Suggestions, please…

Three posts so close together! Apologies! I know I said that I would come back slowly, and despite appearances, I am. I cannot help what is on my brain, though, and this is the only forum I have, at present, in which to express myself. The posts on Canada and ballooning will come this weekend, but for now, I am calling for your assistance.

I cannot seem to find the right voice for the stories I am currently writing, and I have come to the conclusion that I need help. Help from friends and family, or even kindly strangers.

I need reading material. Muse food. Specifically, I need good ghost-stories.

No horror genre, please. It’s the chill along a lonely road that I want, not sickening terror or shocking violence. I cannot put my finger on exactly what I am looking for, so variety is best, but I know what I don’t want.

It’s good story “voice” that I am seeking. Nothing I have used before is working, and I need input to develop something that will work. I know, in my bones, the feel that I want, but how to convey it? How do I immerse my reader in the mood of a good ghost-story and use that backdrop to accentuate life?

So have you any suggestions for material? Pointers? Ideas for me to mull?

About jubilare

Just another tree in the proverbial forest. Look! I have leaves! View all posts by jubilare

19 responses to “Suggestions, please…

  • emilykazakh

    Ah, muse food. I know what you mean. I just reread a book because I needed inspiration.

    I don’t really read a lot of ghost stories, so I’m not sure how much help I can be. Would a movie suffice? I sometimes find inspiration to write after I watch a film. Trying to capture the mood a film has left me with in words – I’m a visual person, too, so trying to take what I see and put it into words helps me, too.

    If a movie can help, then the one story that came to mind when I read what you wanted was “The Others” with Nicole Kidman. (It is considered a horror film, but I don’t find it as such. It’s so very psychological and not violent or gory.) I really enjoyed that film, and even now, having seen it and knowing the ending, I still find it entertaining. There’s a beautiful melancholy throughout the film. The setting, the lightning, the music and sounds – all of it is used so powerfully. Even though the moments of terror and conflict are what are remembered and talked about (and parodied), for me what was lasting were the quiet moments in between. The fog around the house. The fallen and rotting leaves that cluttered the grounds. The bare and empty rooms. The darkness.

    I don’t know if that will help, but I thought I’d suggest it anyways.

    Good luck!

    • jubilare

      Films can be very helpful for setting the right mood, and maybe that will indirectly help me. I feel like I am fighting an uphill battle because my style of writing, which works great for my other stories, is so different from what I feel this story needs, and that style bleeds through into the words when I don’t pay enough attention. I need something more distinctive both to counteract my normal style, and to breathe life into the story itself. I think I will write some exercises this weekend. Thus the desperate need for inspiration and muse-fodder. My lunch destination for today is the public library.

      I am very visual too. Films can easily overwhelm me with imagery, which is both good and bad. That is why I am leery of horror films in general (though I like suspense) because the images etch themselves into my brain and don’t go away. As much as Tim Burton films frustrate me with their inadequate plots, the moods he conjures on screen can be very helpful. I am aiming for something brighter, more vital than his monochromatic palette, but I am looking for that ghostly mood as well.

      I know the feel I want for this story, but finding the right inspiration is proving a challenge. If something like what I am trying to do exists, which it probably does, I have yet to find it, but I can find pieces here and there. I need more pieces! and practice! and, hopefully, Divine help, otherwise I am doomed to frustration. I have to, at least temporarily, train myself out of the pseudo-European-fantasy traditions and language that I love so well. I will look into “The Others” and see what I find. Thank you for the suggestion!

      p.s. I am somewhat amused that people have “liked” this post. So odd! I guess they know the feeling? Anyway…

      • emilykazakh

        You’re welcome. I hope it helps.

        I sometimes avoid reading what’s next on my book list because I know it will upset my writing. Right now I really want to read “Peter and the Starcatchers,” but I keep holding back because it’s not at all like what I’m writing right now, and I’m worried I’ll block myself. Ugh.

        P.S. I think a lot of people know this feeling!

        • jubilare

          Hahah, yeah. That muse-mood can be a delicate thing.
          I am glad that my muse is a tough, monstrous little beast. It consumes most things without harm. The thing that is most likely to sicken it is my own depression.

          So I see. :)

  • mjschneider

    This might be an entirely inappropriate suggestion for what you want, but have you read Our Town? It’s a play, so there’s not much prose to fall back on, but the characters are well-written and the finale packs quite a punch. Overall, I wouldn’t call it a “ghost story,” but ghosts are integral to its denouement.

    I haven’t read the source material, but I quite liked the film of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.

    One of the anime series that began this season is about a man who falls in love with a flower shop owner, but her dead husband is still hanging around. I haven’t watched it yet, but it’s in my Crunchyroll queue, and I’m excited to get to it. It’s called Natsuyuki Rendezvous. Japanese literature and film are quite full of great ghost stories. A couple other films I might recommend are Kwaidan and Ugetsu, which are both masterpieces. They’re both on Criterion, so if you have Hulu, you can watch them.

    It’s not a ghost story, but the poem “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” by Thomas Gray may inspire you. I really love Pete Seeger’s rendition of “I Come and Stand at Every Door,” an adaptation of a poem by Nazim Hikmet.

