Ghost Characters

The Sense of an Ending?

Strange Ambitions

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Paul Whybrow

Full Member
Jun 20, 2015
Cornwall, UK
Ghosts in literature are familiar to us—think of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Susan Hill's The Woman In Black, the dead narrator of The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, Banquo's ghost in Macbeth, The Dead Men of Dunharrow in The Lord of The Rings and The Headless Horseman in Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

In my chosen writing genre, crime, there are several prime examples where the protagonist faces up to malevolent forces from beyond the grave, or is in sympathy with them and even assisted by them.

James Lee Burke's Dave Robicheaux series, about a Louisiana detective, has his protagonist imagining and, at times, interacting with long-dead soldiers from Civil War—most notably during In The Electric Mist With Confederate Dead.

John Connolly's novels featuring a private investigator called Charlie Parker are soaked in supernatural events, so much so, that it's sometimes tricky to decide who's alive and who's dead.

I've recently read two of Arnaldur Indridason's Icelandic crime novels, in which his detective hero is forever tormented by the memory of letting go of his brother's hand when they were children lost in a blizzard. His body was never found, and from time to time his dead brother visits him as a symbol of how he failed. His brother has forgiven him, but he can't forgive himself.

In my own Cornish Detective series, my protagonist is a widower, his wife killed in a freak road accident two years before Book 1. In the first two stories, he slid into dark depression clinging to his job as a means of coping. He felt guilty about finding ways to avoid thinking about her, in an attempt to move on. Medication and counselling pulled him through, and in the last three novels he's been able to imagine her reaction when he does daft things, how she would have teased him. Her spirit is there to that extent, but she's not haunting him. I fought shy of adding her ghostly assistance, as there are already enough weird things going on.

I wrote a novella based on my own experiences with the supposedly dead, and a short story in which the protagonist doesn't comprehend that he's in a state of limbo between this world and the next, but eerie events in my novels are handled by legends, superstition and the fevered imaginings of drunks, druggies and the insane.

Ghosts needn't be terrifying. Richard Brautigan created a brilliant spectre in The Hawkline Monster: A Gothic entity that has problems of its own in the form of its rebellious shadow.

When I was a teenager, my father introduced me to the humorous writing of Thorne Smith. His best-known work are the Topper stories, one of which was filmed starring Cary Grant and Constance Bennett. Topper is a stuffy man who's haunted by a fun-loving couple who lead him into all sorts of compromising situations.

Mind you, I sometimes feel that my muse may be haunting me, sneaking in to do some editing without my permission—as Muriel Spark describes in this poem:

Authors' Ghosts

I think that authors' ghosts creep back
Nightly to haunt the sleeping shelves
And find the books they wrote.
Those authors put final, semi-final touches,
Sometimes whole paragraphs.

Whole pages are added, re-written, revised,
So deeply by night those authors employ
Themselves with those old books of theirs.

How otherwise
Explain the fact that maybe after years
have passed, the reader
Picks up the book - But was it like that?
I don't remember this . . . Where
Did this ending come from?
I recall quite another.

Oh yes, it has been tampered with
No doubt about it -
The author's very touch is here, there and there,
Where it wasn't before, and
What's more, something's missing -
I could have sworn . . .

Muriel Spark

Do you have any ghosts in your stories?

Are they out-and-out terrifying ghosts...or benevolent shades, who assist the protagonist?

Which famous ghosts do you like?

Are they scary or amusing?

Famous ghosts...for scary there is 'Oh Whistle And I'll Come To You, My Lad'. There are ghosts in my novel, neither scary or amusing. One is scary at first, manifesting in a very creepy, unpleasant way but she herself is not unpleasant. They're remnants. Startling, strange, unsettling, sad. I know people who have seen ghosts and they looked like real people, just not where they should have been, but the witness wouldn't even have known they were looking at a ghost if it had not then disappeared right in front of them. I've experienced 'poltergeist' activity on many occasions, mostly benign, but I suspect living people are the trigger for whatever is the mechanism. Just now and then things have been unpleasant.

I've experienced 'poltergeist' activity on many occasions,

Crikey, that must have been seriously scary! How do they manifest themselves? I have always had an image of porcelain being thrown around a room, or doors banging.
If I ever experienced something like that, my first reaction would probably be to run a mile and then keep running....
A long time ago I used to watch a TV show called "Randall and Hopkirk" which was about detective pair, one of whom (Hopkirk) was a ghost.
It was quite funny.

I have also written a short story, (Tom's Tale), which I posted in the Groups section for comment some time ago. That was about a man who meets a ghost who relates a tale to him of meeting another ghost when he was alive. One of the ghosts is benevolent the other less so.

I haven't however written a full novel that includes a ghost, although the idea is quite attractive.
Famous Ghosts - Christmases Past, Present and Future from A Christmas Carol by Dickens. Cathy from Wuthering Heights.

I used to read a lost of ghosts stories when I was a child (mainly because I was told not to) but I can't remember any of them now.
Crikey, that must have been seriously scary! How do they manifest themselves? I have always had an image of porcelain being thrown around a room, or doors banging.
If I ever experienced something like that, my first reaction would probably be to run a mile and then keep running....
Being of a scientific bent and a bit of a sceptic regarding all things "paranormal" my first reaction would be to investigate exactly what was happening.
Crikey, that must have been seriously scary! How do they manifest themselves? I have always had an image of porcelain being thrown around a room, or doors banging.
If I ever experienced something like that, my first reaction would probably be to run a mile and then keep running....

Things moving or thrown @Geoff. Sometimes in front of other people. On one occasion the manifestation was helpful, so kindly so, that a religious person, which I'm not, might think in terms of angelic assistance. I think more in terms of psychokinesis, dysfunction of the body's electric field, but what does anybody know in fact. They may think they know, they may know what they think, but they'd do well to keep thinking.

