Wednesday, 30 April 2014

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts - Z is For Zing, Z?, Zennor

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts
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I can't believe we're on the final day of the A to Z! It's been one hell of a month. I've visited some great blogs and I've had some lovely folks visit me. so, thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read and comment on my blog this month, and thank you to the great A to Z team who have made this blog hop possible!

So, the last day, and I'm talking about finishing your story with a zing, my author of choice is actually a random selection of those who didn't quite make it into the rest of the month, and I'm going to tell you about Zennor in Cornwall as my haunted location. Plus the final part of The Burning Web, where we learn the fate of Berwick House and its ghosts.



Z is for Zing
Okay, so I've talked about building tension, varying the mood and pace of a story and giving your readers a payoff in the climax of a story, so now, we quite naturally, come to the end of the road. How to finish your story. There are as many ways to end a story as there are stories, but I'm going to talk about one that is a particular favourite of the spooky genre: ending with a zing, a frisson of excitement that leaves the reader just a tiny bit uncomfortable, thinking about the story, not wanting to let it go.

Yesterday, I talked about tying up your loose ends and giving your reader satisfaction at the end of a story, and I am in no way retracting that advice when I talk about the zingy ending. However, you don't have to tie up every loose end in the end of your story. There can be a few threads left over to continue the arc of the story into a second story, or just make the reader sit up and take notice, in fact, most authors leave a few odd things whether by design or accident, since they are things to think about for the reader once the story has finished, even if there never is a sequel.

Evil Dead did this in every single film - Ash would beat the demons, but then there would be something supernatural left over, a classic nasty twist that a lot of horror movies go in for. Ghost stories and horror movies tend to rely on 'you can't kill something that's already dead'. ;P The Woman In Black, leaves us with a sense of menace in all guises of the story, because the supernatural continues, in fact, Hammer are making a sequel to their 2012 film version, The Woman In Black: Angels of Death, which is due for release in 2015.

So, whether it's a unexpected twist, a revelation, or just a little reminder that you can't kill death, if it's done well, that little burst of suspense at the end of your story may be what brings a reader back to read more of your work :).
by Sophie Duncan

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts - Y is For Yield, You, York

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts
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The yield, the payoff, every story has one and that's what I'm talking about today in writing. York, ancient viking stronghold, is my choice of haunted location, and my author(s) today is you, the lovely people who have been reading my blog and sharing some of your ghost stories this month :) And, there's part 25 of The Burning Web, where Tris must face the awful truth of what has been happening at Berwick House.



Y is for Yield
Yield, payoff, satisfaction - very important in all stories - we writers have to leave our readers satisfied with the conclusion of our stories, or we may never be forgiven. I have seen ranting reviews left for authors who have built and built their story, only to leave it on a cliffhanger with no resolution at all for a reader in that story. This is NOT GOOD. Personally, I loath cliffhangers anyway, I'm the type of person who saves up all the episodes of a multi-part drama so I can watch them all at once and not suffer the waiting game. However, that doesn't make cliffhangers bad, I'm just impatient ;P, but you cannot have an ending that does not give a reader some sort of resolution and if you've had them invest their time to read your story, the payoff better be good ;).

In a ghost story, the yield can range from a final, usually fatal confrontation between mortal and immortal, to a resolution to a tragedy that has held a spirit earthbound. In Stephen King's Rose Red, the confrontation between Ellen Rimbauer and the psychics has been building and building throughout the story, and we are learning more and more about what the house actually is. The payoff brings together all the threads of the story: Steven Rimbauer's conflict with his great grandmother, Ellen; Joyce Reardon's obsession with proving the existence of the paranormal world; the other psychics around Annie Wheaton being able to reach her and free themselves from the house; even Emery's smothering relationship with his mother is brought to a head. All of these strands are twisted together to produce a thrilling climax.

I think this is worth repeating, whatever cliffhangers, continuing threads and twists you want to throw in, make sure you give the reader satisfaction at the end of every story.
by Sophie Duncan

Monday, 28 April 2014

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts - X is For X marks the spot, X?, X-roads

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts
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This is it, X marks the spot, what's important about the climatic part of a story? I have to admit, I don't know any ghost story writers beginning with X, so I'm going to be sharing a few stories where the author is unknown. And for my haunting spot today, I'm talking about crossroads. Plus there's part 23 of The Burning Web, in which Tris comes to Julienne's rescue.



X is for X Marks The Spot
X marks the spot: climax, confrontation, xenith - whatever you want to call it, there has to be a payoff, the climax of the story, and it better be good. Your story shouldn't go out with a damp fizzle, so whether it's an emotional climax, or one full of action, I think there is one rule to remember with a climax: it should be the answer to the questions you've been posing in your story. I don't mean that there's some kind of explicit list of loose ends and plot points that has to be run through (although that is what it might look like in a writer's planning notes), but what I do mean is that I don't want to be left hanging. As a reader, I want a return on my investment for reading. That doesn't mean the whole arc has to end, it also doesn't mean there can't be a cliffhanger, although, personally, I'm not fond of them, but a writer better damn well conclude the important points for the part of the story the book represents, or I'm going to be mightily pissed off with them ;P.

