Three Basic Tips For Writing Paranormal Detective Stories

2015 Artwork Paranormal Detective fiction article sketch

If there’s one thing that I like almost as much as sci-fi detective stories, it’s paranormal detective stories. Although there are some great examples of this genre on TV, one of the best written examples of it that I’ve ever seen have probably been Mike Carey’s “Felix Castor” novels.

These are a series of hardboiled detective novels about a paranormal detective called Felix Castor who mostly works in London. He wears a greatcoat, carries a small flute (don’t ask) and often finds himself involved in various ghostly and demonic mysteries. It’s been about five years since I’ve read one of these books, so I can only vaguely remember a few scenes from them – but they’re really cool.

Likewise, the comedy comic that I posted here late last month and earlier this month is sort of a paranormal detective comic. Although, to be fair, it’s a ludicrously contrived (albeit morbidly amusing) one. If anything, it’s a ‘so bad that it’s good’ parody of the genre, I guess.

Anyway, since I’ve seen and read a few things in this genre – I thought that I might be able to offer a few very basic tips about how to write these kinds of stories:

1) Be consistent: Just because your paranormal detective story features things that are outside the realms of science and human knowledge doesn’t give you carte blanche to do whatever you want. In other words, you need to set yourself and your characters some rules before you begin your story. You also need to show your readers what these rules are.

For example, if you’re writing a story about a vengeful ghost that emerges from people’s bathtubs and frightens them to death – then you need to make sure that this ghost only emerges from bathtubs during your story (eg: it can’t suddenly appear in a mirror or anything like that). You also need to work out why it haunts people’s bathtubs.

In addition to this, you need to work out whether the ghost can only emerge from bathtubs that are connected to the plumbing system or whether it can also emerge from the abandoned bathtubs at the local dump. Likewise, you also need to work out whether covering up a bathtub will stop the ghost from emerging, or just make it angry.

All of the supernatural parts of your story must follow something at least resembling a clear and consistent set of rules.

This might sound like a strange thing, but even in a story about ghosts, demons etc… your audience will expect a certain level of “realism”. In other words, they need to know how all of the paranormal elements of your story work – so that they can have a good chance of solving the mystery themselves before they get to the end of your story.

Yes, you can leave things mysterious near the beginning of your story but – at some point- your main character (and, by extension, your readers) must know what rules the supernatural evil in your story has to follow. If you fail to do this, then your story will end up being slightly contrived and your readers may feel cheated.

2) Use your imagination: Yes, if you want to, you can research folklore and mythology about supernatural events in order to give your story more “realism”. But, at the same time, if your readers are familiar with the genre and have seen countless other things that are based on mythology and folklore, then your story might be very predictable.

For example, if you’re writing a story about vampires – then everyone knows that vampires bite people’s necks and that they can be repelled by garlic and, sometimes, religious symbols. Most people also know that vampires usually burst into flames when they’re exposed to sunlight (except Dracula – seriously, look it up).

In other words, if your detective finds a dead body with two fang marks on it’s neck, then it’s a good bet that a vampire was responsible. There isn’t really much of a mystery here (other than which vampire was responsible).

So, if you want your story to be interesting – then you need to use your imagination and come up with a whole new set of rules that the supernatural things in your story have to follow. You can either create new rules for familiar things (this has been done more times than I can count in the vampire genre) or you can just invent a totally new type of monster.

But, regardless of what you do, you need to use your imagination.

3) Characters: At the end of the day, people read paranormal detective stories as much for the characters as they do for the mystery itself.

Since, by definition, the mystery in a paranormal detective story is unrealistic – your audience will have less of a chance to guess the solution before your characters uncover it. This means that the mystery itself is less of an attraction than it might be in a “conventional” detective story.

So, you need to make up for this by making sure that your main characters are interesting enough to make your readers want to hang out with them for the duration of your story. For example, if you’re writing from a first-person perspective, then you need to give your detective an interesting narrative voice and perhaps even a cynical sense of humour.

But, whatever you do, don’t make your characters boring.


Sorry for such a basic article, but I hope it was useful 🙂