Ghost generally tend to have several roles in a ghost story depending on what the story is about. These roles can include:
- the ghost acting as a sentinel/prophet of events to come
- the ghost acting out of aggression in need for revenge
- the ghost with unfinished business
- the ghost out to cause trouble and mayhem
- the ghost acting as a guardian
M.R. James, the author of Some Remarks on Ghost Stories notes five keys features present within typical English ghost stories. These are:
- Pretense of the truth
- "A pleasing terror"
- No gratuitous bloodshed or sex
- No "explanation of the machinery"
- Setting: "those of the writer's (and reader's) own day