Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Genesis of a Ghost Story

We all have different prompts that inspire our muses. For me, it's always something visual. An intriguing picture, an atmospheric landscape, a word or word combinations -- any of these can flip the switch on my creative outlet. We also each have very unique processes that nurture and structure those fledgling ideas to full blown stories.

As an example of how my mind works, here's a rundown of my literary gothic romance that will be launching later this year (title, date, book cover, book trailer, excerpts, playlist and pinterest board + giveaways forthcoming!) from conception to ready-to-write plot.

Several years back while I was on vacation in Kansas, my husband and I four-wheeled over to an old graveyard surrounded by a forest—one of those lushly macabre numbers with crumbling tombstones and intricately carved statues dating back to the 17 and 1800’s.

While walking among the debris we stumbled upon a locked fence. An isolated headstone sat inside the enclosure in the far right corner, covered with ivy to the point the epitaph couldn’t be read aside from two words: beloved son.

Seeing something like that … a tomb set off by itself in an enclosure that’s now overrun with weeds and vines … already the questions are stirring my imagination. Who was this person, this beloved son? And why did he merit such isolation?

Then I see something that spurs even deeper introspection. What is the significance of the other gate in back? The overgrown path that opens into the woods … where does it lead? Who once kept a vigil here, and why are they no longer keeping it?

BOOM: my idea was born. A grieving young lady (from the Victorian era, because naturally, the setting lends itself to something gothic), comes upon a wrought iron enclosure in a cemetery and sees not only a tomb, but a lone flower, proud and thriving in the midst of the decomposing wilderness. The young lady can't resist the unusual blossom because ... hmmm ... she has a love for colors and textures since she's a hat maker. So, resourceful and impetuous as all good heroines must be, she breaks off the padlock, digs up the flower, and takes it home, little realizing that it's tied to a man’s spirit—a ghost that happens to have no memory of ever dying. To help solve this dashing ghost’s death, my young heroine must return to the cemetery and follow the trail that leads into the woods to meet the keeper of the grave, her first step in unraveling the mystery.

Voila! From a scene rich with a history that I will never know is born a story that I can mold and shape into something of my very own.

I so love being a writer.

So I had my skeleton plot (no pun intended). I wrote it down, and filed it away to let the idea simmer. Next, I had to motivate and get to know my main characters:

When I first flesh out my characters, I want to have a sense of what they look like. I go online, look at sketches or headshots of people. I look for faces that hold some sort of aura, some expression or aspect that brings to mind characteristics of my character. Then I print them off and tack them to a corkboard in my office to help me visualize these people in the beginning when I’m first getting to know their voice. For me, it makes them come alive.

Juliet (heroine)

Hawk (aka ghost dude)

Now I have to give them personality and motivation. First we have a ghost. And he’s already an interesting fellow because:

A. Well … he’s a ghost. *hee*

B. He sings beautiful arias in a foreign language yet speaks in English.

C. He has amnesia; not only is he unaware of his death, but he has no memory at all of his life. So naturally, he’s going to want to remember = his motivation to reach out to this woman.

Next, I give my heroine something unique to her. Something that will be a challenge to her everyday life, but will bond her instantaneously to this spectral stranger. What say we make her deaf? She lost her hearing at age eight and hasn’t heard a sound for eleven years. Suddenly, she can hear this ghostly man. And ONLY him. No doubt, they are going to become fast friends, despite the fact that they can’t touch on any traditional level (sexual tension—it’s a great tool—USE IT). Her affection for him will motivate her to act against her introverted nature and try to find answers to his past.

Now for a twist. How about having another hero in this tale, who may or may not be good?  Any gothic novel worth its salt has a beautiful, dark, sensuous stranger with secrets, who will either be the heroine’s redemption or downfall. Yeah. Let’s give our ghost a rival.

Nicolas (the mysterious viscount / eccentric architect)

But this fellow needs to be flesh and blood. He needs to have some advantage to put him on equal ground with the man’s spirit who can sing and speak to the deaf heroine. So, the living man can touch her and communicate through romantic gestures. To up the stakes, I give him a link to the ghost’s life … and he’s harboring a secret that ties him to the ghost’s death.

At this point, I'm biting at the bit to get the story penned, so I sit down to the business of research and writing. Looking back on every book I've written so far, the genesis, structuralization, and organization all follow this same pattern.

How about you . . . what sparks that first idea? And afterwards, how do you build on / brainstorm that premise into a full-fledged plot?