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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Paranormal Research for Your Story

This article was originally written for an online workshop, but with Halloween coming up I thought it would be fun to share with everyone.

The term, paranormal, encompasses many aspects of unexplained supernatural phenomena. Science has yet to detail the facts behind experiences with ghosts, demons, poltergeists, alien abductions, and channeling. In addition, some people claim to possess unusual mental powers such as telekinesis, clairvoyance, ESP or extrasensory perception while others believe themselves to be intuitive, or what some call sensitives. The realm of possibilities for your paranormal story is endless.

Research for your paranormal story can be accomplished online, by reading books, at special presentations, watching television, or simply by listening to the experiences of friends and coworkers. You can use your own experiences with the supernatural as well.

The web is a always a magical place to explore and offers everything from the explanation of terms to plot ideas. Paranormal research societies abound all over the world, and each one of them has a website. Though much of their evidence is anecdotal, you can read the stories of those who have experienced the supernatural first hand. Some of those tales can really give you the creeps!

Special presentations or conferences are also a good way to get ideas. If you like being scared, you might try what I did one time. I attended a Horror Writers meeting where ghost hunters presented a talk and told of their experiences. I got lots of good material, but also lots of goose bumps. However, if you are unable to go to a ghost hunter’s presentation and your heroine and hero long to be ghost hunters, the web is the place to learn how to do it. You can find lists of equipment needed to record ghostly activity.

You can go on a ghost tour, too. It seems every city in the country now has ghost tours. I doubt that you’ll see any ghosts, but it is a good way to learn some history and gather ideas for your own story.

There are a wealth of books on the topic of all things paranormal. Time-Life Books has an excellent series, Mysteries of the Unknown, which include books on Psychic Powers, Dreams and Dreaming, Mystic Places, Transformations, and so on. Reading the books in that series can spark ideas in your mind.

The idea for my book, Irons In The Fire, came to me when I read this small paragraph:
On Fridays the fairies have special power over all things, and chiefly on that day they select and carry off the young mortal girls as brides for the fairy chiefs. But after seven years, when the girls grow old and ugly, they send them back to their kindred, giving them, however, as compensation, a knowledge of herbs and philtres and secret spells, by which they can kill or cure, and have power over men both for good and evil.

................................Lady Wilde, 1826-1896
My heroine, Catherine, is a descendent of one of those young mortal girls who had been a fairy chief’s bride. However, Irons In The Fire is not a historical, it is a contemporary.

I do feel there’s a lot of truth in the old writers’ admonition, “Write what you know.” True, I’ve never met an Irish fairy, but though I am not a paranormal expert, I have had some paranormal experiences.

On a few occasions, I have accurately read someone’s mind. Apparently, it is not a difficult skill--especially if you know someone well. According to an article in Psychology Today ( just about everyone is a mind reader. Annie Murphy Paul wrote, “Drawing on our observations, our databank of memories, our powers of reason, and our wellsprings of emotion, we constantly make educated guesses about what another person is thinking and feeling.”

I’ve been married to the same man for a long time. Reading his mind is easy. :^)

My heroine, Catherine, can read minds. While she’s much better at it than I am, she can’t read everyone’s mind. When it comes to the hero in the book, she is at first distracted by his sexual appeal. And who wouldn’t be? Britt has the brawn to save her from a watery grave, but he is also the senior reporter at the newspaper where she has been hired. He is to be her mentor on the job and they are going to be in constant contact with each other on a daily basis. As Catherine becomes more familiar with Britt, she knows what he is thinking--and he is thinks she is a very desirable woman. One who really turns him on.

It’s enough to make her blush constantly.

But Catherine has more than one simple problem. She has precognitive dreams. She had one of her uncle’s death and she knows he has been murdered despite the fact that the police have labeled his death an accident.

The accuracy of precognition has not been proven, but I believe it because I have experienced it. My mother, and my oldest daughter have received messages about the future, too. All of our incidents involved communication about our close family members. For instance, one of my mother’s more dramatic dreams involved seeing her brothers in an accident. Later she found her dream to be the truth.

I’ve never doubted that precognition happens and that it can be accurate. But my hero is a full-fledged skeptic and believes that anyone claiming to be psychic is a charlatan. In every instance, he believes there is a logical explanation when Catherine demonstrates her abilities. He has his reasons. Here's an excerpt from the book:
Psychic. The very word made him grit his teeth. Fakes, the lot of them. Visions, séances, crystal balls, and Tarot cards. He'd seen it all. His mother had fallen under the spell of a psychic claiming to have received messages from Britt's long dead father. Believing that other world to be a better place, his mother had committed suicide.
Unfortunately, in another precognitive dream, Catherine sees the hero as dead and lifeless. Horrified, she tries to warn him, but he refuses to listen to her premonition.
Catherine yanked on his lapels until his lips were a whisper away from hers. She closed her eyes and murmured a fervent prayer for his safety, but she decided he needed something even more powerful than a prayer. She kissed him. At first, he kept his lips firmly pressed together. But she poured all her heart into her wish that he would escape his unhappy fate. She savored his taste, and with a groan, he relented and let her tongue slip into his velvet warmth. There, mingling with the flavor of coffee, she discovered a passion that left her breathless.

As they spend time together, she grows to care deeply for him and mourns the fact that she cannot save him from his terrible fate.

Or can she?

People have been using spells and incantations for thousands of years. I do not advocate relying on any charms to get what you desire in life, but when used in fiction, spells and incantations can be useful plot devices for paranormal stories. In fact, you can often put your hero and heroine into more trouble when they rely on such charms, which is exactly what happens to Catherine and Britt.

I researched Irish legends and myths to find the incantations I used since Catherine has been told she is the descendent of fairies. She wears a cross said to have a drop of fairy gold in it--a talisman from her mother.

One of my favorite books on the topic is Irish Cures, Mystic Charms, and Superstitions, by Lady Wilde. Another favorite is Celtic Myths and Legends, by T.W. Rolleston.

Online, there are plenty of spells and charms. Love spells, lucky spells, protection spells, money spells, missing pet spells, and spells for health. You can be deluged with subject matter if you go searching for it. There is so much information you might get lost in the web forever, so it’s best to keep your search within a narrow range, which is why I stuck to Irish spells in keeping with my heroine’s heritage.

When Catherine finds an ancient book of spells in her uncle’s study, she realizes that perhaps she has a chance to save the man she has come to love.

For this, I used an old spell involving yarrow. I remember my mother putting a little square of cloth with yarrow inside it under my sister’s pillow so she would dream of her future husband. As far as I know, my sister did not have any dreams of her future husband. She did eventually marry, though I cannot say whether the yarrow had anything to do with that decision.

By all accounts, yarrow is considered a very powerful and effective herb in the use of spells. According to one reference I found, yarrow could be used to guarantee an individual’s safety and in my book Catherine uses yarrow for that purpose.

Because Catherine knows Britt is doomed, she feels compelled to share her love with him. She finds bliss in his arms, but that only serves to make her more desperate to save him. Hoping to be with him in his next life, she uses a forbidden spell--one that will change his destiny forever and take away his free will.

Of course, the villain in the story uses the most powerful charm of all because he is a serious threat.

Whatever paranormal story you write, make sure the stakes are high. That’s what creates tension and keeps the reader turning the pages. No matter which paranormal path you choose for your story, the plot should make sense just as it would in any other type of story.

While there is little scientific evidence to support paranormal incidents, people love spooky tales. Have fun researching paranormal ideas for your story! You’ll never tire of the supernatural.

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