Cornelia Funke’s Top 10 Tips For Writing Ghost Stories


Cornelia Funke is an award-winning German writer and illustrator. She is best known as the author of the Inkheart trilogy. She has sold more than 20 million books and her titles are published all over the world and translated into more than 30 languages.

She says, ‘I love telling stories. I can travel to different countries and other worlds. I can meet creatures I would not have met in real life. I can experience things I have been dreaming of for a long time, like riding a dragon…’

To celebrate her birthday, 10 December, we are sharing her tips for writing ghost stories.

Cornelia Funke’s Top 10 Tips For Writing Ghost Stories

  1. Choose your tone. Decide whether you want to go funny or grim. You can of course do both, but you should decide about the general tone of your story. (Which of course may convince you while you are writing that you made the wrong decision…)
  2. Choose your ghost. Do you want your reader to love or fear the ghost? Will you be on the ghost’s side or will your hero be the hunter? Answering these questions may reveal a lot about the story you want to tell.
  3. Mix it up. We all know the classic ingredients for creating a spooky atmosphere: of course most of the action takes place at night. It is cold and foggy. There are plenty of very old buildings and probably graveyards. It can be incredibly satisfying to use ALL of these ingredients and play with them in your very own way. But if you are tired of these kinds of ghost stories read some tales from the Caribbean or Asia. They will give you some very different ideas on ghosts!
  4. Give your ghost a life story. Decide where your ghosts come from. How many are there? Do you tell the story of one or many? Were they once human? If yes, were they He or She? Grown up or child? How did they die? When did they live? You can make them historical characters like I did in Ghost Knight, which is so much fun and vastly inspiring. Or do you deal with a spirit of demonic origins? In short: Give your ghostly hero a biography. Imagine them so clearly that you feel them behind you. What does their voice sound like? Do they have one? Is their breath cold or hot?
  5. Set some rules. Rules: yes, even ghosts need them. Fantasy writing is always in danger of feeling quite random and not too convincing when you don’t take the trouble to define the rules of your world and the creatures in it. So what can ghosts do? Can they hurt you? When do they show up? How can you destroy them?
  6. Explore themes. Don’t forget about The Big Themes! A ghost story is very often about death and guilt, about life unlived, about loss. The more you explore these themes, the better it gets. You can ask all the big questions. Where do we come from? Where do we go? If there are ghosts, why do they stay? Does Evil survive Death?
  7. Do your research. Research! Do you know that there ARE ghost hunters? Real ghost hunters! I found it very inspiring to read about them and their theories on ghosts before I wrote Ghost Knight!
  8. Create the right writing atmosphere. Write at night… A very easy way to create just the right writing atmosphere. Candles are helpful too. Maybe you could even try paper and a fountain pen. A quill may be too much of an obstacle getting the words onto a page!
  9. There’s more to a ghost story than ghosts. Other creatures. A ghost story can of course deal with other haunting creatures too. Maybe you want werewolves and vampires as well? Why not explore the whole kingdom of the Undead?
  10. Ignore the previous 9 rules. Break all the rules! Ignore all the advice! Write a ghost story that’s in bright daylight. Make him a ghostly robot. An apparition from the future… You see, I lied about the thousand ways to write a ghost story. There are millions 🙂

Source for tips: The Guardian