How to Describe a Ghost in Writing (Tips, Words, Examples)

Writing about the supernatural, and especially ghosts, is a common problem for many writers.

It requires a lot of creativity, an extensive vocabulary, and a good sense of mood and atmosphere.

Here’s how to describe a ghost in writing:

Describe a ghost in writing by using sensory details, creating an atmosphere, conveying the ghost’s personality, using metaphors and similes, and employing vivid language. Reflect the ghost’s character through its appearance, movements, voice, and interaction with the environment.

This article will provide you with all the necessary tools to make your ghostly descriptions spine-chillingly good.

21 Tips for Describing Ghosts in Writing

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Cartoon ghost - How to Describe a Ghost in Writing
I made this image – How to Describe a Ghost in Writing

Here are 21 tips to get you started with describing ghosts in writing.

Tip 1: Use Sensory Details

Using sensory details in your descriptions will make your ghost seem more real to your readers.

Try to engage all five senses – sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell.

Even though ghosts are traditionally intangible, their presence can still evoke sensory reactions in your characters.

For example, the sight of the ghost might be chilling, their voice might echo eerily, or their presence might cause a cold draft.

Engaging the senses of your readers will allow them to immerse themselves in the story more completely.

If your reader can almost feel the chill of the ghost’s presence or the echo of its voice, they are more likely to be affected by the scene and feel the intended emotions.

Tip 2: Use Metaphors and Similes

Metaphors and similes are effective literary tools when it comes to describing ghosts.

They can help make abstract or intangible qualities more understandable and vivid.

For instance, you might say that a ghost’s voice is like a “whisper on the wind,” or that its presence is “as cold as a winter’s night.”

These types of comparisons can not only make your descriptions more vivid.

But they can also help to create a certain mood or atmosphere.

For example, comparing a ghost’s appearance to a “drifting cloud” could suggest a more ethereal, peaceful presence, while likening it to “a shadow in the corner of your eye” might evoke a more unsettling, menacing atmosphere.

Tip 3: Show, Don’t Tell

One of the oldest principles of writing is “show, don’t tell.”

This means instead of telling your reader that a character is scared of the ghost, show the character’s fear through their actions, words, and feelings.

This applies to describing your ghost as well.

Show its eeriness through its actions, its effect on the environment, and the reactions of other characters.

Showing instead of telling creates a more engaging and immersive story.

It gives your readers the chance to interpret the character’s emotions themselves based on the cues you provide.

This makes for a more interactive and fulfilling reading experience.

Tip 4: Use Strong, Evocative Language

When describing a ghost, use strong, evocative language to create a powerful image in your reader’s mind.

This can include adjectives like haunting, ethereal, ghostly, or spectral, or verbs like hover, drift, fade, or glide.

Using this kind of language not only helps to create a vivid picture of the ghost, but it also helps to set the tone of the scene.

The right words can make your ghost seem eerie, menacing, sad, or mysterious, depending on what you’re aiming for.

Tip 5: Describe the Ghost’s Appearance

How does your ghost look? Is it transparent or solid?

Does it have a clear human form, or is it more of a shapeless mist? Does it wear clothes, and if so, from what era?

These are all important details that will help your reader visualize the ghost.

Remember to use sensory details and strong, evocative language when describing the ghost’s appearance.

Also consider how the ghost’s appearance might reflect its personality or backstory.

For example, a ghost who was a soldier in life might still wear their uniform, while a ghost who died tragically young might appear as a child.

Tip 6: Describe the Ghost’s Behavior

Ghosts often have specific behaviors or patterns they follow, like haunting a particular room or appearing at a certain time.

Describing these behaviors can help make your ghost seem more real and add to the creepiness of your story.

Think about why your ghost might behave the way it does.

Maybe it’s trapped in a loop, repeating the events leading up to its death.

Or maybe it’s trying to communicate something to the living characters.

This can add depth and complexity to your ghost, making it more than just a scary apparition.

