Stephen Spielberg’s Poltergeist: The gold standard of ghost stories

Happy Halloween! I’ve been thinking about why I love to be scared, why I love exploring and writing horror. Saturday night, my husband and I sat down and watched the original Poltergeist and I realized I had my answer.

As a child I kept a blanket over the black and white tub TV in my room, dreaming of the day that I wasn’t terrified to go to bed. As an adult I revisited my favorite scary movie as a child and realized why I no horror movies ever lived up to my expectations.

I had started with the best.

Poltergeist doesn’t bring the blood. It doesn’t hit the shocks like Halloween or Friday the 13. It doesn’t even delve into that deep, unsettling evil like Hellraiser.

Instead it relies on amazing storytelling to get under your skin and play on your worst fears, whether you are four or forty five.

If you haven’t watched it yet, seriously, wtf? But Spoilers and stuff.

It relies on classic, resounding themes, wrapped into a tight story.

The monster in the closet

I envy the people who didn’t fear their closet and under the bed at night when they were children. I still struggle with it from time to time. It’s a deep seated fear and it’s universal. What lingers in the dark? When you start into the blackness, is something else staring back at you? Is is a host of spirits that want your life force? Is it a dark entity that can pull you right out of this world?

Losing it all the at peak of your game

At the beginning of Poltergeist we see a family at the top. They have a beautiful house, a strong family connection. They’re building on their American Dream. They are so secure in their place that even as eerie things begin in the family, they are more curious than concerned. The family is more than willing to give it all away in order to get their daughter back and maintain the safety of their family, but while this is a quiet aspect of the film, it goes a long way in unsettling the audience.

Trusting the wrong person

Carol Anne, a sweet little girl full of fun and life. She has no reason to fear the TV people. She has no idea that they are trapping her and not just playmates. And father Steve is the top salesman at his company. He has all the confidence in the world that his boss, who has given him a house and a prosperous life, is a man of ethics when it comes to the neighborhoods he is developing.

It is this trust that gets everyone into trouble.

Being taken away from your parents

Another deep seated childhood fear, and Poltergeist not only plays on it with Carol Anne, but also Robbie, the older brother. When everything is going to hell, Robbie is sent away to Grandmas, unsure he will ever see his sister or his parents again.

Losing a child

Now we start to get to the heart of why this movie is so terrifying to me now, so many years after I first saw it. This theme is established from the very beginning, when mother Diane starts to panic about her daughter falling into their new swimming pool. And from there it only gets worse.

The character dynamic between Diane and Steven when Carol Anne goes missing is nothing less than perfect. Diane appears optimistic, holding it together for guests and her other children but the undercurrent of desperation rears its head when she is confronted with the idea that she may never get her daughter back. Steven on the other hand becomes a rock. Quiet, skeptical, unyeilding and completely sheltering his family. He is not offering anyone emotional support, but he will not stop rolling forward toward bringing his daughter back.

This aspect of the film resonated right into my very soul. What would I do if my child was in danger? Most parents agree, we would go to hell and back to keep our babies safe.

But, you know, we’d prefer not to have to…

Love Love love

 Poltergeist, more than being a horror film, is a portrait of a family we relate to and admire. The self involved teenage daughter, the neglected middle child, the sweet baby everyone dotes on, the parents who smoke a joint in bed when the kids go to sleep, these people are flawed, but their love is not.

The most intense scene of the film, that always gets my eyes misty, is when Diane and Steven stand at the threshold of the closet, preparing to bring their daughter back. Their psychic guide, Tangina is preparing to go in. Diane stops her and insists that as her mother, it is her job. Steven argues, “Let me go.”

Diane tells Steven that she needs him here. He needs to hold the rope. He needs to have her back, keep her safe while he makes this journey and the argument is over.

This is a portrait of marriage at it’s very best. He respects his wife’s strength and she respects his. Even though they have been fighting, even though there are power struggles, when it comes down to it they are partners and it is this exact dynamic that Speilberg makes the salvation of this family.

