How to authenticate a genuine astral encounter

How to authenticate a genuine astral encounter

or: How to be sure a person genuinely “saw” a ghost

Look into a clear night sky and you will see a million things that are no more. You will see stars that “died” millions of years before we existed, in fact, before this planet was “born.” Life and death, existence and nonexistence is a commonplace spectacle we see for ourselves in the night sky, just above our heads. We are accustomed to seeing the inexplicable!

Some people suggest that “seeing is believing” — but is “seeing” the only way to prove a thing exists? Anyhow, experienced detectives will tell you that there is nothing less trustworthy than an eyewitness. And it’s most likely because we “see” with our brains, not with our eyes! Our brains “put together” the image it wants us to take away from an experience. Later, our rationality attempts to make sense of it.

As primates, our field of vision is remarkably limited — so astral energies only manifest to us within a narrow field of vision. (Many stars, for example, will not be visible to us within our natural range, although they will manifest themselves in other ways.) We must use the same reasoning when we speak of phantasms. (Note: I use the word phantasm because it comes from the root-word phantazein which simply means to “make visible”.)

I prefer not to use the term “ghost” because the word comes with way too much baggage. The word ghost is interrelated with dead people in a way that over-complicates things: for example, wraiths are supposed to be visitations from dead relatives, etc. Let’s not go down that path…

Here I want to concentrate on astral encounters, that is: astral, in the sense that these are things that have a non-physical presence but are perceptible to us (like some of the stars above); and encounter in that it’s a thing that must be defined as an “unexpected experience.”

The 14 interrogative questions listed below are designed to ascertain whether the witness experienced a genuine astral encounter. We are not trying to prove that the witness is a fabulist or a fabricator, since the witness is likely to believe that what he or she “saw” was real but, nonetheless, incredible, and anyway the experience was so strange that it cannot be conveniently put into words. So be nice to your witness and give him or her leeway when they try to explain something that might be just as incomprehensible to them as it is to you.

But the general rule of thumb is: if a witness revealed a close encounter with something that is not astral in nature (in other words, what they witnessed possessed some kind of physical presence, however unlikely) — it can be ruled out. Similarly, if they took part in some experience that had been provoked, foreshadowed, or premeditated in a way that expected a certain outcome … simply put, they went out “looking for something spooky to happen” (so it wasn’t strictly speaking an encounter) — it is most likely fallacious.

Fourteen ways to prove/disprove a genuine astral encounter

  • Was the witness with others, and were they planning to “see” spooky things? Yes, then
    Doubtful
  • Did the witnesses go to what ghost-hunters call an “active location”? A haunted inn, an abandoned school, a cemetery, etc. Yes, then
    Doubtful
  • How great was the intention or desire of the witnesses to “see” the spectral apparition? For example, was it at a time or place that the witness considered sacred? A holy day? A day of remembrance? A time or a place of special importance? Yes, then
    Doubtful
  • Had the witness either a) just woken up or b) felt sleepy/drowsy and ready to sleep? Yes, then
    Doubtful
  • Has the witness ever asserted skills or talents in clairaudience, clairsentience, and clairvoyance? Yes, then
    Doubtful
  • Had the witness been “playing” with ghost-hunting equipment, perhaps a spirit board, an EMF (electromagnetic field meter) electronic voice recorder, a full spectrum camera, etc. Yes, then
    Doubtful
  • Did the witness witness any unusual or unexplained hot or cold spots? Just because we can’t see a power source doesn’t mean it’s not there. Perhaps the sense of thermoreception in your witness detected something abnormal. If yes, then
    Genuine
  • Did the witness find unexplained odours? There could have been an indefinable, sweet and perfumed scent that the witness had never experienced before. As above, just because we can’t see a power source, it doesn’t mean it’s not there. If yes, then
    Genuine
  • Did the witness do anything that might be considered “eccentric” by ordinary folk, before or during the encounter? Phantasms are inquisitive about bizarre or freaky behavior, so they tend to manifest themselves at such times, as if they want to “join in”. If yes, then
    Genuine
  • Are toys or children’s play things involved? Phantasms like to play and the simplest and most modest toys fascinate their curiosity. If yes, then
    Genuine
  • Did the witness hear any inexplicable noise? Have all natural causes of those noises been ruled out? If yes, then
    Genuine
  • Did the witness perceive unexplained shadows? Have all the natural causes of such shadows been ruled out? If yes, then
    Genuine
  • Did the witness notice any apparent change in the air’s density, i.e. smothering, stifling, clogging, airless? If yes, then
    Genuine
  • Were pets, especially dogs or cats, behaving strangely or abnormally before or during the encounter? Other creatures have an extended field of vision. Dogs and cats hear higher pitched noises than us. They also have an advanced olfactory system (sense of smell) and, like many animals, can sense seismic activity. If yes, then
    Genuine

Words: @neilmach 2020 ©

Please let me know how you get on! Tweet me @neilmach

Neil Mach is author of “So You Want to Write Fantasy?” and host of the Myth & Magic fantasy writer’s podcast.

