This won't be news to you: Paranormal is big these days. Vampires, werewolves, and witches are showing up in everything from Twilight to both versions of Being Human (UK and USA). Maybe you'd like to add a dash of paranormal to your next novel, or you're writing your first book about a vampire, a position I was in not long ago. What's the best way to add woo-woo to your writing?
As when writing any story, consider your audience. Are you writing for Charmed fangirls, or old-school Dark Shadows fans? The spells displayed in television shows are going to be quite different from the sort real-life Wiccans and students of the Golden Dawn cast. If you're into 'high ritual' scenes, you can't go wrong with Golden Dawn material... as long as no one messes up the words or magickal ingredients (n.b.: ceremonialists spell it 'Magick' to separate it from stage magic).
Don't forget tradition. You can honor it or blatantly break it, but people have expectations. Readers may picture witches as sexy young women or old hags, but they expect witches to cast spells. A witch who can't do magic breaks the rules - and could make an interesting character for an ambitious writer. A werewolf may be able to change forms at will, or only change involuntarily, but you'd better have a good reason for him not to transform if the moon is full, and put it in print.
Be consistent. If you base your story on real people's accounts of ghosts, don't throw in Ghostbusters-style combat. 'Real' ghosts are rarely seen and leave subtle clues like cold spots. They don't 'slime' people (at least not in copious amounts). If you make up a magic system out of whole cloth, there should still be a set of 'physics' and methods involved. Don't have your witch twitch her nose Bewitched-style in one scene to travel through time, then sacrifice a fatted calf to change day to night. Have a system. Readers love to figure out how systems work. The book Real Magic by the late Isaac Bonewits has an excellent examination of the Laws of Magic in real-life occult practices that are applicable to made-up systems as well.
Be accurate. If you're using a 'real' form of the occult, read up on it before writing. This is especially true with Wicca, which has real-life practitioners. This suggestion also applies to forms of divination like Tarot and Astrology. That 'Death' card may look really scary on TV, but the sort of people who like to read books with Tarot usually know that 'Death' rarely means someone is going to die. If your character thinks that's what the card means, that's legit, but make that part clear to the reader. Better that they consider your character uninformed than decide that you're lame.
Don't info-dump. This particular warning is usually given to science fiction writers, but it's just as valid when writing woo-woo. If you were writing an article about the Tarot, you might want to give a brief history of cartomancy. In a story, though, neither the reader nor the character (in most cases) is interested in the history of the subject or the technical details. Both are more interested in what the reading means, not how or why it works. In one of my short stories, I wrote that the heroine learns that she has Venus in the Eighth House, which means that her money comes from other people. That's all I said. I didn't explain astrological houses or what Venus means in a chart, because when you do that in real life, people's eyes glaze over.
My last suggestion? Get some gall. You may find yourself trying to downplay the paranormal aspects of your story because they 'sound weird'. That's the point, isn't it? Once again, consider your audience. The people who snort and sneer at paranormal 'silliness' aren't the ones reading your story anyway. Don't be afraid to put your wizard in the front window, whether he's wearing an embroidered robe or a pinstripe suit. Your readers are willing to suspend disbelief for the magic. Just make sure your plot and characters are in good order; readers are less forgiving where those are concerned.
About Sarah Glenn: I have a B.S. in Journalism from the University of Kentucky. Iíve held a number of entirely unrelated jobs since that time: I worked as an art intern at the billboard company, as an NCIC operator for my local police department, and as a teaching assistant for medical terminology. I like to write mystery and horror stories, especially when they include a sidecar of funny. I am an active member of Sisters in Crime and Guppies.
My Web page: http://www.sarahglenn.com
My blog: http://saraheglenn.blogspot.com