 

Chills just thinking about it.

Happy Halloween.

 

Why did you do that?

L.C.W. Allingham

If you were having drinks with your friend Carl and, in the middle of a deep conversation about locally brewed IPA’s, Carl grabbed your gin and tonic and dumped it on the floor, you would want to know his motives. If he had no explanation for his actions you might then decide you no longer want to hang out with Carl. The same goes for characters in stories.

A writer always has a reason for a character’s actions. To set up an event, to get someone out of a bad situation, to allow for romance or just adding some interest to a filler scene, character actions drive a story. But while the writer is god of the world they create, they should never remove free will from their characters.

So every time a character does anything you, as a writer, need to ask them why. And they need to be…

View original post 181 more words

Do you believe in ghosts?

Tis the season to freak yourself out. In my house, ghost stories were a family tradition. Every time we gathered with our grandparents we would beg to hear their accounts that they couldn’t quite explain. In fifth grade, when we were assigned our first research report on any subject, other kids in my class did dolphins, Tori Spelling, and the Philadelphia Phillies.

I did my research report on ghosts.

My interest in studying the supernatural has never puttered out and I continue to seek out interesting and terrifying stories. Below are a few I collected to share with you this season.

Happy Halloween!

Myself & two other friends snuck into a supposedly haunted local park one night after it had closed. We heard there had been sightings of a woman walking around the lake. We got there and walked around for awhile, walking around the lake, the houses and other small buildings. We got to the woods which are near the back of the park. My one friend and I were standing about ten feet away from the entrance to this wooded area and we thought we saw this black shadowy figure, at first it looked like a dog shape with glowing eyes. Neither of us was brave enough to walk closer to see what it really was. We kept staring at it, straining our eyes to see it better when then it appeared to change it’s shape. Meanwhile, our third friend was there saying he didn’t think he saw anything. We then heard a noise, I screamed and so did my second friend and we took off running! Our third friend stood there, still not scared, saying “Guys I’m still not seeing it??” All I know is, I know I saw some strange black shadowy figure in those woods that night!!

-C

They say that sometimes spirits attach themselves to babies, and I believe my son was one of them. One night when he was just a few weeks old, he was sleeping beside me in his bassinet. He woke up to eat and started to cry, and as I opened my eyes I heard a loud, distinct voice say “SHHHHHH” that came from right above his bed. My husband heard it, too, but thought it was me. It sounded like any mom trying to quiet her crying baby — soothing, not threatening, yet no one was there. I was too tired to be freaked out though, so I put it in the back of my mind and it didn’t happen again for a while.

The next time I heard “her,” I was working in our guest bedroom using the computer and my son was asleep in his crib across the hall. I thought to myself that he would probably be waking up soon, and not even a minute later I heard a low conversation coming from his room along with the whispered words “Awake, awake.” Just then, he made a sound and I knew he was up. This time it was in the middle of the day, so I knew it wasn’t some weird semi-dream brought on my pure exhaustion. Once again the presence didn’t seem menacing at all, but nevertheless my mama bear protective claws came out. I walked into his room, stood in front of the crib and said to whatever was there, “Listen. I’m really glad that you find my son awesome. I do too! But he’s MY baby, and I don’t need your help. Please leave us alone.”

I felt half crazy talking to nothing, but after I said those words to thin air, I never heard another sound.

-V

I had a band and we practiced in my parents basement. I’d collected a handful of experiences over the years in that house but they were usually easy to write off because I was alone when they happened. One night at practice, I put a glass down on a dollhouse, which was stored on the shelf behind me and after we played a loud song I turned to find it shattered on the floor beside me. Okay. So the reverberations must have vibrated the thing right off the shelf right?

