Saturday, August 12, 2023

Guest Blogger : Margaret Morse

Type M is thrilled to welcome our guest blogger, the delightful Margaret C. Morse, author of mystery, suspense and urban fantasy novels and stories, animal lover, and retired attorney. Before she quit to become a full-time writer, Margaret worked as an attorney for the Maricopa County (Arizona) Public Defender’s Office, handling cases in adult and juvenile court. Margaret used her experience as a criminal defense attorney to create her protagonist, lawyer Petra Rakowitz, who turns into a witch during her first murder case. When not fashioning a magic world, Margaret enjoys cooking, gardening, and bird watching. What a wonderful tale, to go from the world of criminal law to magical realism! Take it away, Margaret.

 Write That Ghost Story

Are you ever temped to include a ghost or haunted house in your stories?

If yes, you’re in good company with these tales of the paranormal: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, A Christmas Carol, Dracula, and The Picture of Dorian Gray. 

Writing about the paranormal is demanding and fun, but can have its hazards beyond being haunted by a ghost.

Here’s the fun part. You’ll write about more than the physical world, wonderful as it is. Your stories will bring to life witches, wizards, elves, dwarfs, vampires, ghosts, and demons. In paranormal stories, supernatural powers challenge characters and add zest to the plot. Readers have expectations about the traits of paranormals, but writers add their spin to stereotypes. In stories about vampires, the setting possibilities expand if the undead can walk in the sun rather than just skulk in the dark.
Paranormal stories often use the “coming of age” pattern: the protagonist suddenly develops magic powers. The story arc follows the new wizard’s  struggles to learn magic. A well-known example is Harry Potter, who faces adolescence trials while learning to do magic accurately. His spell casting gives him the edge to defeat that ultimate bad guy, Voldemort.
Bringing ghosts and demons into a story shakes things up because characters rethink their beliefs. In Juliet Blackwell’s Haunted Home Renovation Series, home remodeler Mel Turner finds ghosts in each of her projects. When the ghosts disclose their stories, Mel works with them to solve a crime.

To understand the ghosts, Mel relies on a subculture of paranormal believers in San Francisco. Some writers prefer to separate their paranormals from the everyday world. Traditionally, one enters a portal into fairy land. In Anabel Chase’s Spellbound series, lawyer Emma Hart stumbles into a town populated by magicals. The catch is that no one leaves the town of Spellbound. Having the paranormal as an isolated community makes it easier for the author— no need to hide strange creatures like the vampire next door. I’ve experienced the problem of paranormals in the everyday world. In my Petra Rakowitz series, magicals live alongside non-magicals. The conflict that results adds tension to the story, but explaining it gets complicated. 

Enough of the fun part. Let’s see what can go wrong when you write about the paranormal. One obstacle is that some people do not want to read about anything magical. They shun “woo-woo” stories. What to do about grumps? Good writing can make the magical element believable. Auhor Charlaine Harris drew in tons of fans to her successful book and TV series about Sooky Stackhouse. 
Creating witches, fairies, and vampires lets your imagination run wild, sometimes too wild. Paranormal characters need their own kind of consistency. If the ghost on page ten is totally insubstantial, don’t have her throwing a book on page forty, unless you explain how she develops physical powers. Authors have techniques to keep their imagination from being too untamed and popping the reader out of the story. One way is to show that paranormals can fail at their magic. Harry Potter and his friends mess up spells, adding humor and tension to a scene, but also showing that paranormals are fallible like us. Another method is to dramatize that magic has its cost. When witches wear themselves out doing super spells, readers can relate to the way great exertion takes a toll. 

Writers of the paranormal have to watch out that they don’t let magic resolve plot problems too easily. In crime fiction, this could happen if the author lets the paranormal solve the murder solely  using supernatural powers. This approach robs main characters of agency, preventing a full story arc for them. I’m not naming names here, but I recently judged a short story contest and found too many times when the paranormal was a deus ex machina tacked on to the plot.  Of course, if all the characters in a story are paranormals, the trick is show that ingenuity and grit, along with magic, enable a protagonist to take down the villain.
Go ahead and write that ghost story. You might surprise yourself.
Check out Margaret’s website at


Sybil Johnson said...

I love ghost, vampire, witch and haunted house stories in TV shows and on the screen. But I avoided cozy mysteries that involved witches and other supernatural elements for a long time. I'd read one once and didn't like it. Then I discovered other writers that wrote cozy mysteries I love with "woo-woo" elements. I think it came down to not liking the characters from that first witch cozy I read. So, never discount an entire sub-genre. You might just miss out on stories that you would love.

Mario Acevedo said...

Very nice post. Charlaine Harris' Dead Until Dark was an inspiration for my Felix Gomez detective-vampire novels.