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What makes a believable roman ghost?


grasshopper
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I don't post on these forums too much, and the last time I did there was a little misunderstanding; but you guys seem to be the best people to ask for advice on a little problem I have at the moment:

 

I'm writing a story based in Roman times, this story among other things has some ghosts as a plot device. I've finished almost the entire story except the fantasy strand with the ghosts in it. I don't believe in ghosts, so this part is making me spit at the computer screen.

 

So, my question is, in fiction, what makes a believable ghost? what kind of ghost drags you deeper in to the story, and what kind makes you put the book down, say whaddeva and watch the tv instead?

 

Thanks in advance!

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Originally Posted By: Boggle
So, my question is, in fiction, what makes a believable ghost? what kind of ghost drags you deeper in to the story, and what kind makes you put the book down, say whaddeva and watch the tv instead?

It depends. If it's a historical fiction, then the ghosts need to follow the same rules as the mythology of ghosts in that culture, and the characters need to react more or less the same way a person of that culture would. If it's straight up fantasy, then ghosts can be whatever the author wants provided there's a consistent logic and rules to their existence, strengths and weaknesses, and so on. If it's a historical fantasy, ghosts should be roughly what the cultural expectation was but with room for the author to change things around and provide new reasons for why ghosts in that culture are what they are. If the ghosts are just tacked on or otherwise don't make sense for the setting or plot, then they should probably just be removed.

Dikiyoba.
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If the ghosts are wrecking your suspension of disbelief, there's a problem. Why do you need ghosts at all? Can they be replaced with something else?

 

Or, if you're writing fantasy, don't worry about it. Just be sure it's clear that it's fantasy from the start, because dei ex machina works much better when you're not springing the existence of gods on the audience along with the arrival of gods.

 

—Alorael, who thinks the easiest replacement is your characters' belief in ghosts when there are not, to the readers' perceptions, clearly actual ghosts. Roman characters can perceive signs of manes and lares and act in an appropriately haunted fashion without you having to show pale shades.

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Phasmae ex machina perhaps?

 

Yep, point taken, and thanks everyone for the input.

 

It is a matter of deciding what you are writing is hard because it is out of your area of expertise, or hard because it just don't fit.

 

If after considering what I've done I decide the ghosts don't work, I'll swap them out for something more substantial!

 

Coming back to Tolkien, apparently he wrote LoR at a pace of 250 words a day for 11 years, that suggests to me he struggled a bit with believing some of the parts himself.

 

Thanks

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Tolkien was also a bit obsessive about writing. The real total was probably much higher than about a page per day, but most of his work ended up in the scrap bin. Just look at how many versions of all the legends in the Silmarillion there are floating around in Tolkien's notes!

 

—Alorael, who also thinks belief isn't quite the right word for fantasy. It didn't have to be believable. In fact, it shouldn't have been believable, and it isn't. But Tolkien wanted it to be mythically appropriate and consistent and satisfying, and that's all hard as well.

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Also Tolkien wrote most of his work by hand so corrections usually involved recopying the pages to insert changes.

 

Tolkien's son, Christopher, has published several volumes of the early versions of LotR where the first draft was substantially different than what you see now. Characters changed and new ideas required rewriting the older versions to correspond to the new parts.

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Originally Posted By: Locmaar
Sorry to be blunt, but trying to drag people deeper into your story with a plot device you don't believe in has DON'T DO IT written all over it.


people write about unbelievable things all the time

after all, bruce banner didn't turn into The Credible Hulk now did he
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Actually Tolkien talked quite a bit about belief and disbelief. He did want his work to be believable, but "believable" in a much higher and more aesthetic sense than the word might usually denote:

 

Quote:
Children are capable, of course, of literary belief, when the story-maker's art is good enough to produce it. That state of mind has been called “willing suspension of disbelief.” But this does not seem to me a good description of what happens. What really happens is that the story-maker proves a successful “sub-creator.” He makes a Secondary World which your mind can enter. Inside it, what he relates is “true”: it accords with the laws of that world. You therefore believe it, while you are, as it were, inside. The moment disbelief arises, the spell is broken; the magic, or rather art, has failed. You are then out in the Primary World again, looking at the little abortive Secondary World from outside. If you are obliged, by kindliness or circumstance, to stay, then disbelief must be suspended (or stifled), otherwise listening and looking would become intolerable. But this suspension of disbelief is a substitute for the genuine thing, a subterfuge we use when condescending to games or make-believe, or when trying (more or less willingly) to find what virtue we can in the work of an art that has for us failed.
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Originally Posted By: Lilith
Originally Posted By: Locmaar
Sorry to be blunt, but trying to drag people deeper into your story with a plot device you don't believe in has DON'T DO IT written all over it.


people write about unbelievable things all the time

after all, bruce banner didn't turn into The Credible Hulk now did he



smirk
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i don't understand why people are born stupid when they can simply not be born at all. at first, i didn't UNDERSTAND the question! and then i realised that you had to write about something which you don't even believe in! wtf? i mean?.. can't you just say that you don't believe in ghosts and get it over with? why you got to write it anyway - for school?.. forget about it.. and now you come here and waste our time only so that you can do your homework. do you know how many dudes like you are born each day in the world?.. i mean.. do you even THINK that there are enough of us to help all of you?..

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A light touch works wonders where the paranormal is concerned. The X-Files did an admirable job of walking the line between acceptance and skepticism, at least initially. Obviously the setting is different (and skeptics are a bit harder to come by), but I imagine that if you sit down with "Poltergeist" and "Hamlet" for a bit, inspiration will find you.

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Originally Posted By: MUMTAZ CLOSED-FIST
i don't understand why people are born stupid when they can simply not be born at all. at first, i didn't UNDERSTAND the question! and then i realised that you had to write about something which you don't even believe in! wtf? i mean?.. can't you just say that you don't believe in ghosts and get it over with? why you got to write it anyway - for school?.. forget about it.. and now you come here and waste our time only so that you can do your homework. do you know how many dudes like you are born each day in the world?.. i mean.. do you even THINK that there are enough of us to help all of you?..


Is that you, mad dog?
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Apologies to the OP for the digression.

 

Personally, I agree that if you're going for eerie atmosphere, then less is more. Maybe a ghost that can be heard and felt but not seen.

 

OTOH, if you need to be able to interact with it to advance the plot, consider having it look and act like a real, living person. Especially if it's the ghost of a character that is already known to the reader.

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Less is certainly more. The reader will fill in any details you leave out, and since the reader is probably more in touch with what they think a ghost is, they'll stay more into the story than they would if you go into excruciating detail that conflicts with their predefined ghost canon.

 

See also: the book is better than the movie.

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Thanks for your feedback guys. If you would like to see what I've done, the main ghosty description bit so far is , in the first part of the scene.

 

If you would like to see the scene in perspective you may read from part one. If you do read from part one and all the way through, probably be best for you to be at least umm 14 or 15, as there are a couple of swear words coupled with the odd bit of mild nastiness. I think the nastiness works in context though.

 

If you choose to read it, bear in mind that the story is as yet unfinished and finished parts have not had a final edit, and the whole ghosty thread is still underdevloped and a bit on probation, so suspense of disbelief maybe required in parts.

 

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