Tip 7: Convey the Ghost’s Personality

Just like any character in your story, your ghost should have a distinct personality.

Is it vengeful, sad, friendly, or perhaps mischievous?

This will dictate how it interacts with the living characters and what kind of atmosphere its presence creates.

A ghost’s personality can be revealed through its actions, its dialogue, its appearance, and its effect on the environment.

For example, a vengeful ghost might create an oppressive, menacing atmosphere, while a sad ghost might cause a feeling of melancholy to descend on the scene.

Tip 8: Use Symbolism

Ghosts often symbolize something, like a character’s guilt or a past event that still haunts them.

Using symbolism in your ghost description can add a deeper layer of meaning to your story.

Symbolism can be conveyed through the ghost’s appearance, behavior, or the circumstances of its death.

For example, a ghost that always appears in a mirror might symbolize a character’s struggle with self-image or identity.

Tip 9: Describe the Ghost’s Death

The circumstances of a ghost’s death often play a big role in its behavior and appearance.

Did it die a violent death, or did it die peacefully in its sleep? This can influence whether your ghost is vengeful and frightening, or sad and peaceful.

Describing the ghost’s death can also provide important backstory and add depth to your ghost.

This could be revealed slowly throughout the story, keeping your readers hooked and wanting to find out more.

Tip 10: Convey the Ghost’s Motivation

What does your ghost want?

Is it seeking revenge, trying to communicate a message, or does it just want to be left alone?

Understanding and conveying your ghost’s motivation can make it more than just a spooky specter – it becomes a character in its own right.

A ghost’s motivation can be conveyed through its actions, its dialogue, or even its effect on the environment.

For example, a ghost seeking revenge might torment the living characters, while a ghost trying to communicate might cause strange phenomena like flickering lights or mysteriously moving objects.

Tip 11: Describe the Ghost’s Influence on the Environment

Ghosts often have a noticeable effect on their surroundings, like causing a drop in temperature, creating an eerie silence, or causing lights to flicker.

Describing these effects can make your ghost seem more real and add to the creepiness of the scene.

This also allows you to engage your reader’s senses.

For example, describing the chill that descends on a room when a ghost appears, or the way the lights dim and flicker, can make the reader feel like they’re experiencing the ghost’s presence themselves.

Tip 12: Keep Your Ghost Mysterious

One of the most intriguing things about ghosts is their mystery.

Avoid giving too much away about your ghost too soon. Keep your readers guessing about the ghost’s identity, its backstory, and its motivations.

Mystery can be maintained by revealing details about the ghost slowly and sporadically throughout the story.

This also creates suspense and keeps your readers hooked, as they’ll want to keep reading to find out more about the ghost.

Tip 13: Describe the Characters’ Reactions

The way your characters react to the ghost can say a lot about the ghost itself.

Are they terrified, fascinated, or perhaps even sympathetic?

This can give your readers clues about the nature of the ghost and how they should feel about it.

Remember to show, don’t tell, when describing your characters’ reactions.

Don’t just tell the readers that your character is scared – show them by describing the character’s actions, thoughts, and feelings.

Tip 14: Play with Lighting and Shadows

Lighting and shadows can greatly enhance your ghost descriptions.

A ghost appearing in the dead of night is scarier than one appearing in broad daylight.

Describing how the ghost interacts with light and shadows can make your scenes more atmospheric and vivid.

This also allows you to create striking visual imagery.

For example, describing how the ghost’s form casts no shadow, or how it seems to absorb the light around it, can create an eerie and unsettling image.

Tip 15: Use Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing the ghost’s appearance can create suspense and anticipation.

This could be subtle hints like a sudden drop in temperature, a feeling of being watched, or a pet acting strangely.

Foreshadowing gives your readers a sense of foreboding and makes them anticipate the ghost’s appearance, which can make the actual appearance even scarier.

It’s like the calm before the storm, making the storm itself feel more intense.

Tip 16: Utilize Setting and Atmosphere

The setting and atmosphere in which your ghost appears can greatly enhance your description.

