S is for Spirits

Ghosts, spectral beings, reverents, and spirits are common names for spooky beings we can neither prove or disprove the existence of yet. They show up in books, movies, and televisions shows. Some are dead, some are undead, and some are something else.

Spirits can be based on religion, people, elements, or anything with energy or energy absorption. Actually, The Paranormalistics created an awesome guide.

But writing about spirits isn’t the same as experiencing a spiritual encounter. Now, you’re probably thinking, “What could be hard about a ghost story?”

To which I reply, “I’m talking about writing a spirit as your MC.” For the sake of ease, I will refer to spirits in the ghostly sense here, like your average ghost haunting a house.

A normal spirit can’t have the ability to feel, taste, smell, or understand emotions like a human being. It’s a story that can still be shown, but you have to be careful of the senses and the reactions typical of spirits.

First, a spirit doesn’t have a flesh body controlled by a circulatory or nervous system. They can sometimes manifest energy, but it isn’t the same as mortal flesh. They have no heart, lungs, nose, taste buds, nerve endings, etc. Be aware of this when they react and move in the story.

Hearing and sight are another story. Without physical ears, how does the ghost hear? Without eyes, how does the spirit see? These are little more lenient. I mean, come on, if a spirit has no senses, you really can’t tell the story from their POV. For whatever reason, these are the most forgivable to use.

Of course, there are always exceptions, but the writer must support them well enough to suspend disbelief. Mythology comes in handy here as the various types of creatures are considered both spirits and members of the undead. The undead, like vampires, zombies, and draugr, are related to spirits, but they typically have… bodies.

So how do you write about spirits? Easy, you just do, but be aware of their limitations in your world. Support it, believe in it, and voila. Create reasons for them to break the rules and just have fun. I know I do.

Have you ever written a spirit as a main character or read one that stuck with you?


 Return to the A-Z list




  • Great post
    I haven’t tried to write a spirit as my MC yet (I’m sure I will eventually) but I’ve read some very well done stories that do.
    One of the best is the novel “A Certain Slant of Light” by Laura Whitcomb. She does an amazing job with her spirits/ghosts. Without giving too much away, her secret involves the use of possession to give them physical form for part(s) of the novel. It’s a really moving read and I highly recommend it.