In a ghost story, the payoff can be anything from the ghost revealing their purpose, be it good, or bad, to a full on confrontation between good and evil - it can even be the revelation of that obscured bit of plot the writer had been foreshadowing all the way through. In The Woman In Black, the 2012 movie, there's a showdown of sorts between Arthur and the ghost, an attempt to resolve the pain that is driving her to kill. This is, in fact, a more dramatic climax than that of the book (excluding the denouement), and works very well in the film format. Wuthering Heights starts and finishes with the climax, where Kathy finally comes for Heathcliff. And for a climax that is more emotion than action, Malcom Crowe's revelation in The Sixth Sense is beautifully done.

So, in short, when writing the climax of the story, don't let your reader down. ;)
by Sophie Duncan

Saturday, 26 April 2014

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts - W is For Wrong, Edward Lucas White, Wittersham

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts
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W already, only four days of the A to Z left - where has it gone?! Today's haunted location is personal, because not only am I going to tell you about the ghosts that appear in the books, but my own personal ghost story too about the place I used to live, Wittersham in Kent :). Also, my author spot today features Edward Lucas White, and I'm talking about using wrongness in writing. Finally, there's part 23 of The Burning Web, where Tris discovers his confrontation with Berwick House is not over.



W is for Wrong
Wrong-footedness, wrongness, things going wrong - this is another way to ratchet up the pressure in a plot. As I've mentioned before, going straight from A to B in a plot is just plain boring :). There have to be divergences and hiccups along the way. An obvious way to introduce this is to have all those well-laid plans of your protagonists go wrong. Throw a spanner in the works.

In Sam Raimi's Evil Dead, it is the discovery of the necronomicon that signals the plans for a happy cabin holiday falling apart. In Stephen King's Rose Red, it is when the house uses one of the psychics to lock the place down and seal the investigators inside. There's a kind of inevitability about these things going wrong, we as the audience are expecting it, because, otherwise, there'd be no plot :). The Mummy (okay, not really a ghost story, but one of my fav horror/action adventure movies so I'm going to mention it anyway), is really all about one thing after another going wrong for the heroes, all linking back to reading from the Book of the Dead.

There are, also, of course, the surprise catastrophes, the ones we aren't expecting - these are a little bit more difficult to talk about, because, revealing the twist in a story someone hasn't seen will ruin the ending. Dr Malcolm Crowe has to deal with suddenly realising where things went wrong for him in The Sixth Sense, which ultimately lead to things going right again. This movie also comes with a sense of wrongness about what is happening to Cole and reaches back into Malcolm's previous case histories to find a parallel.

So, wrong, is a useful tool, whether a surprise, or an agreement with the reader/watcher. ;)
by Sophie Duncan

Friday, 25 April 2014

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts - V is For Vacuum, Pamela Vincent, Verdley Castle & Vernham Dean

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts
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Vacuum, emptiness, why is this different from other types of pauses in writing? My author of choice today is Pamela Vincent and my haunted location is actually two today: Verdley Castle and Vernham Dean. AND, part 22 of The Burning Web, where Tris and Xander must deal with the aftermath of their encounter with Margaret,




V is for Vacuum
I've already talked about pausing a story, giving the reader a breather, which then allows you to build up more tension afterwards. And a vacuum is a kind of pause, but for me it's a different type of pause. It's not the kind where the reader can take a breath and relax, it's a sudden stop in the momentum of the plot path from A to B that heightens the tension. It's a halt that allows anxiety to flow in.

The film, The Mummy uses it just after Imhotep has been raised, everything comes to a temporary halt. The Medjai save them and send them all back to Cairo, creating a hiatus where no-one is sure what will happen next. Rick and Evie are arguing, the other men are drowning their sorrows in the bar, everything is on hold, which makes when Imhotep steps back into the frame all the more dramatic.

This part of The Burning Web uses a hiatus in a similar way. After the momentous events in Part 21, Tris is forced into a situation, which, although not everyday, is a world away from the supernatural. 
by Sophie Duncan

Thursday, 24 April 2014

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts - U is For Urgency, Peter Underwood, Uley

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts
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So, into the 20's already with the A to Z and today is U. I'm discussing getting a sense of urgency into a piece, plus I'm talking about one of my favourite paranormal investigators and author, Peter Underwood, plus Uley is my haunted location. Also, Part 21 of The Burning Web - how will Tris prove Margaret's existence to Xander?



