July 26th, 2017

Calling up your Story Spirits

Kimberly Brock

I think I have ghosts. This is what I said to a friend this week after I had to get up and leave my desk and take a walk to clear my head. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good ghost story! And to be honest, I like a cool shiver up my back when I’m writing. I think it’s why I continue to write at all – because I’m haunted.

This isn’t the first time a bit of writing research made all the hair on my head stand up or caused me to look over my shoulder or turn off my monitor. It happens all the time, in fact. I’ve come to expect it as part of my writing process from beginning to end and truly, if it weren’t there, I’d know I was wasting my time on a story. That feeling someone just nudged me or the voice I swear I heard when no one else is around, they’re affirmations that come from my subconscious. They are signs from my psyche that the characters, themes, and settings I’m wrestling with have something more than story format to bring them alive. It’s the difference between the bones and the breath. I think these experiences that give me the chills, do so because I’ve brushed up against the spirit of the thing I’m trying to bring to light in the world.

By now, you are rolling your eyes. That’s fine. Me, too. Because it sounds like hooey. But I swear to you that no part of my creative process is as imperative as the spirit test.

Here’s how you run the spirit test: um, you don’t.

I know, I know. You think I’m being ridiculous. But it’s not part of the literal process. It IS the process. I mean, I could tell you that you stand in front of the mirror at midnight and whisper Story Spirit three times, open your eyes and you’ll see the bloody thing reflected back at you. I could tell you the secret to levitation (or publication) lies solely in your fingertips. Light as a feather, stiff as a board. I wish. If I knew the trick to giving life to a story, I’d write a how-to book under the pen name Kimmie Lou Frankenstein and make a bazillion dollars. But like most writers, I can’t call my story spirits up on cue. They’re more like film.

Remember film? Four thousand years ago, before digital, when you had to use actual film in your camera, let in the light, and then it had to be run through some mysterious dark room process to develop the images captured on a negative? Calling up story spirits is more or less like that. It takes time. And a certain amount of faith. It’s revelatory. It’s when you see the image captured by the camera, and notice all the amazing stuff your naked eye totally missed. And you are struck in that moment with the wonder of perspective. Like any good ghost hunter, I can appreciate this. I know that my part of the work is to focus the camera, and my subconscious will act as the negative, and it doesn’t lie. It will expose me every time. All my ghosts in orbs and flashes. So maybe the spirit test isn’t something you call up from the outside, but the inside.

When I said to my friend that I think I have ghosts, it was because I’m at a point in my work-in-progress when I’m comparing the fictional history and timeline I have created to that of actual events, places and people who may have been living lives during the time when my story takes place. Maybe I’m wacky, but I do this backwards. I like to make my world up as I go and then see what fits from reality. And when I do that, I often find strange coincidences like obscure names that coincide with characters or places I’ve been making up for months with no prior knowledge of historical fact. I can’t explain this. I don’t want to. If I could define it, fiction would lose the wonder that keeps me coming back to the blank page. I love the discovery. I love the mad laboratory. I love the rustling sound in the dark that keeps me up nights and that instant I throw on the lights and there’s the real thing staring back at me.

Maybe the only truth about writers is that we’re all haunted. And we like it that way.

Do you have ghosts? How do they make their appearances in your work? Do you embrace them or fear them?

About Kimberly

Kimberly Brock is the award winning author of the #1 Amazon bestseller, THE RIVER WITCH (Bell Bridge Books, 2012). A former actor and special needs educator, Kimberly is the recipient of the Georgia Author of the Year 2013 Award. A literary work reminiscent of celebrated southern author Carson McCullers, THE RIVER WITCH has been chosen by two national book clubs.

Kimberly’s writing has appeared in anthologies, blogs and magazines, including Writer Unboxed and Psychology Today. Kimberly served as the Blog Network Coordinator for She Reads, a national online book club from 2012 to 2014, actively spearheading several women’s literacy efforts. She lectures and leads workshops on the inherent power in telling our stories and is founder of  Tinderbox Writer’s Workshop. She is also owner of Kimberly Brock Pilates.

She lives in the foothills of north Atlanta with her husband and three children, where she is at work on her next novel. Visit her website at kimberlybrockbooks.com for more information and to find her blog.

24 responses to “Calling up your Story Spirits”

  1. Laura Drake says:

    We ain't scared of no ghosts! I'm afraid I'm not as in-contact as you (can you send me some of that?) but the other day, when I discovered a main character's backstory, it wove perfectly and seamlessly into what I'd already written, and where I wanted to go.

    I LOVE it when I discover that my brain already has the answer - I just didn't know it. It presents it to me like the best kind of gift - a miracle.

    I believe in Stephen King's theory, that an unseen power conduit runs over our heads, and artists are just better at tapping into it than mere mortals. I'm not surprised you get a jolt when that happens.

    Love your posts, Kimberly - they always resonate.

  2. thewriteedge says:

    Kimmie Lou Frankenstein!! I love it!

  3. Boy, do I relate to this! Thanks for putting it into excellent words.

  4. Orly Konig-Lopez says:

    What a perfect post, Kimberly! Yes, yes, yes! (but I'm still plugging in the nightlight!)

  5. barbdelong says:

    I have had just those experiences, Kimberly! Like when I wrote about a rare bird sighting out of its natural habitat and then found just the species and circumstance on the net afterward. Perfecto! I have a few more aha moments when I research after I've written. Love when that happens. BTW, loved The River Witch!

  6. Jenny Hansen says:

    I love it when things just come. Crazy things that I'd never have caught if I hadn't spent that time inside my story. It's always a lesson to just spend more damn time inside that story. 🙂

  7. littlemissw says:

    I wish there was more spooky in my stories. There's an awful lot of mother-issues that come to the surface (although I love her to death) but not a lot of spirits.

  8. jeanne kern says:

    I get it, I get it, I get it!

  9. Being haunted is wonderful and makes no sense and all kinds of sense. Sometimes characters and narratives want to come alive and sometimes I wonder if we, the writers, are merely the servants to those stories (it takes the pressure off, if the story is no good it was the ghost's fault!). Nothing like some good hooey.

  10. Glynis Jolly says:

    I do have a ghost, though he has nothing to do with writing, darn it. It would be nice if he had that talent.

  11. Angela, I like to throw that word out there because it has so many connotations for people. Essentially, though, I think it's the human condition. It's memory. Now, if a ghost would write my story...lol Isn't that the premise for The Ghost and Mrs. Muir? 🙂

  12. Cat Fink says:

    Yes! The characters that walk fully formed onto the page. If they give me goosebumps they stay in the story.

  13. dholcomb1 says:

    I think when you can feel the emotion in your writing, whether through spirits or some other way, you must be onto something good!

    denise


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