I've been sending some of my ghost stories out to test readers recently and I've been somewhat frustrated by their responses. Now of course, all readers are right and their response is just their response to the writing, could be taken or avoided and I'm not meaning to argue with them about their feelings and a lot of their feedback has been really helpful on overall structure etc. But at the same time, I was wondering if anyone has any thoughts about one point that has come up.

Specifically, every reader at some point stage commented "Is this real?" or words to that effect; they all want to know how much the ghosts and ghoulies are metaphors, or how much they are 'real things'. And this is where my frustration lies. I'm writing a series of shorts themed around trauma, specifically historical trauma in the LGBT community and the ways in which those events have lasting, haunting, effects on contemporary culture. Each of the stories is based on something that really happened, in anything from the past 5 to 300 years of British history. So all off my ghosts really are metaphors, but in the stories they also really do kill people.

To my mind at least the ambiguity of how much these things are real or not is part of the point of what I'm trying to do. Although some of them are clearly real enough to actually eat someone I don't think the ones that don't have any direct affects on the world are less real... But all my test readers so far have wanted a clear division that sets out 'This is a metaphor' from 'This is a real monster that really will eat you'.

So here's the question - am I trying to do too much and just need to focus on being a better fiction writer instead of trying to write parables and analogies about traumatic events, at least until I'm a more experienced writer. Or do I need to find test readers that get the premise of the idea and will critique on that basis?

Is anyone else working on a comparable project that could share some wisdom?