Writing with Ghosts

From movies to books to video games, horror has captivated the public imagination.  People pay money to actively be scared, spending hours in dark rooms waiting for heart stopping scares.  Books like The Shining, Amityville Horror, and The Woman in Black gave way to movies like Insidious, The Conjuring, and Poltergeist and games like Fatal Frame, Layers of Fear, and P.T..  Hauntings are incredibly popular in the world of pop culture, whether it be a human spirit or a demonic one.  

Ghosts and hauntings can be incredibly fun to write.  They allow people to delve into primal fear and to discover ways to confront their own inner demons and the ghosts of their past.


In this question, I’m going to focus on the victim of the haunting, rather than what is doing the haunting (that’s farther down).  The victim(s) of your haunting are incredibly important, they’re what draw your reader in and make them want to continue down the dark trail you’re weaving.  Your character doesn’t have to be one specific type of person, hauntings don’t just happen to middle class white families (no matter how much the movies make you believe they do).  The main thing is you want your character to be sympathetic so your reader identifies with them.  If the reader is able to sympathize with the victim of the hauntings, then the book will be that much scarier to them.


Similar to the who, the what question delves farther into the entity causing your particular haunting.  As discussed in my earlier post, hauntings can fall into multiple categories and even be a mixture between them.  Residual hauntings aren’t generally horror book fuel, but if mixed with an intelligent or poltergeist haunting, then they can become something extremely scary.  Many writers are now delving into the demonic realm in order to write their stories.  Don’t feel trapped by the demons and spirits of Western lore either. Other cultures have their own rich history of ghosts and demons that you can draw from.  Just make sure to research a bit so that your book is accurate.


Setting is probably one of the most important things about writing.  Take Lord of the Rings for example.  Would it have been as compelling if it had taken place in the middle of modern day New York?  I mean, Tolkien could have probably made it work, but it wouldn’t be the story we know and love.  The same is true for horror books as well.  The Shining wouldn’t have had as much impact as it did if Stephen King hadn’t set it in a secluded hotel.  Keep this in mind when choosing the setting for your haunting, and consider what’s behind the haunting too.  Japanese ghosts aren’t normally found in the middle of Hicksville Wyoming, but if you create a plausible explanation, run with it.  You can also call upon real places for inspiration.  Stephen King’s The Shining is based on the Stanley Hotel in Colorado, an older hotel that is said to have it’s share of ghosts.


Just like place, time is also an important setting.  The majority of horror books and movies take place during the same era as when they are written, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t write a horror book that takes place in the past or the future. You can also leave the time period ambiguous, allowing the reader to imagine it themselves.


This is the classic beginning to all hauntings.  How did the hauntings start?  What made the ghost or demon in your story come after your main character?  It can be as simple as your character moving into a new house. Or perhaps they found an item in a yard sale.  The cause of the hauntings might add an element of horror to your story.  If the cause of you haunting is something as ordinary as buying a new house or shopping at a yard sale, something that most people will do in their lifetime, then your story will be even more realistic, and scary, to the reader.



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