A haunted house, a lonely graveyard, or a creepy forest are all perfect settings for a ghost.

The atmosphere can be created through the weather, the time of day, the state of the surroundings, and the reactions of the characters.

A stormy night, a room that’s fallen into disrepair, or a character who’s all alone can all contribute to a spooky atmosphere.

Tip 17: Experiment with Different Perspectives

Try describing your ghost from different perspectives.

How does the ghost appear to different characters? How does the ghost see itself?

This can add depth and complexity to your ghost and make your story more interesting.

Seeing the ghost from different perspectives can also reveal different aspects of the ghost.

For example, one character might see the ghost as a scary apparition, while another might see it as a sad remnant of the past.

Tip 18: Make Use of Silence and Sound

Silence can be just as spooky as sound when it comes to describing a ghost.

The sudden absence of sound can create a sense of unease and anticipation.

On the other hand, unexpected sounds like a soft whisper or a sudden wail can startle the reader and make the ghost seem more real.

You can also describe the sounds associated with the ghost’s presence, like the creaking of floorboards, the rustling of curtains, or the eerie silence that descends upon a room when it appears.

Tip 19: Use Contrast for Effect

Contrasting the ghost with its surroundings can make it stand out and seem more supernatural.

If the scene is warm and cozy, the ghost might appear cold and eerie. If the scene is noisy and chaotic, the ghost might appear in a moment of eerie silence.

Contrast can also be used in the ghost’s appearance.

For example, a ghost dressed in a bright, cheerful outfit might seem more out of place and eerie in a dreary, haunted house.

Tip 20: Be Consistent

Be consistent in your descriptions of the ghost.

If the ghost is described as transparent in one scene, it shouldn’t be solid in the next unless there’s a reason for the change.

Consistency helps maintain the reader’s suspension of disbelief and makes the ghost seem more real.

Consistency also applies to the ghost’s behavior, abilities, and weaknesses.

If the ghost can pass through walls, it shouldn’t be blocked by a closed door in a later scene.

If it’s unaffected by physical objects, a character shouldn’t be able to hit it with a baseball bat.

Tip 21: Remember the Ghost’s Backstory

The ghost’s backstory is an important part of its character.

It can explain why the ghost acts the way it does, why it appears the way it does, and what it wants.

This can add depth to the ghost and make it more than just a spooky apparition.

Remembering the ghost’s backstory can also help you be more consistent in your descriptions.

For example, if the ghost died in a fire, it might avoid fireplaces or get agitated when a character lights a match.

Here is a video I made about how to describe a ghost in writing:

YouTube video by Writing Secrets (that’s me!) – How to describe a ghost in writing

How to Describe a Scary Ghost in Writing

When describing a scary ghost, focus on creating a sense of unease and terror.

Use strong, evocative language and appeal to the reader’s senses.

The ghost might appear as a shadowy figure with piercing eyes, or as a spectral figure in tattered clothes.

Its presence might be accompanied by a drop in temperature, an oppressive silence, or a feeling of being watched.

Descriptions of the ghost’s actions can also add to the fear factor. For instance, the ghost might move in an unsettling manner, or it might suddenly appear or disappear without warning.

The ghost’s behavior can also contribute to the fear factor.

It might engage in menacing activities, like tormenting the living characters or causing disturbing phenomena like slamming doors or flickering lights.

Remember to show the characters’ reactions to increase the fear factor. Their terror can amplify the reader’s own fear.

How to Describe a Friendly Ghost in Writing

A friendly ghost is usually less eerie and more comforting or quirky.

Its appearance might be less intimidating – perhaps it’s translucent and glows softly, or maybe it appears just like a normal human, only slightly out of place.

Its movements might be more gentle and less sudden, like a soft fluttering rather than a sudden apparition.

The ghost’s behavior can indicate its friendly nature.

It might be helpful towards the living characters, guiding them or protecting them.