Five ways to over-deliver in your next novel

Five ways to over-deliver in your next novel

A story to be told

1: Make sure you treat your characters as if they are “real” actors playing a part in your production. Treat them like valuable artists and they will become your most precious assets. What does this mean? It means that the person on the page ought to be seen (by you) as “real”. The participants in your novel have their own basic emotions, needs, wants, and requirements. But you, as the author / director of the narrative, will want these troupers to “appear” in the production and to act a part. So be kind to them. Negotiate with them, reward them, reassure them, and flatter them. I like to imagine that they are waiting outside in a dressing room and preparing their lines. You will walk in and announce that you are looking for a hero, or a champion, or maybe a rogue or even a minor role, for example a bartender or a school secretary, and everyone who enrolls will advance forward to shout “Choose me! Choose Me!” They all want to be in your production. They are keen to help…

Think of it this way, if I offered you or your best friend a minor role in a big-budget movie, you (they) would take it seriously, right? Wouldn’t you want to give your role some personality, oomph, pizzazz, persona or other uniqueness? Yes, of course you would. So, treat your actors (background roles, or otherwise) as performance players on your movie set.

If you follow this advice, the characters will not be “cardboard cutouts” of proper people. They will absolutely be proper people!

2: Give all your people a set of positive and negative traits. I mean, everyone. If you fill your actors with what I call “Kinetic Potential” they won’t let you down. They will entertain and reward you. But this means that you will have to make them “wholly rounded” individuals, and this will require them to take-on some negative as well as positive traits (and vice versa for antagonists). So find two or three “negatives” for your protagonist; for example, a Harry Potter type character is also impulsive, obsessive, reckless (choose your own, these are just my suggestions!)

And you don’t have to make your antagonist admirable or likable… but why not make Him, Her or It more convincing by creating a genuinely three-dimensional anti-hero that betrays positive (yes, positive) traits? For example, Lord Voldemort is a charismatic leader, Darth Vader is a skilled space-pilot, and Dracula is an attentive and passionate lover.

I use the Negative Trait Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, and I hope you will too. It helps because it provides the visual clues, the non-verbal “ticks” — if you like — so it means you will tend to “show” rather than tell (which is a good thing!)

3: Give your characters identifiable obstacles. We don’t all have a physical disadvantage or a history of abuse, right? We are not all orphans. So it’s hard to precisely relate to these burdens, isn’t it? But we have all lost something that we treasured. We have all found ourselves on the wrong side of events or arguments. We have all done poorly in an important test. We have all felt bad because we could not achieve what we wanted. We have all missed-out on a treat or a reward. We have all been scared of not living up to someone else’s standards. We have all been disappointed. So give your characters obstacles that will be understandable to all readers. So they might feel empathy.

If you follow this advice, your audience will identify with your characters; and all their strengths, weaknesses, and struggles will be realistic

4: What’s in Area 51? Don’t you just love a mystery. What is yours? I emphasise this: your story does not have to be a detective novel or a thriller to have an enigma hidden inside it. All stories can be vastly improved with a fascinating secret. Have you conceived one yet? I hope you did, because even if it’s a “side show” to the key events, it will continue to drive your narrative. Think of your mystery element as a new ship: it has to be designed, tested, and it has to be launched (preferably fairly early on.) You have to talk about it. It should be seen from a distance. And then it must be lost. Although perhaps it may appear in view (from a distance) at various times. But we don’t get on board. Nobody gets on board. Not until the time is right. And that’s right at the end! In the big reveal!

5: Make your players mysterious by giving them facets of character. This will mean that your actors will not be inexplicable mystagogues or (worse) carbon copy tropes. We know that traits reveal a character’s underlying values ​​or beliefs, but to make your people absolutely compelling, we need to take their negative & positives (see tip No.2 above) and dig into them, to root out the facets.

What do I mean? Well, let’s say your hero is friendly. Doesn’t that also mean that we can easily manipulate them? Abusive people will “burden” a friendly soul with problems or cause friendly folk to do things that they would rather not. By being friendly (all the time), will your friendly player follow their own wishes or dreams? Or will they just be doing things for others? Think about it.

And say you have decided that your antagonist is impatient — doesn’t this mean they will busy themselves on projects, get things done, work to strict deadlines, be remarkably well organised, and generally well-prepared? These are the “facets” — or, if you like, the counterparts of good / bad attributes. If you work on the facets of character (the contradictions found inside the traits), your create characters that will become ever-more mysterious but, at the same time, magically, more relatable too!

Please let me know how you get on. Tweet me @neilmach

Neil Mach is author of “So You Want to Write Fantasy?” and host of the Myth & Magic fantasy writer’s podcast.

how to use previz in your novel

What is previz story-boarding? How will it help you write better scenes?