My band mates say no. They had watched it slide right off the shelf while we were playing. And after they say that a pack of guitar strings also slide off the shelf. And while we’re just staring dumbly at this shelf, the dollhouse itself slides forward about five inches toward me.

After a few minutes and nothing else happening my bassist says, “We rock the underworld.”

Good times.

-L

 

We had moved into an older house, and were fixing it up for our family. during the summer there alone my father had worked hard to renovate. we all moved in that fall, and also began to paint and help.

One night my mother and sisters went out and left me alone in the house. I was relaxing in the dining area, reading a book as the rain picked up outside. my ears perked up to a faint sound coming through the falling rain, as did my two dogs; a woman was crying in a broken-hearted manner somewhere. this made me very uncomfortable, and I became uneasy.

My teenaged self told me perhaps the lady next door was crying. what else could it be?

I settled back down to read, the crying picked up and waned, then stopped.

then I felt someone looking at me. I glanced up at the kitchen and a tall black figure filled the door frame to the kitchen!

I jumped up and it was gone. I was really scared- to me it looked like the grim reaper!

Then I paced and worried till my mother came home. This house did not feel safe after that.

-P

 

A few years ago, at the last house we had, I used to get the worst feelings. Ive never been one of those “oh im so in touch with the spirits” people, but always had a healthy respect for the other side. The first time I ever walked into this house-before we even moved in- I immediately got the overwhelming feeling that there was someone in the room, who hated me and wanted me to leave, staring at me. I wasn’t even alone at the time, my current boyfriend was standing right next to me. I could never shake that feeling like someone was standing behind me.

When it was dead quiet and I was trying to go to sleep at night, I would hear what sounded like angry whispers in the other room. Like they were just barely loud enough to hear, but I couldn’t understand the words, just the tone. My daughter was between 1 and a half and 3 years old in the time we lived there. She would constantly look at the empty space next to, or behind, me. And then she would wave or laugh.

One night, as my parents and my daughter were sleeping upstairs (I had a mother in law suite with my own bathroom), I turned on the shower and brushed my teeth. By the time I went to get in the shower, the windows had steamed up. The word “SOON” was written in the steam, backwards. But not just spelled backwards, it was the actual mirrored reflection of the letters. Except that the mirror didn’t face that window. No one ever used that bathroom but me and my boyfriend (who isn’t into pranks like that). I was so petrified that I called my mom and begged her to come downstairs. She still says my brother or someone must’ve done it as a joke, but the condensation of the steam was dripping down the letters, like it had just been written.

-L.M

 

Ray and I had just bought this house from the Landis Family. We were still living in our rental, but fixing up this house. It was midnight and we were both here painting our bedroom. I came down to rinse the brushes in the kitchen sink and I felt Ray’s hand on my back, and I turned around and to my surprise no one was there. I said out loud to the previous owner “I hope you like what we are doing here. I love this house so much”. About a year later Ray was on his knees-grouting the kids bathroom and the bathroom door opened up-and he thought a cat was there. He shut it, turned around and went to work again. The closed door opened and Ray said “Mr. Landis I hope you like what I’m doing.” I haven’t felt their presence since after that first year. I guess they wanted to make sure we were the right family for their house!

-H

 

The house I grew up in was always in a state of half repair. My father was a knowledgeable craftsman and was always starting new projects but not always finishing them. One of the projects was my doorknob. I can’t recall whether I had gotten a new one to my room or whether it was just damaged by one of my sincere bouts of flailing as a rambunctious teen, but it was loose and it stayed that way for awhile. I remember one night waking up to a loud sound directly in my room. It scared the shit out of me, but I eventually went back to sleep. The next night, the same thing occurred- I had just slipped off when the loud noise happened again. It was my door. My door knob was rattling and no one was there. This happened for two weeks straight off and on.
It stopped after two weeks and it never happened again. Other weird things would happen, like someone shouting “No” directly in my ear as I lay in bed, but I think that shook me the most. Like it was taunting me
-A

Fuck addiction

Here’s an old poem of mine that needs to be posted today

The Devil’s Games

Most of us have flirted,

caught a whiff of his cologne,

maybe even dwelling in his gardens for a spell

But the devil, he’s tricky,

and his potions are tempting.

