I was one year old when The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison) was released by Hollywood. I found it in my pre-teen years as a TV offering. Then and there, I fell in love with the idea of ghostly love. Which is kind of weird because we lived in a house with a ghost, and I was terrified of it. Go figure!
My unpubbed-as-yet NaNoWriMo novel from a couple of years ago, The Quick and the Dedd, is the fruit of that interest. While there are ghost story cycles, we are not currently in one. I say let’s bring ‘em back! And what better week to do so?
There have been so many movies where ghosts and live men or women fall in love and even have a relationship. High Spirits stars Peter O’Toole who makes up a haunted house story about his castle as a way to attract tourists. Oops! It actually is haunted, and there’s a great scene with Steve Guttenberg and Darryl Hannah (the ghost) that shocks him into reality.
Forget Superman, I fell in love with Christopher Reeve when he was in love with a woman in a portrait (Jane Seymour) who had been dead for a long, long time. Somewhere in Time remains one of my all-time favorite movies.
And no one who saw it can forget the amazingly sensual scene where Patrick Swayze connects with Demi Moore through Whoopi Goldberg’s comic intervention. Ghost was a beautiful tribute to the power of love beyond death.
If you are not familiar with the genre of romance movies with ghosts, here are a few more to get you interested:
Portrait of Jennie (Joseph Cotton and Jennifer Jones)
Half Light (Demi Moore)
Sandcastles (Jan-Michael Vincent and Bonnie Bedelia)
Now and Forever (Mira Kirshner and Adam Beach)
Why are people drawn to ghost love stories? I think it’s because there is something in us that wants to believe love is stronger than death. So, let’s say you want to write a ghost love story. What does that require? These elements will get you there:
Build Your World, Then be Consistent
One debt we owe to Stephanie Meyer’s saga (and to be upfront, I am not a fan) is her world-building in spite of the existing canon on vampires. She claims not to have known about vampires and their lore prior to writing her YA series. Okay. That gave her permission to build the world she needed for her story, unconstrained by the generally accepted “facts” about the undead.
I took that as permission in The Quick and the Dedd to keep aspects of the traditional ghost story canon and to reject others and substitute what I needed for my story. I describe where Riley is between appearances, how time works for him, and how he can “manifest”, or become corporeal. I need to know the logic of my world and stick to it.
Additionally, the atmosphere of the story needs to match the kind of ghost love story you are creating. Is it dark and threatening and moody? Or is your environment light and bright and fun? Or perhaps you change the mood as the story progresses.
Since no one really knows, create the world your ghost lives in and don’t worry that it’s not “real”. Think about that.
Keep it Vague
In the world you create for your ghost love story, don’t rush to explain in too much detail. Don’t worry about physicality. It is your world to create. In The Quick and the Dedd, I chose to have electromagnetic readings of Isabella’s office to bring in ways people actually search for entities, but then I went further. By setting a story in the context of real equipment and search protocols, you can bring people along to your world without having to explain too much.
Decide the Role Your Ghost Will Play
In most of the romantic ghost stories, the dead person and the live person fall in love. Sometimes they can consummate the love, sometimes not. In other stories, the ghost is the impetus for two live people finding one another, either through the fear evoked or ghostly machinations to bring them together.
Is your ghost the comic relief or the love interest? Or both? Perhaps your ghost is fierce and scary to rid the place of the live person and then turns mushy with love. Whether your ghost is a protagonist or antagonist will drive the plot in very different directions.
Come to Acceptance Slowly
The live person has to go through a period of dissonance before coming to accept the reality of a ghost in his or her life. Would you just believe what was happening to you? Wouldn’t you seek other explanations? Reject what your eyes and other senses tell you? Wouldn’t you be fearful?
Sure. So make your live person rationalize and explain away phenomena before accepting the truth. In my tale, I had a double acceptance factor. Isabella Quick had to come to accept that Riley Dedd was a ghost returned to her office. Riley, on the other hand, didn’t know he was dead and had to deal with his new reality, too.
Reality Intrudes and Complicates the Plot
Though a ghost love story will not be gory or filled with gratuitous sex or violence, it is appropriate to create impediments to true love as with any love story. People think you’re crazy for imagining a ghost. The live one is transferred to another state. Your ghost has “commitments” in the “other place” and disappears. The house burns down or is badly damaged in a tornado.
Tangle the Path to True Love
Whether a ghost love story or a traditional love story, there are always complications. A ghost story love allows some interesting variants on that theme. Another real-life love interest is a common trope. People get busy and ignore one another to the detriment of the relationship. Someone trying to exorcise the ghost is common. And just how does one consummate love with a spirit?
Writing a ghost love story is great fun. There are not really any rules except the ones you make. So, break the mold. You be the one to reinvent the public’s understanding of ghosts and how they function.