It was a dark and stormy night…

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

Dorothy lived in the midst of the great Kansas prairies…

We are all used to launching a story where the “seeds of imagination” become planted in the mind of an audience and ground rules are introduced at the outset… this “start” in a narrative journey is a technique that must have been employed by storytellers for millions of years.

But perhaps we give less thought than we ought to in developing each scene in a yarn. There is some sense in this — it is unnecessary to remind the audience every-step-of-the-way how stormy the weather is, or that the events occur in outer space or Dorothy lives on the prairie — but it is useful if the author, the character (and the reader) know what is expected of them all the way along along their journey: (which is why stand-up comedians “refresh” the backdrop of their story as they go along: so these three guys stepped into the bar… and like I said, they were celebrating a big win...)

The “seeds of imagination” have to be replanted (or at least watered and re-fertilised, as the storyteller goes along the narrative journey) and rules must be restated and recalled. It is best if an author does this reiteration & reinforcement before the characters embark on a new scene, so everyone (author, reader, character) knows what is expected beforehand.

You will know that film directors use story-boarding techniques, either in the form of sketches or, more often these days, through the use of digital technology, to plan and conceptualise each scene in their film so that the finished product is accessible, intuitive and contextually transparent. They call this pre-visualisation, or PREVIZ for short.

The benefits of using PREVIZ (pre-visualisation) in movie-making is that a director can adjust lighting, camera position, character movement, stage direction, and even think about editing before “the shot” — thus saving money, time and effort and also concentrating resources. Perhaps the most useful aspect of the PREVIZ approach is the ability to target and engage with the “cause and effect” before going ahead with a scene. Why? Because once a director (and players) are certain of “cause and effect” everything else fits into a coherent sequence of events that will facilitate the shoot and make the scene easy to act & follow.

Like film directors, I suggest that you use the PREVIZ approach in creating your scenes, principally in the “setup” phase and more especially in complicated scenes, before you get to the “inciting incident” that is, the point of the scene. This will help you avoid purple prose and become less melodramatic and clichéd in your storytelling.

Here are some prompts that might help:

  • What will the background sounds be? (Include background dialogue here, that is, words the “crowd” or minor characters will speak.) Also, what natural sounds can be heard? Or perhaps there’s an absence of natural sounds: In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream.
  • How will the scene be visualised? Will you write this with a “wide angle” so you and your audience see the full extent of events on the widest canvas, or will you zoom in on the action so the reader can feel breath and smell the blood? Will the scene start with a panoramic view before you frame your principal players? Think about how the director of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, or the Star Wars movies, maximised a wide-screen focus before getting very close to the faces. First, this will help “set the scene” to activate the reader’s imagination, and it also serves another purpose: it shrinks and / or subdues even the greatest hero / opponent, so they fight against the world / universe / landscape. The terrain is another “adversary” or obstacle that they must overcome. The immensity of the challenging landscape might threaten to overwhelm them long before they set eyes on their opponent.
  • make a list of the sensory inputs you could use: textures, smells, tastes, foley sounds (boots crunching on gravel, coughing, clocks ticking). You can use some or all of these in your final writing.
  • Now think about the emotional state of your characters. How do they feel physically? How do they feel mentally? Remember previous experiences or encounters; for example, if you gave them a wounded arm in a previous scene, won’t this change events? Similarly, if a protagonist or antagonist becomes emotionally ill / damaged, won’t this have an impact?
  • What intellectual point do you, the author/director, want to convey in this scene? Will the lesson be: Don’t play with matches? Let sleeping dogs lie? A chain is only as strong as its weakest link? Try to pin down a proverb or proposition that summarises your moral object or lesson. It doesn’t automatically have to be a maxim or mindset, it could just be the artistic or visual “point” of the scene, i.e. corn ripens fastest as frosts are settling in, or: a woman’s anger melts between night and morn. Note: You won’t literally tell this maxim to the reader (you might hint it) but it will be helpful if you know the intellectual point before you write your scene. It will help you adjust the settings: i.e. lighting, mood, “camera” angle, etc. And it will also help your character development if you (and your character) are familiar with the intellectual points.
  • Narrative and context. We will place this scene between other scenes (unless it is the opening of the book), so think about how the scenes before and after will be influenced by this scene. This will help you build your transitions.

Your storyboard previz will be a set of bullet points or, if you’re a visual/spatial thinker, it might take the form of a cloud diagram or just some ideas sketched onto sticky notes and taped to your mood board.

I think a fishbone diagram is particularly useful for previz because the “head” of the fishbone is an arrow that faces the “problem” and all the bones along the spine are the “causes” so this helps you concentrate on cause & effect. Creately have a useful fishbone diagram tool here: https://creately.com/diagram/example/jrsug0ys/Fishbone+Diagram+Template)

Good luck with your previz storyboarding.

Let me know how it goes and if you have comments on Twitter @neilmach

Neil mach is author of “So You Want to Write Fantasy?” and host of the Myth & Magic fantasy writer’s podcast.