U is for Urgency
So, we've wound up the tension in our writing, we're nearing the climax of the story, and there's something else that often goes with that tension: a sense of urgency. When people get excited, the pace of what they are doing increases, they become more insistent and push faster and further. This goes for ghost stories as well, where, as the story reaches its xenith the supernatural occurrences may become more frequent, more dramatic, and also the reactions of the characters can become more extreme.

The build of pace is very clear in Stephen King's Rose Red (which I've mentioned before). The tension in this piece is actually quite high throughout, since the sinister reputation of the house and the fact that those involved all accept the supernatural means there is already that taut atmosphere between them. Thus King uses the pace of the story to increase the urgency around the main party of paranormal investigators and hooks his watcher. The ghostly activity increases both in drama and impact upon the investigators until the big revelation that they are trapped in the house, which then sky-rockets the urgency in the situation until the final confrontation between ghosts and mortals. King is a master manipulator of atmosphere and pace.
by Sophie Duncan

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

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

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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

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts - S is For Secrets, Bram Stoker, Thomas Skelton

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Secrets, keeping them and sharing them both make for good plot development. A famous author today, Bram Stoker, of Dracula fame, but he wrote ghost stories too. And Thomas Skelton, jester, is my ghost of choice. Finally, Part 19 of The Burning Web, and keeping secrets gets Tris into trouble.




S is for Secrets
Secrets can be kept, shared, whispered, betrayed. They can be dangerous, or benign embarrassments, and all of them can add to the atmosphere and plot in any genre, including ghost stories.

The restless dead may have their secrets, something in life which haunted them then and causes them to haunt in the present. In Rose Red, a TV mini series by Stephen King, Ellen Rimbauer, the wife of a powerful oil man whose house the parapsychologists go to visit, has her secrets, big secrets. Inspired, I think, by the Winchester Mystery House and Sarah Winchester, who kept adding bits to her house in the belief that if she kept building she would not die, Ellen designs more and more bizarre pieces to her house. Meanwhile, she dispatches her husband, secret #1. The house has its secrets, too, people that it disappear within its walls - including, eventually, Ellen herself. What happened to them and how does the house continue to ensnare people? There are, initially, more secrets than answers at Rose Red, which makes it an intriguing and scary watch.

The living can also keep secrets. Sam Daily in The Woman In Black (yeah, sorry, I couldn't stay away from that one for long), doesn't tell Arthur what is going on, he is in denial about the ghost himself. In fact, the whole damn community, by keeping silent and trying to dissuade Arthur from going to the house without giving him an explanation as to why, are really at fault for what happens later.

So, secrets, use them skilfully and they are a brilliant tool in the writer's arsenal.
by Sophie Duncan

Monday, 21 April 2014

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts - R is For Risk, Mary Raymond Shipman Andrews, Raynham Hall

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts
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One of my favourite hauntings is up today, The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall. Plus I'm talking about a story from American Author Mary Raymond Shipman Andrews. Taking a risk is the subject of my section on ghost story writing today and there's Part 18 of The Burning Web, in which Tris is faced with a dilema.




R is for Risk
I've talked about giving the story a kick, and adding some jeopardy to the plot already, and today I'm discussing a specific way to do that: your characters taking a risk. By its very nature, a risk is something that suggests chance, the possibility of being open to a threat. By taking a risk, a hero/ine may be walking into danger, or trusting someone they shouldn't. It might all turn out okay, but it's the not knowing that generates tension.

Stephen King shows his mastery of this technique when he brings together a bunch of 'losers' in IT. They're just kids, defenceless and afraid of what is happening to other kids in their town, but when they come together, they believe in each other and that leads to then taking not one, but many risks based on the bond that is between them. This is shown even more starkly when the characters come back together as adults, now doubting what they can achieve. The risk they all take is huge and for some of them, fatal.

Taking a risk involves trust, thus the characters involved are active in the plot, this is not something happening to them, it is a choice they make, it's an active form of possible jeopardy and can give a plot the kick it needs.
by Sophie Duncan

Saturday, 19 April 2014

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts - Q is For Queer, A T Quiller-Couch, Queens

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Queer things are happening here today. I'll be introducing you to the collection of dead monarchs we have wandering around Britain. A T Quiller-couch is my chosen author for the day. Plus there's Part 17 of The Burning Web in which Tris gets to return to Berwick House determined to prove Margaret's existence one way or another.




Q is for Queer
I'm using the term queer here in its original sense, strange, unusual. Now, you might be thinking that strange and unusual is the standard definition for ghost stories, but it's not always that simple. Just like building drama into a story, the strangeness has to be developed. Too many odd happenings and you risk them becoming common place, the reader may become immune to the effect you are trying to generate. However, not enough, and the story came come off flat.

