True love never dies, but that has no bearing on the enduring popularity of ghost stories. While readers of mysteries and horror find ghosts of the scary variety, for romance readers, ghosts mean a dash of mystery, maybe a sense of history, possibly a few laughs, and always a love that transcends time. Enter the world of love stories from the great beyond, if you dare.
Ghost stories are one of the oldest forms of paranormal romance, whether the ghost is a supporting player, or one of the particular story’s OTP (one true pairing.) Both have their advantages and disadvantages, but one thing is true across the board; adding a ghost or two to romance brings with it a special thrill that even death can’t stop.
There are as many different types of ghosts or other spirits as there are writers of the same, so making a comprehensive list isn’t the easiest task. Instead, we’re going to cast a wide net, and, hopefully, draw it back in with a bunch of recommendations, and, for the writers amongst us, maybe the ghost of an idea (pun intended) for love stories yet to be.
Sometimes, the ghost is metaphorical, not the spirit of a person who has passed, but the loss of an idea, a potential future, or way of life. Letting go of something that was once a huge part of life can be extremely hard, and, while romantic love doesn’t cure everything, the hope and new life in a new love can go a long way with bridging the distance between past and present.
Other times, the ghost, whether metaphorical or literal, takes the form of a lost love. Hero or heroine may have loved and lost before, and could be carrying baggage that ties them to a time of loss and grief. When that ghost is of the formerly corporeal variety, that adds another level. Either the deceased loved one isn’t happy about their beloved moving on with another partner, in which case they can provide a challenging obstacle to overcome, or they are, and can actually play cupid (or Cyrano) from beyond the grave. Maybe seeing the new couple finding their happily ever after can provide the former love with the closure they need to move on to the next adventure.
Then there are the times when the greatest adventure of all is bridging the gap between the living and the dead, when one of the lovers is the ghost. Talk about an age gap. One lover is a person of the new millennium, where the other is…not. The great thing about ghosts is that they can be from the other lover’s own lifetime, or centuries, or even millennia in the past. How can they make a life with somebody new, when they aren’t even alive? Depending on the author, the afterlife, or whatever is between life and afterlife, can be heaven, hell, something in between, or even nothing. The method of communication between the living and the not-so-living can get creative at times, and what about our mortal lover, pining for someone who is literally dead and buried, and yet with them, still.
Sometimes, there is a way for the ghost to regain their humanity, be it in a new body, or some other method, which adds another level of intrigue. Will they be able to complete their mission? Is it something their mortal lover has to do for them, or is there some way they can both work together, each in their own sphere? In some darker romances, it may even be possible for the living lover to want to cross over to their beloved’s side, but that may be stretching the concept of happily ever after(life) a bit far. Or not. Once again, it depends on the world-building and the talent of the author.
Star-crossed lovers who make it work have always been my number one favorite romance trope, and having one of those lovers no longer among the living is arguably about the biggest obstacle there is, but this is where ghost romances can save the day. There’s also the option of the ghost as supporting player, who perhaps did not get to live with their love, but can help the living lovers find the happily ever after that the ghost was denied. That may even be the ghost’s ticket to moving on, in whatever means that story world provides.
One thing that may give some readers pause about ghostly lovers is the small issue of one of them not having a body anymore. This does come into play both in matters of intimacy, and in plans for building a family, but romance writers are infinitely creative in this area, as well as many others. It’s often been said that the brain is the sexiest organ in the body, and the heart is the most important body part when it comes to the emotional bond between two lovers. In the hands of a talented romance writer, this may not even be that much of an obstacle at all.
Supporting staff or leading players, tragic, angsty, funny or even sexy, ghost romances are perfect for crisp autumn nights, with or without pilfered Halloween candy on hand.
So, dear readers, I turn it now over to you. Do you like reading ghost romances, or romances with ghosts included? Why or why not? Do you have a favorite ghostly romance to recommend? What do you like or dislike most about romances with ghosts? Do you prefer the ghosts to be one or both of the lovers, or is that best reserved for a supporting role? Pull up a chair in the comment section and tell us all about it. If ghosts are an automatic no when it comes to romance reading, we want to hear about that, too. There’s room for everybody at this table.