    You probably can’t go wrong with Turn of the Screw. I don’t know if you’d count it as horror, but it’s the only piece of prose literature I can think of off the top of my head that fits your criteria. Well, maybe Agatha Christie’s Mr. Quinn stories. I don’t think many people have read them, but they’re very good, and you can get them collected in a single volume. The final one is especially haunting.

    • jubilare

      Wow! Thank you for offering so much!

      I have read “Our Town,” and seen productions of it, though it has been a while. It’s a powerful piece. I am not sure it would help much with my current problem, but it might be worth looking over. Character and plot I have, but I lack the right voice. Of course, things that don’t show me what I need may still be enlightening by showing me what I don’t need. I expect, in this search, to gain a clearer idea of what I don’t want to do as well as (please, please, please) what I want to do.

      *takes notes* Asia does indeed have some wonderful ghost stories, and I plan to investigate that more fully. The story I am writing is set in a place very loosely based on my home state, so I am trying to seek out stories from my region, but I can find helpful elements anywhere. Recently I picked up a kind of “ghost” from Hindu mythologies.

      Poetry and songs are very welcome. I have some poems and music already as inspiration. “The Listeners” is one of my favorite poems of all time, and it is a definite inspiration. As for Henry James, I brought home some of Edith Wharton’s stories from the library today and she mentions Turn of the Screw in her preface. I will find a copy as I can. I didn’t even know Christie wrote any ghost stories! O_o

    • mjschneider

      It’s tough to make suggestions in a case like this, since there’s no concrete base from which to jump. Christie’s Quinn stories definitely fit the “chill along a lonely road” bill. I hope you have a chance to read them at some point. I also hope you share with us when you’ve finally found the right voice for your story!

      • jubilare

        Believe me, it’s tough searching, too! Any suggestions help because they widen my field.

        As for sharing my writing, I have done some of that before. See Elfwood, among my links, for older stuff, and I have two small bits posted here. I intend to try and publish the stories I am seeking a voice for, and to that end I cannot post them here. I may share bits with friends who are interested, though. :)

  • K

    Perhaps you’ve tried and rejected these already, but I would suggest Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man or The October Country.

    • jubilare

      I will investigate. Thank you!

      • palecorbie

        Bradbury is always good. Except Farenheight… I’ve…just re-bought a copy of The Small Assassin, the original of which I lost to an an unreliable borrower and always, always regretted, if you’d like to borrow that.

        Otherwise, M.R.James, forever and always. Atmosphere, atmosphere, atmosphere…and when that alone can freak out a non-empath with an understated, English style of prose, you know it’s good stuff. Alternately, William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki has some amusing tales to tell.

        • jubilare

          I aim not to be freaked-out, but I already have been by a few. I aim more for eerie. I’ve also found that very few stories give me anything useful. More digging! Thank you for the suggestions. Until I started doing this, I didn’t even know what all Bradbury had written. It has been enlightening. Ambrose Bierce has also surprised me.

          • palecorbie

            James does eerie, in spades. A warning that Carnacki has a very 1920s attitude to animals, there – though most of his “ghosts” turn out to be elaborate hoaxes or ambiguous and there’s no gore to be had, there are a few watchdog/experimental casualties (“offscreen” by virtue of darkness, but still, casualties) in the volume linked on gutenburg there.

            [amused] I’ve told you often enough – the Family’s Uncle Einar has (darker green) wings that sound much like M’s. Bierce, Bierce…oh! Yes, more to him than the Devil’s Dictionary, indeed.

          • jubilare

            I will check him out, though with caution. Thanks for the heads up.
            What can I say? My memory is unreliable.

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  • David

    Are you still looking? I find H.P. Lovecraft’s stories to be very inspiring when it comes to tone, even though his worldview is opposite to ours, and quite depressing because of that. But he has some intriguing ideas and builds tension masterfully. Just try “The Call of Cthulu” or “The Color Out of Space.” He can’t write dialogue to save his life, but fortunately there isn’t much of it. Or, if you want the effect of Lovecraft with a more modern ,readable spin, I thought Stephen King’s “N” was brilliantly creepy and my favorite story of his to date.

    • jubilare

      Oh yes, still very much looking.
      I’ve read a little Lovecraft. He’s fantastic with imagery, but so far his tone isn’t what I am looking for. I am finding a lot of useful things in the various stories I am reading, but the right tone is the hardest thing to track down. I’ve never read any King, but I want to. I have to be very careful, though, because of how vulnerable I am to scary things. I’ve been accidentally freaked out a few times already in this endeavor.

      • David

        Lovecraft and King are probably the only scary literature I’ve read, and of them I’ve only read a little. Well, I did read “The Great God Pan” by Arthur Machen, which King claims was more influential on his story “N” than Lovecraft (which I don’t buy), but wasn’t too impressed or scared by it. Try some Rudyard Kipling, then; he wrote a ton of ghost stories, some intended to be horror and some just creepy or atmospheric. In fact, his short story “The City of Dreadful Night” is a masterpiece of ghostly atmosphere despite not actually involving any ghosts, or any actual horror, or even an actual plot; I like it because it’s a superb example of atmospheric setting and nothing more. (It’s very short, so you’re not wasting your time despite its lack of plot.) Maybe that might help you.

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