One technique to enhance the strangeness of an event is with the reaction of those involved. When queer is used in this sense, it lends itself to things being odd, laughable even, in the minds of the characters. The incident may be shrugged off by most of those involved, but the reader and maybe some of the characters know better. This puts the reader at odds with the accepted wisdom of the majority in the story, generating anxiety. The Sixth Sense uses this juxtaposition of normal and strange very well. There's no laughter in this story, but when Cole and his mother are having breakfast, she's talking to him, everything is set for an ordinary morning. Then she turns round and all the draws and cupboards are suddenly open. She assumes Cole was looking for something, but we, the watchers, and Cole, know better, even though he plays along, keeping his secret.

I'm using a similar construct in this part of The Burning Web, but this one was inspired by a real life event. ;)
by Sophie Duncan

Friday, 18 April 2014

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts - P is For Pause, Edgar Allen Poe, Pluckley

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Edgar Allan Poe, master of the macabre, is my choice of author for today. I'm talking about pausing a plot in writing, and I want to introduce you to a village very local to me, and also very haunted, Pluckley in Kent.
And there's also Part 16 of The Burning Web, in which Tris must concentrate on something other than Berwick House.




P is for Pause
In my opinion, a writer should never be afraid to take a breath and allow his/her readers to have a pause. Good traditional ghost stories slowly build tension - the fleeting glimpse of something unexplainable, the revealing of a phantom's identity, all a gradual rise towards the climax of the story. However, sometimes, it pays to ease back a little, concentrate on another part of the story, a subplot perhaps, to give your readers a small break.

I'm going to use The Woman In Black again: the dinner at the Daily's house is a relaxing of the tension, a chance for the protagonist to ease back a little. The dinner is a time of safety where Arthur can relax a little, albeit with a false sense of security. The plot still progresses, we are finding out more about Sam and his wife and how they are involved in the story, but it gives us, the reader a pause as well, all ready for the renewal of our trepidation when Arthur sets out for Eel Marsh House and an overnight stay.
by Sophie Duncan

Thursday, 17 April 2014

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts - O is For Obscure, Vincent O'Sullivan, O2 Millennium Dome

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Yes, the O2 arena is haunted - don't believe me, check out the details below. Plus, I'm also talking about Vincent O'Sullivan, author, and I'm talking about obscuring things as a writer. And there's Part 15 of The Burning Web, where Tris finds that there is a price for over exerting himself.




O is for Obscure
Every writer had to be able to obscure their plot from their reader. By that, I mean, they have to embed it in the story. Those of use who are planners may have a little map in our heads leading the way through the mysteries and magic of whatever story we are spinning, but the reader shouldn't see that path, because then where would be the fun in the nuances and hints I was talking about yesterday? The reader must be able to wander off the path a little without noticing.

I don't know about you, but when I was a child, I wrote straight from A to B, beginning to end. The characters in my stories were there to do something, they did it, 'the end'. It was only as I read more widely as I got older that I learnt that things don't always happen that way. There are detours and hiccups and other priorities that can make a story rich and interesting, hiding that straight line in the sand that would finish the story in short order. A brilliant example of hiding the plot in plain sight is in The Sixth Sense
!!SPOILER ALERT - IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW ABOUT THE SIXTH SENSE PLOT, JUMP TO HERE!!
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Okay, hopefully that's enough space - where was I - yes, The Sixth Sense. Ostensibly, this story is about a child psychologist helping a young boy with behavioural issues and a secret to 'get better'. The boy, Cole, is constantly in a state of fear and is even afraid of our adult hero, Dr Malcom Crowe, who slowly tries to tease out of the boy what is the matter. It's a touching and scary story about a child who eventually admits he sees 'dead people' all the time, nowhere is safe for him. Malcom helps him by suggesting that he finds out what the ghosts want. Cole thus begins to take control of what is happening to him. The ghosts in this story are terrifying, it's a good scare, even without the twist, but that twist is downright brilliant - without telling him directly, Cole eventually manages to help Malcom as well, and Malcom realises he is in fact dead as well and that his unfinished business is with his wife, he has to say goodbye.

This is one of the best obscures I've ever seen, since there are hints all the way through, things that when you look back, you go 'oh yeah', but there are also fabulous misdirects as well. It's one of my fav movies. For another obscure that you can investigate for yourselves if you like, check out the movie, Haunted, another very well handled misdirect.
by Sophie Duncan

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts - N is For Nuances, E Nesbit, The Nag's Head

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N is for nuance and one of my favourite children's authors, E Nesbit. Also, I'll introduce you to The Nag's Head, a haunted pub in Shrewsbury. And Part 14 of The Burning Web sees Tris and Julienne discovery Berwick House's sinister past.





N is for Nuances
So, what do I mean when I say nuance in conjunction with creating a ghost story. Well, what I'm talking about is the subtleties of plot and character that add to the back ground of a story and give it substance. Now there are out and out bits of information, not subtle at all, like the discoveries in this part of The Burning Web, that's not what I mean. I mean the character observations, hints about the presence of the supernatural, the little things that might not seem important at the time of reading, but become important, or make more sense later.

