Pull back the curtain and see how a suspense writer puts the thrills and chills together.


One of the great things about writing a paranormal mystery is that I can justify researching ghosts. Reading about them, watching horror movies–it’s all good. I spent a lot of this weekend reading supposedly non-fiction accounts of hauntings–and fraudulent hauntings. (It boggles my mind that some people go to the trouble of creating their own poltergeists and moving out of their house in “terror”, but I guess if your story is good enough, it can garner you a lot of money and attention. Quite a gamble, but it’s worked for some.)

I did some Internet research on the best ghost movies of all time, and purchased quite a few of them.

The good news is that all of this “research” has actually given me some new ideas I can use to flesh out my novel in the upcoming rewrite. Several aspects of paranormal activity stood out as things all ghosts tend to do, and yet, my ghost doesn’t do them. If it’s at all possible to add realism to a tale of the paranormal, that’s what I’ll be doing.

The old adage is, of course, write what you know, but that’s difficult when you’re writing about something like ghosts or the Loch Ness Monster. Unless–of course–you have personal experience with such things. And even if you do, they might not be believable. In one of the original drafts of Lost, I included a version of a paranormal experience that actually happened to me, and every single one of my readers said I should remove it because it wasn’t believable. And it was the only part of that book that was non-fiction!

For the opening chapter of Dragonfly Summer, I used a scenario that is very closely based on something that happened while I was taking the local media around the museum on a “ghost tour”. This time, for whatever reason, the paranormal incident passed muster with everyone who read the early drafts. Maybe because the ghostly activity isn’t as in-your-face.

All this ghostly research had The Boy commenting that it was interesting (actually, I believe he said “cute”) that he was dating a girl who believes in ghosts. That comment gave me pause. Did I believe in ghosts before my paranormal experiences? (My protagonist starts her journey as an unbeliever.) While I was definitely open-minded to the possibility, I wouldn’t say I believed. When my best friend died in high school, I certainly hoped to somehow have contact with her again, if possible. But one thing I’ve learned–no matter how excited you are about the possibilities, or curious (either from a scientific or personal point of view), having a paranormal encounter is not fun. It’s terrifying. The Boy may not know this, but I actually like to know what causes each strange noise in my house. If I hear someone walking up behind me, it’s nice to turn around and see an actual person. I would never wish to encounter a ghost, but since it seems that I have, it’s easier for me to recall the fear that I experienced at the time and use that to make my protagonist’s reactions more realistic.

How about you, Dear Readers? Have you ever experienced something you couldn’t explain? Do you believe in ghosts? Why or why not? And if you have a scary story to share, please do! My research continues….

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  1. Mark

    I have had several ‘experiences’ regarding things that I could not readily explain (I’d share them with you, but I am typing this via my phone – not so handy for long-winded people like myself). 🙂

  2. Michelle Davidson Argyle

    I believe in ghosts, yes, but probably not in the freaky sort of way people usually think of them. I believe in an afterlife, and I believe there others here with us to protect us, and I also believe there are evil beings, as well, but I’m not sure how much I believe interaction really goes on. Quite frankly, paranormal anything freaks the hell out of me. I can’t read horror or watch it. Anything that “invites an evil spirit” is something I always avoid.

    That’s funny that they said the part that was true in your story was the most unbelievable. Stranger than fiction, eh? 🙂

  3. Kath

    Yep. In a 17thc. farmhouse in Rhode Island. And for me ‘seeing’ the ghosts was absolutely nothing like the ghost hunter make great todo about. Not even close.

    I didn’t even believe myself until someone I have never met confirmed exactly what I saw, in that same house in that same room several years after I saw them.

    Do i believe in ghosts? I really can’t say.

  4. Laura Best

    I’ve never experienced anything that couldn’t be explained but I do find the subject totally fascinating. I like to keep an open mind about such things, but over all I think writers in general do have open mind. Don’t you? After all we never know what we’ll be writing about.

    I actually picked a book up last month on ghosts, but haven’t had time to look it over. Good luck with your research. And I’m glad you’re feeling like a writer again. 🙂

  5. Story Teller

    Thanks, Laura. Me, too.

    And I agree that an open mind is crucial for writers. Even if you don’t agree with a POV, it helps to be able to walk in that person’s shoes so you can write characters who aren’t carbon copies of the writer.

    Open eyes and ears are crucial as well.


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