts in The Tower that I don't have time for here, but there are whole books written on it, and this is a gruesome list.


I'd love to hear your own spooky stories, add them to the blog comments. :)

A few of us discovered that we all had supernatural themes for the AtoZ so we got together and did a mini list. If you also have a supernatural theme (ghosts, monsters, witches, spells etc), please feel free to add yourself to the list.

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35 comments:

  1. So is it bad that when you mentioned The Tower of London I basically said "DOCTOR WHO! YAY!" That's how I know what it is. LOL

    ~Patricia Lynne~
    Story Dam
    Patricia Lynne, YA Author

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    1. ah yes, of course all the Ravens are robots ;P

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  2. I'm intrigued by the tale of the monk ghost by the waterway. Wondering what that story entails. And a ghost bear! That's a first for me. :)

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    1. I think there is some suggestion that the monk is in fact Thomas Becket, but he was killed in Canterbury where he was Archbishop, so why he'd be appearing at the Tower, I don't know know - maybe just a case of 'pick a famous monk' . ;P

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  3. The Tower seems like an interesting place. I will have to read up on it a bit more.

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    1. It has so much history, and not just ghosts, it now holds the crown jewels.

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    1. Oh yes, and Lexa Cain has even more n her blog.

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  5. As usual, you rock! Tension is probably the most important thing to put in a book, in each and every chapter. Thanks for the info about Twain - I loved the quote. :)

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    1. :D - I was surprised to find that Twain wrote a ghost story, but it's certainly a fun one.

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  6. I've learned that you want to have tension on every page - not necessarily high stakes type tension but something that keeps pulling the reader forward and further into the story. :)

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    1. Definitely - it's all the different levels of tension that make a story flow :)

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  7. Well a ghost bear is really different! And I'd probably be with them and have a little panic if I met Anne and her head.

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    1. Headless ghosts really do hold a special kind of horror!

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  8. I LOVE ghost stories. They were the thing that really got me reading in elementary school, and I think my recent works reflect that early love. It's crazy how your roots always influence you.

    True Heroes from A to Z

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    1. Ghost stories and fairytales were what got me reading and now I write fantasy and horror as two of my genres, so I know where you're coming from :)

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  9. I found the haunted stories of the Tower of London eentertaining, and want to read more on this. Mark Twain holds some interest for me as well. Poor Margaret.

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    1. The Tower has so many stories, so many ghosts and intrigues, it's fascinating. :)

      Margaret fought her death, but in vain.

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  10. Making a mental note never to visit the Tower of London - that bear sounds scary! I wouldn't really want to see Anne Boleyn walking around carrying her head, either.

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    1. It's another place full of interesting history that I don't want to walk around alone ;P

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  11. I loved all of Mark Twain's work, just fantastic stuff.

    Tower of London...the ghosts in this place. My favorite is the ghost bear!

    --
    Timothy S. Brannan
    The Other Side, April Blog Challenge: The A to Z of Witches

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    1. Twain certainly has a recognisable style, even in his ghost story!

      We don't just boast human ghosts in Britain ;P

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  12. You need tension in horror. It makes the suspense all the more suspenseful. ;)

    I would love to explore the Tower of London. :)

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    1. Suspense is everything :)

      Exploring in pairs. though, I don't fancy meeting any ghosts on my own! ;P

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  13. So true, tension comes in all guises. The unknown, fear, relationships, work, flying ... the list is endless. But also an important factor in our writing, as there's always a situation where you can't help but use it.
    In The Burning Web, your use of tension is well written. Enough to validate the reactions of Tris and Margaret, and enough so as not to be over the top. :)

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    1. Thank you, I'm glad it's coming across okay :)

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  14. The Tower of London is absolutely one of the most amazing haunted places in the whole world.

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    1. It's old, so much history and such a great place for both ghosts and politics. :)

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  15. I never heard of the ghost bear before, how strange, maybe he didn't like the sacrifice of his kind for those bearskin hats the guards wear at the Palace. I went to the Tower several times during my years in London and found it fascinating. I didn't see any ghosts though, but I would not want to be there after dark.

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    1. I've only found reference to the ghost bear in one of my books - maybe it's because headless kings and queens are more interesting to tour guides :) I don't think I'd want to be there alone any time of day!

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  16. I'm enjoying all your writing posts - sort of going through a mental checklist with my current WIP.

    It would be surprising if there weren't a few ghosts at The Tower. So much history there.

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    1. Glad you're enjoying the posts :) You have a good point there, it would be strange if there were no ghosts, or at least ghost stories at all.

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  17. Tris has a window into the past murders/events. It's fascinating!

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  18. I didn't visit the tower of London when I was there (too much else to see) but it does sound wonderfully creepy. I think a ghost bear is more terrifying than a person. Bears in general I don't want to mess with!

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Thanks for stopping by - I'd love to hear from you. :)