The higher you fly the closer you come to hell.

Oh my dear friend,

you understand my protest

when I found you sleeping in the devil’s bed

For although I miss his kiss

I ran away

because I feared the place to where it led.

Oh my old friend,

I thought you knew

he charges a fee to sit on his lap.

When you have no more

he makes you his whore.

Oh darling, I though you knew of the trap.

You’re too naive

to think that you are strong enough

you could beat him at his own game.

He suffocates you with poison

He shits into your veins.

You fly, you scream, you stumble

and then, the devil has you tamed

Should you outline your project?

The short answer is yes. But I understand your hesitation. For years I resisted outlining, preferring my stories evolve organically. And this worked for me… kinda. Really interesting twists would show up, characters were able to define themselves on the pages and I wasn’t trying to force anything to conform to a preconceived idea. But this method came with it’s own set of problems and the largest was that I would write myself into a corner and have no idea where to go.

I started keeping a separate notes document a couple years ago and it helped alot, but I would still run out of steam or lose my train when writing. Halfway through the Silent Apocalypse I realized I wasn’t sure where to go and I really wanted to finish it.

Enter my first outline, old school skeletal model, with a lot of empty points that I still hadn’t worked out and from there the story rode steadily toward completion. I have since used outlines to plot out all my stuck stories and, most recently, plotted Summer’s Circle in outline before I wrote a word of the story, allowing me to power through from beginning to end of the 89k word first draft in one month.

But outlines still intimidate some authors and I understand. However, hear me out.

First off, there is no one way to outline. Robbie Blair has an article on Lit Reactor giving 8 different methods for outlining including summaries, the expanding snowflake method, the skeletal method (my fav), and free writing. A fellow author I know told me he writes a sentence to summarize each section of a chapter he is working out. And further more, no one says your working outline needs to be a completed outline. You can leave all the blank spaces you want for organic development.

So why keep a working outline?

  • It allows you a working structure of your novel to keep momentum
  • It is an easy method for fleshing out a concept or stuck story
  • It gives you an end to work toward
  • It allows you to weave in foreshadowing, hints, clues and build a steady mood toward events and climaxes
  • It makes plot holes and roadblocks apparent
  • It can prevent story burn out
  • It cuts down on work
  • Cuts down on amount of filler between scenes
  • Allows you to keep all your thoughts and ideas organized and easily accessible
  • Acts as a place holder for plot points you haven’t figured out yet

Whatever format you choose to outline in, it should include:

  • Characters and key points
  • Problem/Conflict
  • Rising action
  • Climax
  • Solution/Ending

It can be as loose or detailed as you want. The reason I like the skelital format is because it allows me to insert in new points as they come to me, where ever they are in the story. It is easy to change and easy to follow.

Here’s an example of how my outlines look:

  • Nancy works at the bakery
    • She likes puppies and diamonds
    • She recently broke up with her boyfriend Charlie
  • Nancy overhears the baker plotting to hide smuggled diamonds in the cake flour
    • She determines that diamonds are being used to fund puppy mills
    • The baker is plotting with a known dog fighting boss
  • Out of desperation, Nancy turns to ex boyfriend Charlie
    • Charlie steals the diamonds when Nancy shows him where they are
    • Nancy chooses to go on the run with him
    • Brief rekindling of romance
    • Charlie double crosses her
  • With no diamonds, no Charlie and all the puppies on the line Nancy faces off against the baker and the dog fighting boss
    • She makes a deal with the cops and the SPCA
    • She does something heroic of something
    • She’s shot but the bad guys are caught
  • All the puppies are saved, Nancy is awarded a medal, recovers from her injuries
    • She finds Charlie and switches out the diamonds for ring pops and dog turds
    • She hands diamonds to the police, except for maybe a few.
    • At the end, Nancy is running a puppy rescue organization and dog treat bakery from her estate in the mountains.

