Summoning the Ghost
Integrating your past with your character
We all have ghosts that hover around us and wounds that refuse to heal.
“Ghost” is movie-talk for wound. It’s what lies beneath the surface of your character – it’s what makes him tick.
From Angela Ackerman’s and Becca Puglisi’s Negative Trait Thesaurus:
“Wounds are often kept secret from others because embedded within them is the lie – an untruth that the character believes about himself…For example, if a man believes he is unworthy of love (the lie) because he was unable to stop his fiancée from begin shot during a robbery (the wound) he may adopt attitudes, habits, and negative traits that make him undesirable to other women.”
We favour one aspect of our lives over another. We will work ourselves to the bone and tell ourselves it’s because we need money (the lie). In actuality, it’s because be don’t want to disappoint our parents (the ghost/wound).
Every character needs a change arc and you need to figure out why he must change. Why does he believe the lie – what happened in his past to cement this into his personality? Sometimes, the wound/ghost will be traumatic (death of a child), other times it will be smaller (a break up, job loss). The larger the wound, the larger the ghost should be and the stronger your character arc will turn out.
In my WIP Songbird, my MC’s wound/ghost is that her father left her when she was a child. The Lie is she never feels adequate, never feels good enough, never feels worthy of love.
Often, the ghost/wound comes out through back story and adds mystery to your character. Why does he believe this lie? Your readers will be intrigued and want to know. Give them little clues throughout the book and then display your ghost near the end.
In other narratives, the ghost is revealed at the very beginning so the reader can ponder what effect that incident has on the character.
In constructing your back story, pay special attention to your Ghost. By figuring out what makes your character believe in the Lie, you can help him overcome it.