Things had happened before, but escalated about six weeks before the birth of my third child. We had lost our second the day he was born. Nothing the hospital or anyone could do. I mention this because I sense this, and the demands of coping with a very painful health problem and the loss of physical mobility that came with it had a bearing on a number of ensuing psychokinetic manifestations.

These were startling, odd in the extreme, but not unpleasant. There is no conscious control in occurrences of psychokinesis. In 'Carrie', she could direct it but that's fiction and in reality, it is unconscious and spontaneous. The other associated possible 'explanation' is the mysterious 'third man factor', as experienced by Shackleton on Elephant Island, and also that man who fell into the ice crevice after his friend cut the rope. About Poltergeists
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I wrote a short story in which a woman moves into a farmhouse populated by the ghosts of past residents. They help her with her chores, show her where the best mushrooming spots are, teach her about the history of the land and the stories it holds. Ultimately she joins them. All very cozy and full of warm-fuzzies, in spite of the fact many of the ghosts had harsh lives or were bitter about injustices.
My current novel is full of ghosts, my protagonist is a haunted academic trying to find the 'science of ghosts'.
I like the idea of a haunted detective. I was going to mention Randall and Hopkirk but Tim James beat me to it. :)
:) Very kind to say so. No -one escapes the pain of loss, everyone has their own to bear, but it's a strange one, when the span is so very short, and yet it was a life. He'd be 25 now. It's hard to believe sometimes isn't it, where time goes? He stayed an hour and twenty five minutes then rode the train on out again. But I looked in his face and knew him, all the same. His name was Rowen.

The science of ghosts? Your haunted academic will be wanting to get his or her teeth into the books of Tom Lethbridge, then :) He was both highly sensitive to atmosphere AND a scientific thinker, trained in classical archaeology.
I am so sorry for the loss of your boy, Rowen, @Katie-Ellen Hazeldine , I think the loss of your own child is an especially difficult one to bear {big hugs}.

We have had many bizarre and unexplained paranormal stuff in our family. It was/is always weird. My dad is a scientist and likes to make sense of everything in a logical way, but there are some things he has no explanation for. And, (thankfully not related to our family!) there's a really strange story about a house in our town where there was a poltergeist back about 80/90 years ago. It was destroying the house. My grandad worked in the garden and had so many tales of the goings-on. In the end, they asked a priest to perform an exorcism, but he couldn't get rid of it, so he told the family to paint a room black including the windows, and he "moved" it in there.( The room is still locked,:oops: windows still black.)

Years later, my dad was doing an etching of that house (it's the park-keepers house, very pretty) and my grandad kept warning him to make sure he kept the window black. Older people in the town were very frightened and superstitious over what happened and took great pains to ensure the house (room) was never disturbed.

I'm also fascinated by "imaginary friends": My youngest is 4. She has a friend called Gladda who lives in Russia but teleports to our house regularly. She keeps asking me to take photos of them together, which I do... and my wee one also says, "Isn't Gladda so cute in that photo?" What can I say? Um. Yes.

She is appalled and perplexed at the notion that we would think Gladda doesn't exist. She came on holidays with us, she plays games with her. It's hilarious but bizarre.

I had an imaginary friend when I was small too. I can remember her vividly, and it was only when I was around 5 when I realized that no-one else could see her, that the occurrences where she was around, waned. There's really so much we know so little about!
Interesting @Rainbird....and that's very interesting too about the 'black.' Many psychic readers of course wear black because they think it is grounding and offers protection from 'psychic attack'. Or they may use a black stone, obsidian or tourmaline for the same purposes. One day a photographer rang me to ask me please not to wear black. It was for a magazine feature, road testing 3 local psychics and the other 2 had been in earlier and done their stint, and turned up wearing black and the samey-samey was doing his head in aesthetically, lol. And I do wear black sometimes, but not every day and I went wearing a pale pink jacket.

Five years old is a classic age for starting to lose a 'something'. Who knows for sure what it is? Maybe it's a memory of birth, or pre-birth, or ancestral memory that has not yet been reabsorbed into the present incarnation of the ancestral mind. There are some very compelling programmes out there, stories supporting the possibilities of reincarnation. And I don't want to come back myself, necessarily, but maybe the imaginary friends were once real. My mother's as coolly hard headed a person as you could wish to meet, and when small opened her eyes one morning and saw a native American Indian woman sitting on the end of her bed, feathers, beads and all, sitting with her back turned till she faded away.

Logic versus.... ?
Reason versus.....?
Psychic versus intellectual?
Science versus Superstition/Art/nature/Humanities

Common sense never gets old, that's a thing to hold on to at all times, but beyond that, polarising is pointless and unnecessary. Copernicus, Bohr, Einstein and Hawking too, while sceptical, were also interested in these fields of the collective human experience. Copernicus actually practised astrology, himself. Darn good too by all accounts.
The science of ghosts? Your haunted academic will be wanting to get his or her teeth into the books of Tom Lethbridge, then :) He was both highly sensitive to atmosphere AND a scientific thinker, trained in classical archaeology.
That looks interesting - thank's for the link, I shall read it with interest with a view to cribbing anything interesting. :) - There are no real books in my story; my academic only reads from tomes made up by me.
Well; there's a lot out there that will give your academic 'real life' cred, without the research getting in the way of the story. If your academic sees a ghost, then they see it, and who is anyone else to tell them they didn't, unless they are actually mentally ill at the time. It's like the colour blind refusing to believe in red or green because they don't see it themselves.

Lethbridge is not remotely dry :) Ghost and Ghoul

A typically academic approach here in this blog link on this general subject: Ghosts | Sharon A. Hill
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The Sense of an Ending?

Strange Ambitions