Next time you have an unformed idea, a stalled story or too many ideas and not enough time try an outline. You might find that it changes your writing for the better.

Do you outline? Do you hate outlining? Tell me what you think.

The laundry list description

We want to establish how our characters (especially our MC) look from the beginning. It feels important to us because we have a clear view of them that we want to give our readers. Unfortunately, most people stumble into a bad habit early on in their writing of making a list and it sticks out like a sore thumb.

The laundry list.

Maryanne stopped to check her reflection as she headed out the door. Glossy chestnut hair, dark almond shaped eyes with a fringe of black lashes, plump rose bud lips, on top of a lean frame with no hips. Shrugging at the image, she grabbed her keys and ran out the door.

Oh please do not.

This does several things that damages your story.

  1. It cuts away from whatever action you start with.
  2. it is disrupts the voice.
  3. It is unrealistic.

When was the last time you looked in the mirror and thought, okay, i still have my eyes, hair, nose, rose-bud lips on top of a lean frame? So why would your character do it?

So how do you get your character’s physical appearance across to your reader?

Ditch the list. Put the details in the action.

Sarina brushed back the blond strand that kept falling into her eyes.

Mark’s blue eyes regarded her with concern.

Jasmine applied the brightest shade of red she could find to her lips, making them appear even fuller than they already were.

This method, spaced out through out the first stages or chapter of the story will suggest the details of the characters appearance to the reader while they are still developing their image of them in their head. And they won’t feel like they received an inventory sheet for features.

Call it like another character sees it

“Ben always has the coolest hair,” Samantha said as Ben walked by. “It’s black and thick and he always leaves it a little long.”

Now we know a good deal about Ben’s hair. Girls like it and he wears it well.

The irregular detail

I saw this excellent suggestion on Pinterest. Point out one irregular detail of your character, a scar, a patch of gray in their beard, a faint birthmark by their left eye, and the image of the character starts to come into focus much more sharply than: She had blue eyes and blond hair and a nice rack.

Let your readers fill in the blanks

Once I put my laundry list descriptions behind me, I found that it wasn’t always important to me to spell out how a character looked.  If ethnicity is important, than tell us their heritage, but on the same end, if it’s not, why bother?

Is it important to the story that your character has blue eyes? Does it drive the story forward if we know that he has a chiseled jaw? If the answer is yes, than by all means, get that info in there, but if you find that their appearance doesn’t matter so much, consider letting your reader one to them based on their character and their personality.

 

And however you decide to go, best of luck!

As far as I can go on my own

I like to learn by mistakes.

That’s a total lie. I hate making mistakes, suffering set backs, not getting things right the first time (or the 18th), but I seem to learn best by failing and I have come to embrace that. I have failed my entire writing career. I am a much better writer for it, and much more willing to take chances.

Now I have reached the impasse with my novel. There is something I am not seeing, something my beta readers haven’t brought up, something my writing groups haven’t noted and it needs to be fixed.

And I can’t do it by myself this time.

I know I could go through it and clean it up a bit more. Tighten it a little more. Cut a few more erroneous lines. But I could do this until the end of time and never touch on what is making my book something that the industry does not want.

So I’ve been shopping for editors. It’s time to let a profession do their job on my baby. And as nervous as I am, I am so freaking excited too. An editor feels like a luxury, an upgrade for my novel.

I never assumed I could do this all on my own, but I certainly tried really hard to. Now that I’ve reached the end of that point I have the choice to shelve the book, self or small publish it as is, or ask for help making it as great as I think it can be.

I will be writing more about the editors I will be working with in the future, after I lock them down. I’ve gotten a sample edit from them already and I got chills reading it.

Wish me luck!