Some people may think horror can't be subtle, it's all about the big scare, but there can be moments of subtlety. One of those, although not executed particularly subtly thanks to the inexperience of the filmmakers, is the use of a gift from Ash to his girlfriend, Linda, in Evil Dead. It binds them together, is a link between them, even when she is possessed by a demon, it becomes the way Ash gets hold of the Necronomicon later in the story. It's also important in Evil Dead 2, where it becomes a symbol of strength for Ash when he gets possessed.

Nuances in ghost stories can also be little observational things too: an open book where one was closed; a flickering candle when there is no breeze; a character's breath becoming visible in a warm atmosphere. It's these added extras, the consequences of hauntings, that send the shivers down the spine, In a good spooky story, they are never over the top, not full on terror, well not until the time is right, anyway. Nuances can be used to build the tension slowly, dropping in when we're not expecting them. Used right, I think they're one of the best bits about spine chillers :). 
by Sophie Duncan

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts - M is For Mystery, Louisa Murray, Mother Leaky

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Okay, so today, I'm going to tell you about a ghost that scared me throughout my teenage years, Mother Leaky. I'm also discussing working mystery into a good spooky tale, and I'm presenting the works of author, Louisa Murray. And there's Part 13 (unlucky for some) of The Burning Web, where Tris is on the path of the mystery that is Berwick House.




M is for Mystery
Everyone likes a good puzzle, some unanswered questions to wonder about, and ghost stories lend themselves to mysteries very well. I have several mysteries in The Burning Web - why is Abdi haunting Tris, who were Margaret and Kenneth Berwick and what is going on in Berwick House. All of which will be answered as the story goes on. But I am certainly not the first author to shroud my ghosts in mystery :).

The Mist in the Mirror, by Susan Hill, is one long mystery. A man, James Monmouth, returns to England after spending nearly his whole life abroad, unaware of his family history and not knowing his connections to some wild and dangerous places in Yorkshire. His visions of a young boy and his creeping horror of something else, lead him on into the mystery of who his family are.

Dickens too, uses mystery, the mystery of the ghost's identity in The Signal Man, a chilling tale.

Mystery can draw the reader into the story, keep them wondering and make them want to read further, but be careful, making it too impenetrable can just annoy people. :)
by Sophie Duncan

Monday, 14 April 2014

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts - L is For Love, Sheridan le Fanu, Ladies (of varying shades)

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On to L, and today I want to talk about Love in ghost stories. Plus how will Tris and Xander deal with their fight in The Burning Web. Also I'd like to introduce you to the works of Sheridan Le Fanu and the ghostly ladies of the British Isles :)




L is for Love
Love - a strange topic for a theme of ghost stories you may think. Yet love is a universal driver and can be put to use in a ghost story just as it can in other genres.

There is the tragic love, unbroken by death, sometimes to the detriment of the partner who survives. Although he definitely deserves it, Heathcliffe, in Wuthering Heights, is haunted by Kathy, to his death. I would call their relationship one of obsession more than love, but it does fall into the right category.

Love doesn't always have to be destructive, though, it can be a uniting force. I know I keep talking about The Woman In Black, but it has a lot of strong examples in it (and I've already waxed lyrical about Susan Hill), but the love between Arthur and his wife is a saving theme in the story. In the book, her nursing brings him back from fever, and in the movie, well, she is all that stands between Authur and his son, and Jenett Humphrey.

Love makes the world go round and I'm using it in The Burning Web as a window onto Tris and Xander. :)
by Sophie Duncan

Saturday, 12 April 2014

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts - K is For Kick, Rudyard Kipling & Knebworth

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I'd like to tell you about a place close to where I lived for a while, Knebworth House in Hertfordshire. Also, an author better known for The Jungle Book, Rudyard Kipling told his share of ghost stories as well. And K is for Kick, in my discussion about writing ghostly tales today. So, join me if you will. :)




K is for Kick
No story should be plain sailing for its characters. No challenges and no hiccups along the way would be very boring :). Relationships, investigations, self-discovery, and much more, can all have their twists and turns and give a story the movement it needs. These can be large, earth-shattering wallops that lead the plot/characters off in a completely different direction, or short, momentary kicks in the pants that add to the depth of a piece.

In ghost stories, these kicks are often dramatic, for example, in Susan Hill's book, Dolly: A Ghost Story, the digging up of the doll in the grave and the discovery of its condition is a hard-hitting blow, which reverberates through the rest of the book and is a foreshadowing of what is to come. However, they don't always have to be that forceful, a domestic argument, a minor quarrel among friends, a little accident, all can be little incidents that lead to something more.

