writer of horror, fantasy & science fiction

Writing ghost stories without believing in ghosts

Do you believe in ghosts? I don’t. And yet, I write ghost stories. How does that work?

To believe or not to believe

I came to the conclusion pretty early on in life that I didn’t believe in ghosts. I wanted to, though. It was a really cool thing to imagine, spirits from dead people still existing amongst us. But as soon as I started looking into the matter, it quickly became clear to me that modern science rejects the idea completely. Don't get me wrong: I really wish I could believe in ghosts. But I’ve always had great respect for science.

There are a lot of good arguments against ghost—actually, against any form of life after death. For instance, what is it that makes a human spirit so special? Afterall, we’re just animals with a slightly bigger brain. Only a few percentage separates us genetically from the chimpanzee. Does that mean chimpanzees also become ghosts? Or how about dolphins? They’re known to be very intelligent. Where do you draw the line? At rabbits? Or slugs? When I watch television shows about ghost hunters or people who claim to talk to the dead, I really don’t buy it. Just like I don’t buy clairvoyance, Feng Shui, hypnotists or palm readers.

It's all made up

So how come I write ghosts stories? Is that really possible when I don’t believe? Sure! I don’t have any trouble writing about things that don’t exist. That’s what writing is. Making stuff up. Nothing any fiction writer ever wrote have ever existed in reality. No matter how realistic the story might be. Think about that for a moment. Telling a story is not about opinions or science or even reality. It doesn't matter what you believe or don't believe in. That goes for both the reader and the writer. As a writer, my job is to tell the story the best way I can. And I'd better write about something that excites me, or it's going to be dull. Luckily, ghosts excite me. So, I try my best to make the reader believe in the story and everything that goes on in it, including ghosts. The most convincing lie is the one you believe yourself.

As a reader, I keep an open mind. I hope to find stories that can convince me about the existence of mythical creatures, ghosts and spirits, monsters and aliens and all the rest. Because I want to believe in the lie. I've always loved Stephen King, because he's so great at making the unbelievable believable. I would never open one of his books thinking: Okay, Steve, convince me that your monsters are real, or I shut the book again. That's not how I read books, and I dare say no one does. We all want to believe in ghosts, whether we do or not. That's why story telling is so magical.

Besides, I’m still very much a child on the inside, and I still get goosebumps when I hear a door creaking, because it’s all too easy for me to imagine some invisible creature pushing against it. And it’s easy for me to imagine ghosts. You could say that while I write about them, I believe in them.

© 2019 Nick Clausen
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