No matter the culture or language, you’re going to find some reference to ghosts. That’s because ghosts are considered to be a universal concept—something that every distinct group of ethnic people held as a part of their lore. And here’s the unsaid part: when something is so universal…there’s a good chance it could be true.
However you explain paranormal activity or whatever your beliefs, as a writer there’s an opportunity out there when it comes to ghosts. Ghosts are the subject of fascination, fear, terror, even hope. So, let’s dig a little deeper and talk all about how you can create a “spooktacular” ghost story! (Ok, I know it’s cheesy, I couldn’t help myself!)
Turn the ghost tropes on their head.
Some of the most successful ghost stories out there are those that have used ghosts in a really unusual or unexpected way. For example:
A Christmas Carol: Yes, I have to start with this classic Christmas story. When you really think about it, this story that is normally associated with a feel-good, happy time of year is really a ghost story at heart. There are four ghosts featured prominently in this one, and only one is the “restless soul in chains.” One of the ghosts even is a Santa Claus wannabe.
The Sixth Sense: A ghost story…told from a ghost’s perspective. And let’s add another twist…the ghost doesn’t know he’s a ghost. None of them do.
Harry Potter series: Ghosts are a huge part of this series, actually. Sometimes they are even able to provide some of the biggest clues to save the day. What’s interesting about J.K. Rowling’s ghosts, though, is that they’re just another “creature” living in Hogwarts. They interact with each other, with the kids in the school. Basically, they have “lives.”
Create your own unique ghost lore.
Looking at the examples above, one common theme that you can find in a lot of successful books that incorporate ghosts is that the authors took the time to create their own ghost lore. If you’re feeling particularly creative, you can invent your own lore…out of thin air.
But, if not, take the time to look up ghost lore across cultures. Because ghosts are so universal, you might be able to find something about some ethnic ghost lore that really appeals to you.
Set rules for your ghost universe.
Whatever ghost lore you go with, you probably want to take some time to set up some rules. Here are some questions to think about:
- Can your ghosts leave the place they haunt? Why or why not?
- What do they look like?
- Can your ghosts change the way they look?
- Do your ghosts remember who they were before they died?
- Are your ghosts evil?
- What sort of powers, if any, do your ghosts have?
- Can your ghosts find rest or are they doomed to walk the earth forever?
Know their story.
If ghosts are going to be a character or characters in your story, it’s a good idea to take the time to flesh out their backstory for yourself. Even if you don’t include it—you will be better served in writing the story if you know more about that character. READ MORE on developing your character’s backstory, even a dead one!
And last, but not least—have fun! Ghost stories can be fun, even for the most unbelieving of consumers. Because at the end of the day, not believing in ghosts doesn’t mean they don’t exist…