No moaning. There's a pretty big difference between the classic ghost story of yesteryear, and modern day ghost stories. The classic moaning-ghost story, while chillingly and delightfully scary sitting around a campfire, is not nearly sophisticated enough in this day and age to satisfy a reader. But these days, even Moaning Myrtle is not just another 'moaning' ghost who hangs in the first floor girl’s bathroom at Hogwarts. She has a level of personality that makes her interesting. She’s in turn pouty, flirtatious, depressed and mischievous, especially when she joins Harry Potter in the prefects bathroom during his bubble bath and insists on trying to sneak a peek through the bubbles, saying, "Oh, hello Harry, long time - no - see, hmm."
I keep this in mind when writing about Franny Bishop, a regular secondary character in my Indigo Eady Paranormal “Cozy” Mystery series. Franny is a Victorian ghost and former madam. Her character is caring, forgetful and a bit funny as she tries to make sense of the modern world. For instance, when she strew marbles on the floor to trip up the 'coppers' to give the kids enough time to escape the 'raid.' As a former madam, she has a past and more secrets than the house, the senate and the oval office combined. But she’s clearly dead, so she has no worries, right? Wrong. She worries about the young investigators she’s taken under her wings, among other things. This causes her to interfere. I’ve been told by more than one person that Franny is their favorite character in the series.
No chain rattling. The classic ghost ‘haunts’ a house. It wanders down halls moaning, making lights flicker, rattling chains, knocking things from shelves and scaring the bejesus out of its residents. Again, good for campfires, but not very interesting to readers for the long term. Franny doesn’t ‘haunt’ the house where she resides. She lives there. It’s her home. If a chair is rocking seemingly on its own, it’s because she’s sitting in it knitting. She does normal things, just as a live person would. She has a life, so to speak.
Speak intelligently. The classic ghost who deigns to speak, tells you to get out or die. They don’t really have much to say. If they do appear, they’ll maybe just point, sort of like the ghost of Christmas yet to come in the classic Charles Dickens', A Christmas Carol. Sure, it’s creepy and ominous, but creepy and ominous do not equal good plot. Classic ghosts are fine for snippets or parts of stories; they add intrigue and the chilling effect. But alone, they won’t carry a whole novel. A ghost character must have fully developed lives and personalities. The more intriguing, the better.
Plausibility. Don’t believe in ghosts? You don’t have to. But even with ghosts, the story has to be plausible. I write mysteries. When you’re solving mysteries, how you come by your clues still has to make sense. Ghosts know a lot about what’s going on in their worlds, but how they 'know' things still has to make sense, too. It’s called the suspension of disbelief. Ghosts can’t be omniscient and know everything. If they knew everything, there would be no mystery, no intrigue and no story. They have to come by their information the same way that the living do--through investigation. No cop-outs just because the character is a ghost.
Do you believe in ghosts?
Write about ghosts?
What are your hard and fast rules?