A Ghostwriter’s Job: CHANNELLING HOUDINI

Every Halloween for 10 years, Bess Houdini held a séance to call Harry back from death. Finally, after all that time, she reportedly said, “Ten years is long enough to wait for any man!” The séances stopped.

Popular culture has many individuals still waiting for comedian Andy Kaufman to return from his travels to the other side. Jim Carrey was a devoted fan and channelled Andy when he starred in the movie “Man On The Moon” in 1999.

I have discovered that ghostwriting is also a channelling of sorts. While the words I write are mine, they belong to someone else. In much the same way as an actor imbues the spirit of the character they are tasked to portray, so too must the writer capture the spirit and essence of the original story-teller.

It is a humbling task, one that must be handled with great care and tact. Most people have great stories to tell, but not everyone has the skills with which to tell them. Such is the gift of the ghostwriter.

Much is written about the writer’s “voice” and, unlike Houdini’s magic, it is not smoke and mirrors and slight of hand. It is the fundamental truth from which we all speak. It is as unique as the singing voice of Neil Young or Taylor Swift. You’d recognize it in a heartbeat. It is this heartbeat the ghostwriter must understand and connect with.

STORY ARC

Stories that resonate are those steeped in real human emotion, regardless of the genre or nature of the tale. Even a technical paper will have a central emotional hook at its core. A journal, autobiography or biography is more than the sum of its parts, more than an endless string of events connected only by the fact they actually happened. Perhaps these events have been rewritten by time, or in the space between then and now, reinvented in the author’s mind: separating fact from fiction, perception from reality, revisionist retelling from a total fabrication of truth. Regardless of the motivation, it is the task of the ghostwriter to channel that space and time, and not get lost in it. The story must flow from one memory or sequence to the next, with logic, clarity and purpose. Well-crafted books are not mere collections of singular events, thinly held together by chapter titles. A book must have a story arc that, like Houdini, intrigues and captivates us as we move from one act of magic to another until it culminates in a magnificent and breath-taking grand finale. “How did he do that?” we ask in wonder.

THE WRITERS TOOLKIT

There are many tools available in the writer’s kit, and it is important for authors to review them with their ghostwriters at the start of your journey together. Poetic license and freedom, chapter content and design, timelines, the use of creative devices such as foreshadowing, quotations, background and context information, chronology, historical reference; these are all concepts the ghostwriter may need to explain, particularly if the author is new to writing or written communication of any kind.

DETACHMENT

The greatest challenge in the ghostwriting process is detachment. Companion to detachment is trust. Writing is intensely personal, even if the end result is a sales proposal! Preparation is an essential and key component of any author/ghostwriter relationship. The author must accept the fact that they have hired a ghostwriter for the express purpose of making the material they provide into an enjoyable and infinitely readable document.

In return, the ghostwriter has a responsibility to channel the author in as true and honest a manner as possible.

And so, as it is with many of the creative arts, I am me, and I am not me. Dim the lights. May the séance begin.

 If you believed they put a man on the moon, man on the moon.
If you believe there’s nothing up my sleeve, then nothing is cool.
“Man On The Moon”
R.E.M.

Patricia M. Gallagher is currently ghostwriting two books with an option for a third. She is a published writer, poet and musician. She can be reached through her website by clicking on her name above.

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