It's good to derail your story a little, put a few obstacles in the way of the plot that would otherwise run straight to the end.:)
by Sophie Duncan

First Part | Previous PartNext Part | Last Part
Lying on the sofa and chewing on a breadstick, Tris typed in yet another search on the keyboard on his tablet. He'd only been home a short while after having lunch with Julienne and taking a gentle stroll around the village in her company. They had talked surprisingly little about Berwick, having decided to start their searches properly the next day, and had instead just enjoyed a lovely Autumn afternoon. However, the train journey home had left him itching to get started, and so he'd begun to explore what the internet had to say about Berwick House. The answer was, almost nothing.

He hit enter and was waiting on the results from the new search when he heard the front door opening.

"Hi, Hon," he greeted, not bothering to look over his shoulder and the arm of the sofa at Xander's entrance.

Thus, the first he knew of anything to do with his husband's mood was when the door closed with a crash. He sat up and round as fast as was sensible to see Xander dumping his bag on the floor and glaring back at him.

"What's the matter?" he asked, almost certain the ire was aimed at him.

"I called Bill on my way home, just to check on progress. He asked me if you were feeling better after your fall yesterday."

"Oh," Tris worded the shock of realising he hadn't mentioned it and he stood up.

"'Oh,' is that all you can say? You had a possibly serious accident yesterday and you didn't feel like mentioning it?!" Xander charged, pacing up to Tris and gesticulating wildly.

"I'm sorry, I forgot," Tris tried to head the tirade off at the pass.

Xander, however, was not to be placated. His dark eyes were shining with emotion as he let rip, "You can't pretend like this stuff isn't happening, Tris!"

"I didn't," Tris denied quickly, but Xander wasn't listening.

"You're recovering from a life-threatening condition. You can't do everything you used to."

"Don't you think I know that?!" Tris spat back, his skin prickling as his defences came up.

"Hiding stuff is only going to make your recovery longer," Xander waved his hands dismissively.

"I wasn't hiding anything," Tris defended himself hotly now. "I just forgot. It wasn't a bad fall, I just lost my balance."

"You are in no position to judge what is good and bad!" Xander was not taking any excuses.

"So who is? You? I have to come crawling to you for my exit pass, do I?" Tris snarled, fed up with being treated like a child.

"Yes you do!" Xander yelled back.

"You're not my doctor," Tris denied, turning away.

Xander grabbed him by the arm, squeezing tight even when Tris tried to pull away.

"No, I'm your husband," he corrected and then ordered in a low growl, "and I am telling you not to go back to that house without me."

Tris glared back at Xander, no more words to say, but making his disgust at being told what to do very clear. Xander let him go, the rage flickering out of his eyes, being replaced with hostility. His stick was leaning against the table out of reach behind Xander, so Tris turned away again and hobbled towards the bedroom. Once inside, he slammed the door and threw his tablet across the bed.


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Author Info: Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling is best known for The Jungle Book, the tale of Mowgli, the mancub, raised by wolves and delivered to the village of man and safety by other animals of the forest. However, Kipling also told a ghost story or two, set in India with a definite tone of the British Raj.

At The End of The Passage begins in true Kipling style, setting the scene for a group of four men, testy in the heat and in each other's company because they are the only white and, in their own minds, civilised men for miles around. Kipling has a real flare for atmosphere and I was already feeling the heat of that place by the second page, even though I was sitting in a suburban house in wintry UK. From their conversation, we learn of the cheapness of life, even for the civil servants of the Raj and then we are dragged in a story of nightmares.

Another of his that I enjoyed was The Phantom Rickshaw, which can be found in The Phantom Rickshaw & Other Ghost Stories.

British Hauntings: Knebworth (Herts)


Knebworth House, or rather, the park, is better known for hosting a pop festival, which could be heard in Stevenage, just down the road, where I lived for a while as a jobbing student. However, it wouldn't be in this post if it didn't boast a few ghosts as well :).

 The famous ghost of Knebworth house, unfortunately for ghost hunters, no longer walks abroad, since the part of the house she haunted no longer exists. Jenny Spinner was imprisoned in the east wing of Knebworth House, and to keep herself going, she worked hard on her spinning. She spent so much time locked up in the house, she gradually went insane. When she died, the sound of her spinning wheel began to be heard all over the east wing. This only stopped when that wing was demolished.

The gardens of the house are stunning and well worth a visit, but it is the lakes that draw the attention of any paranormal investigators. One is lovely, but the other is murky and knotted with weed. It is said that there are various nighttime visitors to its shores. Not a place for the faint at heart, especially after midnight!

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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Friday, 11 April 2014

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts - J is For Jeopardy, M R James and Jamaica Inn

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts
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Jeopardy, danger, threat, all part of ye olde ghost story, so how can we use them in our own work without sounding clichéd? And yes, the Jamaica Inn I am talking about today is the one made famous my Daphne Du Maurier - Cornwall, coast to coast smugglers and spooks :). Finally, I'm recommending M R James, a prolific writer of good, unsettling ghost stories.



