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#4 NEWSLETTER - “Ghosting”
Creativity Is Just Connecting Things. LET’S CONNECT!
WRITING WITH YOUR LEFT HAND
Greetings and welcome back! Before we begin, just a note that I’m taking a break from my “Iran Memoirs” this month, but if you want to read back issues, you can do so on my Substack website. And now, on to “ghosting”…
The number of times I’ve been “ghosted” by publishers exceeds a hundred. I hate when people you care about “ghost” you and though I wish folks would communicate their feelings instead of “ghosting”, I must secretly admit that I rather like the term in language, albeit not the phenomenon.
Added to the dictionary in 2017, “ghosting ” - the modern-day avoidance behavior of disappearing or cutting off all contact with someone suddenly and without explanation - became more common with online dating where people can disappear easily and quickly. I suppose it’s easy to do as you don't have to be held accountable for vanishing without explanation, you don't have to hurt or disappoint someone face-to-face or have any difficult emotional conversations. Or, it could be just due to not having the skills to deal with confrontations.
Last month, I got to thinking about whether the term might have anything in common with ghosts in literature. Literary ghosts, referring to supernatural beings or any figurative sense of something that haunts, have a much longer history in books than the term “ghosting” does today and though the two concepts aren’t related directly, I did conclude that they share some similarities. Take for example that in both cases, there is a sense of unsettled feelings and emotions left behind after the departure of the "ghost". And in both scenarios, the “ghost” or “ghoster” is usually invisible. Then, there is always a sense of confusion and unresolved emotions accompanying both cases. And finally, the person who was "ghosted" always remains haunted by the idea and memory.
We’ll go on to talk about various examples of ghosts and their uses in stories below, but I can tell you one thing for certain when dealing with any type of “ghosting”, whether in the spiritual sense or in terms of relationships, I’d say it’s probably a good idea to always approach with caution.
Here are some more interesting new relationship terms from the NYT:
HOW ARE GHOSTS USED IN STORIES?
“All stories are ghost stories. Something haunts the work and the reader turns the pages to find out what it is.”
Barry Hannah - (Short Story Writer)
Barry Hannah was an American novelist who wrote darkly comic stories and novels set in a phantasmagoric South. As an instructor, he once said, “A good ghost never stops haunting. It makes you want to turn the page and will haunt you forever!” In one of his most known stories, WATER LIARS, the memories of past loves in a group of men are represented as ghosts as a married man tries to face reality.
Ghost stories are often like detective stories. There’s always a mystery and that’s a fantastic engine for the narrative. Ghosts make wonderful characters and are a great tool in your toolbox. One of the most famous uses of the device is in Oscar Wilde’s, THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GREY, where his portrait ages to reflect the toll of his immoral lifestyle instead of himself, the idea of a "ghost" being used in a metaphorical sense.
Ghosts aren’t a common theme in F. Scott Fitzgerald's writing but in THE GREAT GATSBY, the ghostly presence of Jay Gatsby's past haunts him throughout the novel so this idea of haunting is used to represent the ways in which the past can influence and shape the present.
I’ll end my examples by mentioning the beautiful 1987 Wim Wenders film, WINGS OF DESIRE, about invisible, immortal angels who populate Berlin and listen to the thoughts of its human inhabitants, comforting the distressed. I know this is about angels and not ghosts but hey, we’re still in the spiritual realm and I ask you, could there be a better character in a film?
Often when we can’t write it’s because we’re not able to relax and help creativity flow. Exercises such as the one here may seem frivolous but I say, the more frivolous, the better! This type of playfulness breaks through nervous barriers and helps your mind open up while you play, an important we don't do enough today. So, when I ask you to make a ghost, try it for the fun of it and see where it takes you. Perhaps somewhere unexpected! So, find your cauldrons, grab your favorite ingredients, add a pinch of salt and let’s whip up a ghost!
In this exercise, we’re going to create a ghost! Feel free to play fast and loose with the rules. What supernatural powers you choose to give your ghost is up to you. Perhaps you can begin by thinking of a person whose memory has always haunted you or perhaps your ghost can be a physical thing, like a car, a chair, a violin. Or you can restructure an existing story from the ghost’s point of view.
Give yourself 30 minutes. Once you have an idea in mind, move ahead.
More famous ghosts you can catch up with:
- Rebecca in Daphne du Maurier’s REBECCA
- Michael Furey in James Joyce’s THE DEAD
- The Dead Men of Dunharrow from THE LORD OF THE RINGS by J.R.R. Tolkien
- The Canterville Ghost from THE CANTERVILLE GHOST by Oscar Wilde
- Banquo the ghost from MACBETH
- THE WOMAN IN BLACK by Susan Hill
- THE OVERCOAT by Nicolai Gogol
- The Headless Horseman in Washington Irving's THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW
- The old man in THE TELL-TALE HEART by Edgar Allan Poe
- The ghouls of Dante's INFERNO
- Beloved in Toni Morrison’s BELOVED
- The parrot in Robert Olen Butler’s JEALOUS HUSBAND RETURNS IN FORM OF PARROT
- A missing child in Kevin Brockmeier’s THE TRUTH ABOUT CELIA
- Susie Salmon from THE LOVELY BONES by Alice Sebold
Next up on our podcast this month, playwright Johnna Adams, discusses a book she’s working on called, Gamification for Writers. “What if you could approach your writing goals with the same enthusiasm you bring to all-night video game binges? This book will give you the tools gamification experts use to gamify your writing career. Turn the brainstorming, writing, revising, and marketing tasks associated with writing into challenging mini-games, side quests, power-ups, and personal hackathons.” Listen to the podcast here to learn more.
Charles Dickens' used ghost stories as a way to comment on social, moral and psychological issues - i.e. in A CHRISTMAS CAROL, the ghost story is used to highlight a life lived without love or compassion and to emphasize the importance of treating others with kindness.
In other works such as THE HAUNTED MAN, ghosts are depicted as mournful and ethereal beings, representing spirits of those who have passed but are unable to move on. Dickens explores the idea of haunting not just as a physical manifestation, but also as a psychological state in which individuals are unable to escape their own memories and experiences. Here’s a reading of a favorite but lesser-known ghost story by Dickens called THE SIGNALMAN.
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Bianca Bagatourian is an award-winning playwright whose play, THE TIME OF OUR LIES co-produced with Viggo Mortensen was nominated for The Amnesty International Human Rights Award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. THE TIME OF OUR LIES premiered at The Park Theatre, London, 2019, and told the life story of radical historian, Howard Zinn, through words, movement and music.
What’s Your Story?
Everyone has a story to tell. What’s your story? The story you would like to tell? Though everyone has different writing styles and writing processes, you cannot create in a vacuum! If you’d like to discuss your play or play idea, get in touch. Whether you’re on page one or on the third draft, I look forward to helping you crack your script. After reading your piece, we’ll schedule a two hour discussion to go over notes. Contact me at: BIANCABAGATOURIAN@SUBSTACK.COM. I will also recommend books on playwriting, playwriting classes and workshops online.
Here’s what award-winning poet Aaron Poochigian had to say:
“By identifying the unfulfilled potentialities of my script, Bianca turned my pipe-dream into a real, performable play. In retrospect, her suggestions were what should have been obvious to me all along. Without her advice, I might have spent years stumbling around, discovering what my play wanted to be."
- Aaron Poochigian