‘How-to’ 13 Tips for Telling Spooky Stories
By Jeffrey Bishop
Campfire stories can be read by one’s self; shared between close friends (it’s safer that way!); or performed for a small group. The following list aggregates and paraphrases some of the best tips for enjoying spooky campfire stories, with particular attention given to the storytelling (and story hearing) experience. Many tips are common to a number of sources; credit/references are given as applicable. Feel free to comment with any suggestions.
1. Scary stories are equally enjoyable whether read by you or shared with others1.
2. Pick stories that suit your audience1, 2 – the lowest common denominator of age, attention span and temperate amongst them4.
3. Scary stories benefit from atmosphere1, 2, 3 – around a campfire, in a candlelit room, during a thunderstorm, in a basement fort or by flashlight under the covers or in a closet4.
4. Storytelling can be successful whether read from a book1, memorized for extemporaneous retelling1, 2 or made up on the spot by the teller4.
Whichever you choose, go with your strengths / know your weaknesses: if you can’t remember or tell a story well, read one with conviction; if you have bad eyes or are not a good reader, remember the story and tell it from memory4.
5. Stories can be customized for the audience – tailor tone, scare rating, location and characters to suit your audience1, 2.
6. Appropriate story content to avoid at all costs in real life: Witches, ghosts, zombies, monsters, vampires, devils, spiders, etc.3
Inappropriate story content to avoid at all costs in your stories2 (and in real life): adult words or themes or hate content. Keep it fun, keep it clean.
7. Shorter is better1, 2. Five minutes is ideal; 10 minutes max4. You hold your audience’s attention better; you can fit more stories in; and more storytellers have a chance to share4.
8. Pass the book. Pass the mic4. It’s fun to share and it’s fun to watch others – especially younger ones – tell stories. And writers (like this one) in the audience might find inspiration in what they hear4.
9. Don’t cast your pearls before swine; don’t waste your gift on an inattentive or otherwise disrespectful audience1, 2.
10. Your audience will get into the story as you get into the story – by varying character voices and by changing story pacing and the volume of your voice, along with gestures and other dramatic flairs1, 2.
11. Gore and horror are like hot red pepper on you pizza – a little goes a long way, and too much can ruin it1.
12. Humor can be a great leavening agent for horror4.
13. At the end of the story, stop1.
1. Campfire Ghost Stories (2002) by Jo-Anne Christensen.
Ghost House Books / Lone Pine Publishing, Edmonton, AB, Canada.
2. Stories for Around the Campfire (1986) by Ray Harriot.
Campfire Publishing Company, Laurel, MD.
3. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (1981) by Alvin Schwartz.
HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY.
4. The authors of this blog.