J is for Jeopardy

Not every ghost story, but most of the spine-chilling kind, involve some kind of threat to life, limb, or sanity, maybe all three. That's what makes us scared when we read them, it is the danger of the supernatural, the unknown creeping into the human world with its own agenda.

Ghosts, spirits, presences, whatever you want to call them, in these stories, they have their own motives, conscious or unconscious and, whether intentional or not, those motives usually provide a good fright. Kathy from Wuthering Heights is there to drive Heathcliffe mad, to possess him in death as she never did in life. The legend of the corpse candle appearing in a graveyard to prophesy who will die next is a macabre idea, where, ultimately, the curious man will meet his own doom. So the jeopardy in a story can be of either the ghost, or another's doing.

When it is human against ghost, flesh is hopelessly outmatched. That is what makes the idea so thrilling. How can natural beat supernatural? The Poltergeist and Amityville movies are all about normal people having to handle dangerously paranormal occurrences and I have always thought the Poltergeist did this extremely well as the haunting moves from amusingly bizarre to dangerous so rapidly. The Paranormal Activity movies are the next step in this kind of genre. Recovered footage movies, they purport to be real, and their matter of fact presentation including day to day mundane life spiced with odd happenings makes them all the more fun. At least in the first movie, it had me on the edge of my seat waiting to spot the next subtle or not so subtle supernatural event.

That's the point of jeopardy, to keep the reader or watcher on the edge of their seat, turning pages or hooked on the next scene and ghosts are a gift to the writer for that extra little frisson. :)

The Burning Web 
Part 10
by Sophie Duncan

Thursday, 10 April 2014

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts - I is For Is It Real?, Peter Ibbotson & Islay

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts
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Some authors leave a lasting impression, even with just one story, and Peter Ibbotson is one who left a mark on my childhood. I'm also posing the idea of 'is it real?' in spooky stories, and finally I'm talking about haunting moments on the Scottish island of Islay.





I is for Is It Real?

I touched on the idea of doubt yesterday when I was discussing keeping characters human. The question of 'is it real?' is a specific part of the doubt that frequently runs through ghost stories. It is at its most potent when  faced with the bizarre, the ridiculous, or the terrifying. I try to put myself in the shoes of my protagonist when it comes to the strange and supernatural, thinking about how I would deal with it. I think I'd know what I'd do if I really did see a ghost, I probably run a mile in the other direction, screaming. ;P

However, there's something that I'd be thinking first - is it real? I'm a rational person, so are most of my protagonists, and Tris from The Burning Web is a police officer, a natural sceptic. When I see a flash of movement at the corner of my eye, I don't immediately assume 'ghost', well not unless I've been overdosing on spooky stories. Also, I'll assume a clump of mist in front of my eyes is a defect in my eyesight rather than something ethereal unless it proves to me otherwise. So would Tris. Outside, I'll assume weather conditions responsible for unusual effects, not the paranormal.

In fact, if it weren't for rational explanations, I could claim to have already seen a ghost! Once, when I and my parents were closing up the church for the night, we had some lights on, but not all, and we were about to go and put out the rest of them down the back when, looking down the church, we saw a dark, shadowy figure in the open space at the back of the church. We were standing together and more than one of us saw it. Then, we stepped to the side of the spot we were in - the figure vanished. HOWEVER, step back into the right spot, and the figure was there again. We did this several times, testing out the trick of the light. Sadly, it wasn't a ghost.

In stories, ghosts can be much more easily real, but when I want to face someone with a spirit, I always remember to ask is it real?
by Sophie Duncan

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts - H is For Human, Susan Hill & Hairy Hands Ghost

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts
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I get to talk about one of my favourite authors today, Susan Hill. But to balance that, the ghosts I'm talking about today give me the real creeps. Hitch-hikers and their cousins are interactive and all the more scary for it. And, looking at story creation, I'm musing on humanness and how it can aid the grounding of a supernatural story.




H is for Human

However spectacular a ghost story becomes, one thing that every author has to remember is to ground the reader, to remind them that their protagonist is human. Otherwise, if things become too surreal and there is no perspective, the spookiness can lose its punch. Relationships, normal everyday things, emotions, among other things can give characters their humanity. In The Woman In Black, it is Arthur's family who ground him for us. He's married, he has a wife and/or child(ren), depending on the version of the story and his love for them, the fatherly things he does, the interactions with his wife, all add to his humanity and take use away from the supernatural, until, inevitably, the two cross.

