I watched a favorite old horror film recently, “The Changeling” starring George C. Scott, that to me brought together the unrests of ghosts and one of the best séances I’ve ever seen on television or film. Obviously, I’m biased about anything starring George C. Scott, a longtime favorite actor. When I first saw this film with my late sister, a huge horror fan whose favorite film was “Motel Hell,” she climbed behind me, finding the bloodless ghost more horrifying than the splatter-films.
With my typical pondering about anything and everything, what is it about the dead that reaches us fiction writers? Think of the knee-jerk “dead” characters: Ghosts. Vampires. Zombies. Skeletons. Mummies. That’s just getting started, as one could move on to more sophisticated “dead” like spirits, banshees, or wraiths. Moving away from dead creatures, think about places used: Cemeteries. Churches. Graves. Empty homes. Basements. Dark woods.
The dead is full of clichés as well: They return to get even. They return to settle a score so they can be at rest. They return to warn the living. They return to see whom they love. They return to eat people or drink their blood. Amongst these clichés is usually someone in the land of the living, who must figure out who this “un-dead” person(s) is, and communicate and/or destroy it.
Why are we writers writing about the dead? I believe that what happens after death remains a great fascination for many readers and writers and is so full of variations it makes for a useful tool in the creation of a story. Clichés are not red flags as a negative, sometimes they add enough to bring interest to the reader, and it’s up to the writer to deviate away enough to keep the story unique. Also, many of us grew up hearing scary ghost stories, and many readers like a good thrill; hence, the horror genre, and I’ll speak (write) for myself on this one: There are some great new talents out there that made me drop my kindle.
New authors, if writing about the “dead” or “un-dead” is your thing, go for it. It’s tried, done, and not going away. Whatever variation you can give to an old idea will be what you can show the reader by using your talent. And don’t forget to tweet to us about it.