Ghosts — The Ultimate Outsider

The idea that the dead leave echoes behind is almost irresistible.

Most of us, even the most rational skeptics, have a secret desire to stay connected with someone we’ve lost. I know that my grandmother isn’t really lurking around the edges of my life, but… There are times when I wish it dearly. I have to be satisfied with memories and with the realization that much of my life now would mystify her.

Ghosts are great fiction fodder. Their perspective — as the ultimate outsider — enables them to be the conscience, messenger or trickster in a story. Banquo’s ghost haunts Macbeth. Of all Macbeth’s heinous crimes, Banquo’s murder is the one that manifests as an apparition. It’s a great moment in theater.

Ghosts as tricksters — moving furniture, knocking books off desks, hiding keys and making noises — are often depicted as wanting to chase the living out of a house, by asserting prior rights to the dwelling. It’s basically, “This was my house first, get out!”

Personally, I prefer ghosts with more original messages.

In “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” (the 1947 movie, not the TV show from the late 60s) a young widow is “haunted” by the sea captain who lived in her seaside cottage first. Eventually they become literary “partners.” He dictates an adventure story to her — not something the gentile lady would read, let alone write— and when it’s published, it becomes a great success, supporting her and her children. I haven’t seen the movie since I was a kid. It was on TV a lot and I loved it. Rex Harrison was the ghost and Gene Tierney was the widow.

The Captain is a great ghost. He interferes, but ultimately helps the living people sharing his home. I’ve played with a few ghosts in short stories, with varying degrees of success. Still looking for my perfect ghost — the outsider inside the house!

Look for the first of my Summer Blog Guests next week! NYC apartments make it tough to invite friends to visit (sofa surfing aside), but my blog has plenty of room for writer guests. First up, A.C. Flory.


  1. Try looking for your ghost at an old music school then you’ll have one that can play a ‘haunting melody’ for you. I wish I could be ‘instrumental’ in your search. 9 Sorry)
    xxx Hugs for you xxx

  2. Ghosts like zombies have been a common theme in much of paranormal fiction. It can be hard to find an idea that sparks new thoughts anymore. But then most of the ideas we see now have already been done. It is all in how you manage your words that make something for others to enjoy and see anew (wow do I sound smarmy).

    • Candy

      I think that’s largely true in all genre fiction and maybe in all fiction entirely…

      When I read a vampire romance with a vampire run TV station with a reality show, I thought I’d see the edge of the envelope (the terrible edge) but… I’ve seen other edges since. We are all looking for different directions to take our ghosts, vampires, zombies, heros, romantic protagonists…. all of them in search of a new variation on the theme.

      Now, I sound smarmy too!

  3. Thank you for bringing back some very good memories! I loved the Ghost and Mrs Muir as well. I watched both the movie version – my favourite – and the TV spin-off. I suspect the original movie did push the envelope on how we see ghosts.

    Another movie that was a firm favourite while the Daughter was growing up was Beetlejuice. Similar theme, but with a decidedly comic slant.

    Sadly the modern crop of ghosts and ghouls leave me cold. Definitely time for something new… and non-sparkly.

    • Candy

      I love Beetlejuice! It’s a great variation on the real estate ghost, haunting in a desire to return “home.”

      Maybe I can come up with a sparkly new ghost? I’ll try.

        • Candy

          A NEW ghost is on my to-do list.
          LOL…it’s a long to-do list, but maybe I’ll manage a new kind of ghost for a story this summer.

  4. The ghost in the draft of my novel definitely wants something, and I’m doing my best not to make it seem cliche! My mom used to check guests in at an old bed and breakfast where she’d then have to stay the night. The building was said to be haunted, and she has stories of weird things that happened. But who knows…

    • Candy

      Yes there are so many ghostly cliches. They always seem to be “hellbent” on getting their houses back.

      A haunted B & B is classic.

      Tell me if you know where the line between CLASSIC and CLICHE is located. It’s an interesting writer question. Something I’ve been wondering about all day. I had a train ride to a meeting and was reading a werewolf book. I want to like it, but…. too many predictable descriptions and actions. Wondering where that line is..

  5. My favorite ghost story on film is The Uninvited, with Ray Milland. I read somewhere that it was the first film to treat ghosts “seriously” and it’s a great spooky story. Ray can’t seem to make up his mind on his British accent, but aside from that, the film is perfection. I just wish it was on Netflix…

    • Candy

      Too bad about Netflix. It sounds like something I’d like to see. I don’t remember it at all. Maybe I missed it?