One added bonus about reminding your reader that your protagonist is only human is that it can also reinforce the element of doubt. Seeing things, hearing strange noises, not being sure if they are real, or some element of the imagination. Without humanity we wouldn't be fallible and there has to be that element of doubt in the reader's mind as well, else where is the thrill, the risk? Being real is all important when presented with the paranormal.
by Sophie Duncan

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts - G is For Gift, Elizabeth Gaskell & Sir Fulke Greville

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts
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On to G already! And today, you can find out what I mean by the word gift, and I'll also be sharing my appreciation for author, Elizabeth Gaskell and the ghosts of Warwick Castle, in particular, Sir Fulke Greville, an owner of the grand chateau in the 17th Century.




G is for Gift

The gift I'm talking about today is that moment in any story when the reader and protagonist both, receive something that seems like a boon, yet the question must be asked, 'What is it really?' There's an old saying, never look a gift-horse in the mouth. Now, the meaning is, don't be ungrateful when you receive a gift, but I've always looked a bit deeper, cynic that I am, and there's a warning here as well, I think, that presents can be dodgy. This is especially pertinent when writing a spooky tale or two, since objects quite often come with a curse, or a ghost, or both in this genre. ;P

I'm going to use M. R. James' Oh Whistle and I'll Come To You, My Lad, as an example again, because, the master of the ghost stories presents us with just such a gift in this story. In this case, our professor finds a whistle in an old cemetery he is investigating and, of course, he blows it. Therein lies his doom!

These kinds of gifts do not always spell disaster, though. Although caution should be advised to all protagonists on finding a mysterious object, some can be revelatory. They can be bearers of information, like the cards and letters and papers in The Woman In Black, which reveal the history of Eel Marsh House and its residents.

There's a gift waiting for Tris in this part of The Burning Web, but I'm not going to tell you what it means, you'll have to find out with him. :)
by Sophie Duncan

Monday, 7 April 2014

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts - F is For Friend, Anatole France & Annie Farie

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts
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Even plucky protagonists in ghost stories need friends :). Okay, maybe that's a bit flippant, but you'll get what I mean. My author of choice today is Anatole France, and my ghost is that of little Annie Farie.






F is for Friend

Friends come in all sorts of forms: good, bad, ruthless, jolly, patronising, even expendable! And, they're very useful characters to have around in a ghost story.

One of the standard formats for modern horror is the group of friends each getting bumped off one by one by the monster hiding in the shadows. One of the first types of these movies I ever saw was Evil Dead (the original, not the remake), where, one by one, each member of the party isolated in the woods is possessed by evil demons. It's very much on the gory side of horror, but it's not that which attracts me to the story, it's the parts that rely on psychological horror. One of the most unsettling parts for me is where Linda is possessed by the demon and sits on the floor curling her hair with her finger and giggling.

Friends aren't always there to be disposed of though. They are good foils for moving the plot along. Marley is both friend and ghost in Dickens' A Christmas Carol, the reason Scrooge must accept the visits from the spirits to save his soul. They can also be voices of reason within the growing strangeness of a haunting, the doubter, the one grounding the protagonist (usually) in the wrong direction. Sam Daily plays this role in The Woman In Black, even though he already knows the story of the evil ghost killing children.

The provider of information can also be considered a friend in this context, and that is why, in my next part of The Burning Web, I am introducing you to a new character, someone to help put the events of the house into local perspective.
by Sophie Duncan

Saturday, 5 April 2014

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts - E is For Endurance, Amelia Anne Blanford Edwards & The Enfield Poltergeist

A to Z Challenge 2014 - Ghosts
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Amelia Edwards, lady Egyptologist and novelist is the subject of my author recommendation today. I'm also delving into a more modern haunting than those which I've discussed so far in the form of the 1970's Enfield Poltergeist. Plus, in my discussion of ghostly tales, I'm talking about endurance, the ability to continue beyond an initial scare.



E is for Endurance

So, what do I mean when I say endurance and what does it have to do with ghost stories? Well, what I'm trying to encapsulate, somewhat clumsily, with my choice of word, is the capability of a character to go back, to carry on after an initial disturbance. Ghost stories are very rarely about one momentary encounter, if the plot is building the tension, usually there are hints, unnerving events, moments of disquiet that lead the way to the main event. Parts of this type of endurance, may be down to bravery, pig-headedness, even self-doubt at what is happening. Whatever is behind it, if characters did not brave these moments for their readers, then ghost stories would be very short! :)

In On Whistle, and I'll Come To You, My Lad, M R James builds the tension  and terror of Parkins, the professor who finds a whistle on the dunes where he is walking. On blowing it, he invokes a creature that makes its body from bedsheets, sightings and events growing more and more unnerving. It is Parkins' rational mind that stops him believing, that creates his endurance in the story, allowing him to be present in the hotel room when he comes face to sheet with the terrifying entity.

If you've read the previous parts of The Burning Web, you'll know that Tris, my protagonist, has already had his first scare. But was it real, or just a consequence of his brain injury? That's the thing, doubt of his own senses that leads this next section of the story.  
by Sophie Duncan