1. Link the Writer

    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Creating an eerie, creepy environment without going full-blown paranormal.

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Link the Writer, Dec 20, 2016.

    In my historical fiction, the main characters live in a manor built nearly a hundred years ago around the time of the American Revolution. They're in the Deep South in the years leading up to the Civil War. Throughout their childhood, they've heard noises they couldn't explain: banging in the walls, something akin to a woman's voice in the hallways. They've felt sudden chills in certain areas, seen brief flashes of light or what they think is a person walking but upon closer investigation they found no one there. There's even a particular bedroom they refuse to sleep in because nightmares await those unlucky enough/foolish enough to do so.

    But this is pure historical fiction, and while they do suspect weird things in the house, while they do investigate the history of the manor, I'm not really planning to turn this into a quasi-ghost story where they literally meet a ghost and that ghost acts as a character in her own right.

    The question is, is there a way I can write this without turning my historical fiction into a quasi-paranormal story involving a ghost haunting their manor?
     
  2. Sack-a-Doo!

    Sack-a-Doo! Contributor Contributor

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    Well, I have to ask right up front: Do these creepy things have anything to do with the story you're telling?

    If so, is there a reason why you don't wanna go full-bore with the creepy stuff?

    If not, won't these creepy goings on just distract from the story?

    I'm presenting these as rhetorical questions, so please don't feel you need to answer me.
     
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  3. newjerseyrunner

    newjerseyrunner Contributor Contributor

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    Have you even lived in an old house? You just described the house I grew up in. The pipes were a little loose so any time water got run upstairs you'd hear a knocking on the walls. The furnace sputtered sometimes and made creepy metal groans through the vents. Small cracks in the wood would let in drafts and keep one specific spot very cold. Temperature differentials would even occasionally osilate the old glass in a way that could sound like a woman whispering. Every time the wind blew, something in the house creaked and sounded like footsteps.

    We didn't have radon, but if we did, it'd certainly screw with anyone sleeping there.
     
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  4. Link the Writer

    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    You two make valid points. See, the plot revolves around a man trying to decide between being a hero or self-preservation after murdering an old man after seeing him beat his slave. My idea was that as the story progresses and political tensions in the setting grows, the man becomes so overwhelmed, so stressed that his mind slowly cracks and he hallucinates that there really is a ghost, a ghost he can talk to and have conversations with. But he's really just talking to himself. The 'ghost' in question is of a woman who died decades before this story starts. That's the history of the house as per his research, but his madness creates the ghost in question.
     
  5. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    I think the answer to your question will lie in how your story ends. If he resolves his conflict and stops talking to the ghost, and the ghost is simply a pair of ears for him to talk to, then it won't be a ghost story ...it'll be a story about a man who is tormented, but survives. If the ghost starts interfering, though ...for real, not just him hallucinating ...then you're into paranormal territory. And if he descends into madness and dies as a result, then probably the paranormal will enter into it again. (Did the ghost cause him to die? Will he also haunt the house, etc....)
     
  6. Link the Writer

    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    The 'ghost' is just a set of (imaginary) ears for him to talk to, and I guess maybe his tormented brain makes the 'ghost' reply back? The ghost basically represents his subconscious telling him what he wants to hear? Or doesn't? Here's a scenario, let's say through his 'conversations' with what he thinks is the ghost but really isn't, he's convinced that his actions have marred him, he's gone too far and he has to die fighting against the angry mob coming after him. Would that be entering paranormal territory?
     
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  7. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    I think it comes down entirely to whether you make the readers believe that the ghost is doing stuff to him. If the readers know he's hallucinating, it won't be a ghost story. Or if the ghost doesn't do anything, but just provide 'ears.' I do think it's down to the ending, though. What do you have planned for that, in relation to the ghost? He's not going to be haunting the house himself after he dies, is he?

    The cool thing about ghosts is that you can make them anything you want.
     
  8. Link the Writer

    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    No, if he dies he won't be haunting the house.
     
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  9. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    I think you'll be fine. If people think it's paranormal, well heck.
     
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  10. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Aunt? Supporter Contributor

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    It sounds a little like you're talking about Wilson from the movie "Cast Away". If you haven't seen it, Tom Hanks is marooned on a desert island, with only a volleyball (hence "Wilson") to keep him company. He ends up conversing with the ball, and in the script, lines were actually written for the ball to reply, but they aren't present in the finished version. The (mono)dialogue is written such that you can tell what the ball is "saying", however.

    More or less from memory:

    TH: "Well, you know what we have to do? Build a boat."

    W: [.....]

    TH: "Yes, I know it's dangerous, but nobody's going to find us here."

    W: [.....]

    TH: <getting angry> "No! No one has found us for four years! It's not going to happen!"

    W: [.....]

    TH: "I'm sorry, sorry, I'm just so stressed, but you're right, I'll be careful."

    Your MC could have the same sorts of conversations with the ghost in the house, but with a little bit more to leave it slightly open as to whether or not the ghost is real.
     
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  11. newjerseyrunner

    newjerseyrunner Contributor Contributor

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    I would just leave it and not say if paranormal activity was involved at all.

    In The Shining, was Jack Torrence really tortured by ghosts into trying to slaughter his family? Every time he saw a ghost, he was looking towards a mirror or something reflective. He was always thinking about how badly he needed a drink too.
     
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  12. Jacquesari

    Jacquesari New Member

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    I think you've answered your own question. By making it clear that he is talking to himself rather than a ghost. Clearly you don't have to reveal that right away, but maybe providing explanations for all the strange noises in the end makes it clear that although spooky, there were no spooks actually around. Like Scooby Do ;)

    I love in a newly built wooden house in an old frame and it makes very strange noises, which still freak me out sometimes at night! Not to mention the heating up and cooling down of the metal roof in the summer! ;)
     

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