It might even have a sense of humor, causing harmless pranks instead of scary phenomena. Remember to show the characters’ reactions to the ghost.

If they’re not afraid of the ghost and instead come to see it as a friend or ally, the reader will too.

How to Describe a Ghost’s Movement

Ghosts typically move in ways that are unlike the living, adding to their eerie nature.

They might float or glide instead of walking, or move through walls and other solid objects.

They might appear or disappear suddenly, or move without making a sound.

Their movements might also be strangely slow or fast, or they might remain still and unmoving in a way that living creatures can’t.

When describing a ghost’s movement, use sensory details and strong, evocative language.

For example, a ghost might “drift like a cloud of mist,” or “move with an uncanny stillness.” Their movements might cause a “cold draft,” or be accompanied by a “faint, eerie whisper.”

How to Describe a Ghost’s Voice

A ghost’s voice is usually different from a living person’s voice, adding to the ghost’s otherworldliness.

It might echo or sound far away, or it might be whispery or chilling.

It might even sound hollow or emotionless, or it might carry the emotions the ghost felt at the time of its death.

When describing a ghost’s voice, rely on concrete details and resonate language.

For example, a ghost’s voice might “echo through the room like a cold wind,” or be “as quiet as a sigh.”

It might “sound like it’s coming from a great distance,” or be “filled with an ancient sorrow.”

50 Words to Describe a Ghost in Writing

Here is a list of words to describe a ghost in writing:

  1. Eerie
  2. Spectral
  3. Haunting
  4. Ethereal
  5. Shadowy
  6. Ghostly
  7. Phantasmal
  8. Spooky
  9. Chilling
  10. Mysterious
  11. Translucent
  12. Opaque
  13. Silent
  14. Wispy
  15. Elusive
  16. Intangible
  17. Wraithlike
  18. Flickering
  19. Transparent
  20. Unsettling
  21. Glowing
  22. Menacing
  23. Phantom
  24. Hollow
  25. Shimmering
  26. Distorted
  27. Illusory
  28. Whispery
  29. Vanishing
  30. Ghoulish
  31. Luminous
  32. Terrifying
  33. Cold
  34. Apparitional
  35. Creepy
  36. Otherworldly
  37. Soundless
  38. Morose
  39. Pale
  40. Distant
  41. Scary
  42. Floating
  43. Specter-like
  44. Mournful
  45. Echoing
  46. Drifting
  47. Invisible
  48. Enigmatic
  49. Apparition-like
  50. Uncanny

Phrases to Describe a Ghost in Writing

Consider these phrases to describe a ghost in writing:

  1. “Like a shadow in the corner of your eye.”
  2. “A chill wind that passes through you.”
  3. “A presence that you feel more than see.”
  4. “An echo of a life once lived.”
  5. “A figure that’s there one moment and gone the next.”
  6. “As silent as the grave.”
  7. “An unsettling stillness.”
  8. “Eyes that glow with an otherworldly light.”
  9. “A voice as cold as the grave.”
  10. “A figure that seems to absorb the light around it.”

How to Introduce a Ghost in Writing

Introducing a ghost in your story should be done in a way that builds anticipation and suspense.

Start by foreshadowing its appearance with subtle hints, like a sudden drop in temperature, a feeling of being watched, or a pet acting strangely.

When you’re ready to introduce the ghost, do it in a way that engages the reader’s senses.

Describe the ghost’s appearance, the way it moves, the sound of its voice.

Show the characters’ reactions to increase the emotional impact.

Remember to keep some mystery about the ghost. Don’t reveal everything about it at once.

Instead, reveal its backstory, its motivations, and its nature slowly, throughout the story. This keeps your readers interested and engaged, wanting to find out more about the ghost.

Final Thoughts: How to Describe a Ghost in Writing

When writing ghost stories, I’ve always found it helpful to connect the ghost to the plot, theme, and problem of the story.

In this way, the ghost grows organically from your story instead of seemingly dropped in as a whim.

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