Tapping into the childhood fears and experiences are always great fodder for writing. Facing those terrifying moments head on is a way to deal with them and wonder if it was all in our imaginations or if it was real. When I was writing screenplays I tapped into a lot of childhood fears. One of them was and still is ghosts. No matter how many times I see a ghost hunter show or a found footage movie of the door opening on its own I still get tingly flesh. Fellow Bree Ogden client, Kelsey Ketch and I continue our conversation about about fear and writing. But before we dive in, let us set the tone with a little video.
DM: Many of my nightmares bring me back to a specific location where I spent many years as a child. To this day I feel very strongly about the possibility of a dark presence living with my family in this house. Not a malevolent entity but a heavy dark feeling that I was being watched. Most of us have a sense of when someone is looking at us or trying to get our attention. In my nightmares I always return to what I will call the Wooten House. The tri-level white house on Wooten street surrounded by a deep cement ditch on two sides. For a time my bedroom was upstairs in the back part of the house that looked out to the back yard. In the backyard was a large ominous tree. Does anyone remember the tree in Poltergeist that attacked the kids?
Yeah, that tree lived in my backyard. It was twisted and thick and had plans for me, I know it. During thunder storms I would stare out at that tree and pray that it wouldn't come to life and want to devour me like a Twinkie. That is what an over-active imagination does to you. These days I know what a gift that imagination is to have.
But it was some of the incidents upstairs that haunted me. Waking up to find the lights were on. Taking a bath and always looking over my shoulder at the door because I could swear someone was looking at me - but the door was closed. There was also this feeling that someone was walking up the stairs behind you when you made the short journey up the six stairs to the next level. Many times I would run up the stairs and charge toward the bedroom like a baseball player running for home plate.
Being a latch key kid I remember those nights that my parents worked later and as the sun was sinking into the horizon I would get an overwhelming feeling of dread. On those nights I would go outside and sit on the porch because I felt safer there. Now they have a grip of shows on television about people trying to explain those unknown things that we fear.
Kelsey: Spooky!!! I think I’ll just curl up with my pillow and quiver.
I was never really scared of ghosts when I was younger. We even lived in a haunted rental when I was six. Though, it wasn’t terrifying. I could sense two different spirits. One was sweet. She just followed my family and me around the house (especially into the kitchen). Sometimes I would just catch her out of the corner of my eye as I was dozing off. The second spirit, a man, was more unsettling. I never saw him, but he carried a lot of negative energy. So you knew when he was around. The feeling seemed to be especially strong in the bedroom doorway, like he was leaning on the frame watching. It felt like the air was just sucked out of your lungs. The tension would build around you, making you jump at the littlest thing. He definitely did not want us around. I have to say I was glad when we left that house.
Six months later, I was just starting at a new school/daycare. It was October and the school was getting ready for Halloween. Our aftercare teacher decided it was a good time to gather us for a ghost story: Bloody Mary. Yes, the legendary spirit that died a terrible death, buried alive with her fingers all bloody from scratching at the wooden coffin. Now, she seeks revenge on anyone who’s daring enough to call out her name while looking into a mirror.
I was so freaked by the story! I mean, I had just moved from a haunted house – how could I ignore the legend? And though I never called her name, I had looked into a mirror one night and swore I saw a face behind me, just floating there. I ran into my room, pulling the covers over my head. After that, I wouldn’t look at a mirror at night for years for fear Bloody Mary would come and kill me. I never took ghost stories lightly again.
DM: Bloody Mary was a great urban legend! To this day I still have not tried saying her name into a mirror. I mean seriously, how old am I!? (Don't answer that). A movie called CANDYMAN came out back in the 90's and it was loosely based on the myth of Bloody Mary. That movie creeped me out and yet I watched it several times. After all it is much safer to watch someone else deal with it on your TV.
I think Kelsey and I both find it cathartic to write about these fears whether they are direct telling of these stories or just launching points to bigger stories. Embracing those fears and giving them a big hug and slapping them around like a hockey puck in your story brings your writing to a more personal level and the reader will feel more connected to it. Are you facing any fears in your writing? We would love to hear from you.