some thoughts on haunted houses as a structure for story

  • Isolation is key. A singular area. A singular space. Space is important. Landscape is important
  • Time is important as related to space. Several times overlap, keyed together by space. The characters become unmoored in time, experience things outside of their time. They are ghosts as well, then. The house the only permanent thing. The only thing that is real/reality
  • Usually the idea is the past horror is haunting the present. That they are connected somehow. But can the present horror tied to the past be haunted, or is it the same moment overlaid on top of the other moment? Like vellum. Like onion skin.
  • Family somehow is also key to this.
  • Location as labyrinth is also key. The location itself changes, warps in on itself. Doors open to places that don’t exist. Areas of the house that were changed are changed back. Etc. Etc. Location, isolation, times colliding, overlapping.
  • Things change. Normal tings. There are things we see out of the corner of our eyes. Things moving in the distance. This is because the house creates it’s own reality. It’s own existence
  • Unreliable narrators are also key. The characters who are haunted have their world questioned. The reader stands, unknowing, seeing the unknown but unsure of the unknown. This is a reality that feels like it is sliding. Slippery. Nonexistent.
  • Personality changes within haunted characters are key as well. They feel like they belong in the place, belong unmoored in time. These characters are outsiders looking to fit in somewhere, to feel like they belong somewhere. Sometimes they kill to stay. Sometimes they kill themselves. At the point of feeling acceptance the characters experience a mania- and become overwhelmed with a clarity that what they are doing is right, etc, etc.
  • It is, in a way, like the concept of children’s portal stories inverted. Instead of finding Narnia and belonging, or Neverland, or Oz, they find themselves belonging in a liminal place, a haunted place caught between realities. While the other stories talk of going and returning the ghost stories talk about seeing and then leaving.
  • What do these keys add up to? What do they experience? What are we talking about? What aren’t we talking about?
  • In a good haunted house story the characters are full and experienced. In bad ones we are treated to a series of cool things and cool ideas that add up to very little.
  • A few involve people searching for ghosts, others involve inheritance, or people being groundskeepers, etc. New families moving in. Old families sticking around. Moving is another key. Coming to the house, entering the house.
  • The house needs to be un-experienced by the characters before the actual arrival.
  • This is important: the house is a liminal space. A haunted space.
  • It is like crossing beneath the Torii in Shintoism.

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